In line with this year’s International Women’s Day theme ‘Choose to Challenge’, women designers speak out about the challenges they’ve faced in a profession dominated by men.

How do you draw attention to the achievements of women designers on International Women’s Day without labelling them as such? Their male counterparts aren’t labelled ‘men designers’, after all; they’re just ‘designers’. As product designer Inga Sempé related in our publication What I’ve Learned: Twenty-Eight Creatives Share Career-Defining Insights: ‘I’ve been invited to take part in stories about women designers, whereas there is never a story devoted exclusively to men designers – it’s just not logical. If you are a designer and a woman, you are regarded as a woman designer and not just a designer.’

These of Sempé’s statements were preceded by another: ‘I think women can be just as misogynistic as men.’ But does it really stem from misogyny? Couldn’t this tendency be simply the result of women trying to make a name for themselves in an industry dominated by men? Isn’t it the same reason we celebrate International Women’s Day in the first place? An event that, as stated on the official website, celebrates ‘the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity.’

This year’s International Women’s Day theme is ‘Choose to Challenge’. We’re reminded of some of the women with whom we’ve talked over the years who have specifically spoken out about the challenges they’ve faced as women designers. Or rather, ‘fantastic designers – who happen to be women’. 

Photos: Jake Naughton

Mariana Ordóñez Grajales – Comunal

Mexico City-based practice Comunal – founded by Mariana Ordóñez Grajales (left) and Jesica Amescua Carrera – collaborates closely with communities across Mexico to improve habitability in rural areas.

‘In our professional life we face daily challenges for being young women, such as mansplaining, sexual harassment and not being given the same credit as our male colleagues. Beyond our personal experience, our country is facing a level of violence against women never seen before. In 2019 there were almost 3,000 victims of femicide in our country; in December alone there was one every 27 hours. Being a woman in Mexico is resistance. Being a woman who works in a highly patriarchal industry is resistance. From Comunal we shout #VivasNosQueremos! #NiUnaMás! (#LiveWeWant! #NotOneMore!).’ (Frame 133)

Photo: Alun Callender

Sevil Peach

From multinational headquarters to co-working start-ups, Peach’s human-centric designs can be found across continents for clients such as Vitra, Kvadrat, Microsoft and Deloitte.

‘The construction industry once found any female presence on site a joke, and the success of a
woman rising through the ranks was undermined by chauvinistic comments . . . I now see waves of change. I hear people calling time’s up on inequality and sexism in the workplace. I welcome these calls, because as a designer particularly passionate about workplaces, I know a happy and productive workplace is also an equal, inclusive and safe one.’ (Frame 101)

Photo: June Kim

Mónica Ponce de León – MPdL Studio

Balancing her practice MPdL Studio with her role as dean of Princeton School of Architecture, Venezuelan-born American architect and educator Mónica Ponce de León is known for, among other things, her work with digital technologies.

‘Architecture and robotics are two male-dominated fields. What can the younger generation learn from my experience? Never take no for an answer. When you hear ‘no’, always ask ‘why not?’

‘The stereotypical attitude that ‘only experts can use the tools’ continues to loom large, and there’s still a tendency to limit access to those ‘in the know’. Those ‘in the know’ tend to be male and white. I’ve worked hard to break these stereotypes and make tools available to anyone willing to use them. I think that experimentation and misuse of tools is essential for architecture and technology to evolve. If we continue with the ‘expertise’ model, architecture will never change and will always be exclusionary. (Frame 137)