A movement is underway to get US companies to value their female designers


On the crest of the resurgent gender equality movement, the largest US professional design association is rallying around female designers. Today, AIGA launches “Double or Nothing,” a bold initiative that seeks to increase the number of female design leaders in the US.

Gender discrimination remains pervasive in the US design industry. The latest industry census suggests that women comprise more than half of the US creative workforce but only a small fraction (4–11%) are in management positions. Female designers are also paid an average of $10,000 less than male counterparts doing the same job. And like female architects, female designers routinely experience sexism at work and miss advancement opportunities, especially when they have children.

Double or Nothing - Logo

“Even under the best circumstances, it’s appalling when you consider that 60% of design school graduates are female. That’s why we say we don’t have a pipeline problem we have a pay and promotion problem,” explains Lynda Decker co-chair of AIGA’s women’s leadership initiative and founder of Decker Design. “We want that to end.”

As graphic designers do best, AIGA is starting with a suite of sharply-branded communication tools. The “Double or Nothing” website offers a range of resources including a corporate pledge template, toolkits and even an interactive game designed to surface implicit bias in the workplace.

Exactly how AIGA plans to deploy “Double or Nothing” is still unclear, but Decker says making inroads within companies who rely on designers is essential. At its core, it’s about convincing employers to nurture the ambitions of female designers.

The program name, in fact, is a play on partnerships, explains Heather Stern, who worked with Decker to initiate “Double or Nothing.” “[It] alludes to the ‘duos’ required to achieve our goal: pay and promotion, men and women, design and business, aspiring leaders and those who want to support them,” say Stern, clarifying that “Double or Nothing” isn’t about creating a gender war.

The 2016 AIGA Design Conference at The Mirage in Las Vegas, NV.
Women comprise more than half the US creative workforce. (Frank Aymami/AIGA)

Towards this goal, AIGA has already attracted volunteers from top companies to shape “Double or Nothing.” IBM, one of the largest employers of designers today, will author a curricula of best practices for employers. Pentagram partner Emily Oberman designed its brand identity and creative strategy, and Blue State Digital, which built the digital platform behind Barack Obama’s winning presidential campaigns, has signed up to develop the website and apply its community-mobilization wisdom for the cause. Quartz is also a partner. AIGA is hopeful that other “enlightened” organizations will be inspired to pitch in.

“As a woman, a mother and a business leader, this issue hits close to home,” says Stern, who is the chief marketing and talent officer for the New York-based creative consultancy Lippincott. “I’m confident that by taking an inclusive approach—one which acknowledges that we don’t have all of the answers yet—that we will be able to affect real change.”

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