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Bonnie Siegler

Dear Bonnie: Women of Washington + Young in Youngstown


Editor's Note: Dear Bonnie is our truth-telling advice column from Bonnie Siegler. We hope you enjoy it as much as we do, and invite our readers to submit their questions directly to: [email protected]

Dear Bonnie,
Should women boycott or even make the smallest protest in regards to the UnderConsideration Brand New Awards this year because it has an all male judging panel? What do you think? Is this just one of those rare occurrences or is it really that hard to find qualified women design professionals who are willing to be on judging committees? See below for a comment someone left on the call for applications addressing the gender issue, and the response of Armin Vit, whose company runs the competition.

Signed,
Women of Washington

Commenter: "Are there no notable female branding professionals suitable as jurors? Just feeling oh so slightly male dominated, no?"

Armin Vit: "This is the way the wind blew this year. First year we had four women and one man; second and third years, 2 women and 3 men each. This year, it's all men. We do what we can on gender representation based on availability and we also have little to no control on what gender is the client selected by two of the designers. What matters, in the end, is that someone CAPABLE is judging the work, regardless of chromosome disposition."

Dear Women,
I am going to have to put aside my long-held belief that women should rule the world instead of men in order to answer your question as un-biasedly as I can.

I am also a firm believer in affirmative action. Under representation happens because too often people in charge gravitate towards people who are like themselves. Affirmative action is necessary to force people to leave their “comfort zones” (I’m being nice here) and accept, hire, promote, and invite people who are different than them. In some situations, it has worked, and in others, not so much. So, we must carry on and not give up as we continue to strive for equal opportunity because it is one of the only reasons there has been any progress for women and minorities.

I would feel a lot better about this particular example if Armin’s response was a bit less defensive and a bit more remorseful about putting forth an all male jury in 2014. I imagine the entires will divide pretty equally along the chromosomal disposition lines, which naturally suggests that the juries should do the same. I totally get that you can’t always get everyone you want, but I would like to think that in this day and age, the Brand New team tried really, really hard to make it a mixed jury. If I were them, I would have changed the rules this year — have six or seven jury members instead of five, for example — so that a woman could be on the panel, but that might be too affirmative for them. Let’s see how they make up for it next year. The only way this kind of inequity will change is if we continue to hold people responsible when they don’t do the right thing.

We also should probably judge corporations, organizations, and juries on their history rather than on single moments in time. That said, the Brand New Awards jury's history totals 12 men to 8 women over 4 years. This isn't a terrible track record, but clearly, Armin and his team can still be doing a better job and I hope that next year they will seek to close the gap even further. However, I don’t think a 3:2 ratio is something to boycott. I want equal representation on every board, every jury, and every management team, but we shouldn’t demonize people who are trying and conscious of the situation because they have an off year.

Finally, while equal representation should be actively and intensely pursued, I think we must also focus our energy on securing equal pay for women (we currently make $0.81 on the dollar). My dream is that in a matter of time this week's column will seem incredibly outdated. Both with regards to your question about this skewed jury, but also with respect to the next question (advice specifically geared towards female designers), which I hope, sooner rather than later, will seem oddly old-fashioned as well.



Dear Bonnie,
What advice would you give to young, ambitious female designers based on your career and life experiences? Have you struggled as a female employer? How?

Sincerely,
Young in Youngstown

Dear Y in Y,
I would give the same advice to young ambitious female designers that I would give to young ambitious male designers. No matter what, your mission for the first five to ten years of your career is to figure out the kind of work that makes you truly happy and satisfied and hopefully, love your job. That might mean trying out a couple of different situations before you find the one that fits like a glove. And, if you don’t find it, you will probably have at least formed enough opinions to think about the possibility of starting your own company and make it just so. We don’t do what we do for the money, so it’s important that you're passionate about it.

In answer to your second question, I have definitely struggled as an employer and a business owner and, maybe I'm just lucky, but I don’t think it's because I'm a girl. It’s just a hard knock life. My issues have been about getting good work, doing good work, and supporting my team in the way to which they have become accustomed. As an employer, my issues have been along the lines of finding smart, funny, talented designers (please send your portfolio to [email protected] if you’re out there!) more than any issues having to do with my gender. 

Now, go get a job and kick some ass!


For past Dear Bonnie columns, click here.


Posted in: Dear Bonnie, Design Practice

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Bonnie Siegler Bonnie Siegler is an award-winning graphic designer. She is the founder of Eight and a Half, a multidisciplinary design studio based in New York, and before that, was the co-founder of Number Seventeen. She got her degree at Carnegie Mellon University, has taught in the graduate design programs at Yale University and the School of Visual Arts and was the 2014 Koopman Distinguished Chair in the Visual Arts at the University of Hartford.

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Comments [6]
Excellent response. thanks for addressing these important issues.

art+design
03.05.14
06:46

No one complained the first year when we had 4 women and 1 man as judges. Weren't we wrong then in having a female majority jury?

> "I would feel a lot better about this particular example if Armin’s response was a bit less defensive and a bit more remorseful about putting forth an all male jury in 2014"

There is nothing to be remorseful about! Neither me, nor my very female wife and partner, who makes up 50% of the decision-making in the selection of the jury did anything wrong in not being able to properly accommodate the complicated schedules and availability of both the male and female judges we extended invitations to.

> " If I were them, I would have changed the rules this year — have six or seven jury members instead of five, for example — so that a woman could be on the panel"

That makes no sense for so many reasons.

> "I am also a firm believer in affirmative action. Under representation happens because too often people in charge gravitate towards people who are like themselves. Affirmative action is necessary to force people to leave their “comfort zones” (I’m being nice here) and accept, hire, promote, and invite people who are different than them. In some situations, it has worked, and in others, not so much. So, we must carry on and not give up as we continue to strive for equal opportunity because it is one of the only reasons there has been any progress for women and minorities."

For the record, UnderConsideration and the "Brand New team" is made up of myself (a man) and Bryony (a woman). 50/50. By the reasoning above, we half-succeeded: the male jury members are all different from Bryony. Also, we are both hispanic, so we fully succeeded in that regard: all five jury members are not hispanic… heck, we have four different ethnicities represented on the panel but no one commends us for that. So glad they are not all white and old for the trifecta of sins for jury and conference organizers.

I've said this before and I'll say it again: juries and speaker lineups are not about how many women or men there are or not are, it's about putting together the most qualified, available, and willing individuals at a specific time and place for a specific task.
Armin Vit
03.07.14
11:36

Bonnie, and everyone else for that matter. Give me a call and I am happy to explain our process and walk you through the pages of meetings and possible combinations that we work hard to obtain. It is not always easy, and we don't always get what we want. But we sure as hell try.

Armin talked about it a bit, but we don't make our selections based on gender alone. That would be shallow and somewhat superficial—personally I hope that my peers see me more for my work and my words than just my gender. The five jurors have a much broader set of characteristics that we try to cover including ethnicity, characteristics that span up to seven columns on our master spreadsheet. I am very pleased with the group of people judging the Brand New Awards this year, for as individuals go they are smart and amazing.

This "where are the women?" discussion has been going on for years. You might recall we published a book back in 2008 with HOW titled "Women of Design". If you don't recall, Bonnie, you are on page 64. We did this precisely to debunk the myth that there are no women out there to judge, speak, and overall be public within our industry. The outcome? The women are there. The great work is there. The scheduling issues, they are there too. The wanting to judge? Not always there. The choice to be away from work and family for a couple of days? Not one everyone welcomes.

Finally, it is not defensiveness on our part, it is simply that we are not tip-toeing around simple facts. We are not ones to sugar coat the truths we see and the realities we face. I believe our track record speaks for itself since we started hosting lectures in NY, to the various judging panels we have invited to Austin, and the Brand New Conference we host every year. A track record that goes beyond girl/boy, a track record that gives you a lot more depth of mind and character than which restroom each of our guests get to use.
Bryonygp
03.07.14
11:57

> If I were them, I would have changed the rules this year — have six or seven jury members instead of five, for example — so that a woman could be on the panel, but that might be too affirmative for them.

Last thing here: Budget. It is my job to keep UnderConsideration afloat. So you can blame me entirely on this one. We don't have the budget to add the expenses of two or more judges. Why? Because we are a small enterprise working out of home and raising two small kids. So that I can be mom as well as professional. So that I can balance my two dreams. And also because when we invite someone to judge we try to make their trip a wonderful and memorable experience by reserving a good local hotel vs a national chain that is the same no matter what city you are in. Among other details…

More questions? I'll be out of the office all of next week on a camping road trip with my girls. But you can reach me if you want to continue the conversation: 347-267-0838.
Bryonygp
03.07.14
12:10

It's great that Bryony and Armin took the time to thoughtfully respond, but I think they're somewhat missing the point of the question and what Bonnie was trying to convey with her response. First, that Armin starts out by asking, "No one complained the first year when we had 4 women and 1 man as judges. Weren't we wrong then in having a female majority jury?" shows that he has a blatant misunderstanding of affirmative action. There's no such thing as reverse sexism, just as there's no such thing as reverse racism. If people complained about an all female jury it would be insane. And, while the fact that you guys have an ethnically diverse panel is awesome and certainly commendable, I find it a little weird the way you're bragging about that as if it somehow negates the lack of women.

I also agree that you should have been remorseful for the way the jury turned out. Not apologetic, but simply bummed that it was all men and agreed that it wasn't ideal. That's all.

I'm confident that everyone understands that logistically, financially, and circumstantially, an equal male/female balance isn't always attainable. Anyone who has ever planned a speaker lineup or organized a panel knows that. More than anything, I find that this particular instance is just a helpful jumping off point to engage in a broader conversation about gender equality, and the need to make a concerted effort to support equal representation in all venues and situations whenever possible. I really don't think the intention here was to point fingers or blame anyone, but simply to open up a dialogue based off of a relevant situation.
mseltzer
03.08.14
10:16

I agree whole heartedly with mseltzer's comment. It is an important dialogue to open up and look at in a broader sense of how juries and design competitions are done- if I did not like Underconsideration/Brandnew so much I would not have even taken notice. No way will juries or competitions ever be completely fair. But it is something to strive for and be aware of.

A response to Armin's comment: You and Bryony are doing a fantastic job. I love the site. it is informative, fun, insightful, democratic, and a great teaching tool. However, at least one female on a jury of 5 is better than none and reverse discrimination just comes off as.... well.... too easy. I also agree that race is as big, if not bigger, issue. Perhaps next year there will be a jury somewhere in design that is all female and racially diverse. Just to balance things out.
art+design
03.25.14
09:56



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