Women in Web Design

April 22, 2007

Jeffrey Zeldman recently announced that "An Event Apart commissioned a fact-finding mission...to find out everything that is actually known about the percentage of women in our field." In his post, Women in web design: just the stats, he acknowledges that they haven't sifted through all the information yet, but says that what they are seeing is "disturbing":

  • Men outnumber women in this workforce by over three to one.
  • The percentage of women employed in the field is declining instead of growing.
  • Women who participate in the field may not be promoted as often or as high as their male colleagues.

The numbers I've seen are even gloomier. For a while now I've had a running survey of designers on this site—Who's Designing the Web: A Survey of Us. The majority of respondents were from the United States (44%) and the United Kingdom (34%). Out of 142 respondents, 73% were male; only 27% were female.

Of course, those numbers might not be correct. This survey is not controlled, and I have no idea if the people who filled it out are truly representative of web designers as a group. In the absence of a single, leading professional organization, the only way to get more accurate numbers is to look at the enrollment of popular mailing lists, such as css-discuss, or the attendance at large conferences like SXSW. At this year's SXSW, it looked to me as though women made up a quarter of the audience—but that estimate is hardly solid proof.

In the end, though, perhaps the exact numbers don't really matter. Whether it's a third or a quarter, it's clear that the percentage of women in IT and web design is dismally low. The real question is why?

Is technology seen as a "masculine" profession—a traditionally male domain, like auto mechanics or construction work, that few women dare to venture into? Why not? Are they apprehensive about discrimination, sexism, or something else entirely? Are girls being discouraged from studying subjects that could lead them toward the profession? If so, what discourages them? If most designers are self-taught (my survey suggests nearly 94%!), could that be a factor in this gender disparity?

These are the truly important questions, and until we answer them and address the issues, we aren't likely to see an increase in the number of women going into the field. Given the immense talent and creativity lying dormant out there, that would be a real tragedy for the web.

Comments

The decline in women web designers was the only part that surprised me. When we were looking for another designer, not a single female even applied. That was the real shock

I think one of the problems with anything computer related - it takes time. Girls are still expected to do so many useless things, look pretty, do sports, do gossip ... there is just no time to get into stuff like HTML. And later on women have to take care of children and again have no time to really concentrate on learning HTML and design.

And let's face it, the world of technology can be a pretty harsh environment for women, even today. I have grown a thicker skin than I ever cared to have to survive in engineering and IT.

Unfortunately the statistics are right, there is so many more males in the industry then females.

I noticed this 10 years ago when I started university, males out numbered females three to one by a long shot.

However this tells me that less females want to be in the industry and turn more to careers like teaching, nursing and the humanities.

Does any one have statistics regarding education in this industry, is there still more males getting educated then females - it has been a long time since I was at university.



Wedding Blogger

Hi, I posted this in response to Eric Meyer's women at conferences response, but I think it also applies here:

Women often feel uncomfortable marketing themselves, or claiming skills they don’t have 100% covered. I’ve been guilty of this. When I’ve been asked to make someone a web page, I’ve heard myself give all kinds of caveats about how I’m not a total pro, despite the hundreds of self-styled “experts” on the web, advertising skills I can tell are far more basic than my own. I’m also more likely to admit when I don’t know something, or if I’ve been wrong, or to “see the other guy’s point of view” in a discussion, only to notice later on that these were interpreted as signs of weakness and lack of expertise.

Here’s a potential solution, which may already exist, though I haven’t found it: A social networking site related to tech, maybe limited to women (at first?) where women post profiles, links to things they’ve done, and give each other advice on forums, and (this is crucial) write testimonials on each other’s profiles/give each other points. This would allow certain top tech women to get more exposure without forcing them to additionally break through the “nice girls aren’t pushy” collar that many of us were given by our parents and educational institutions.

Why keep this theoretical site women-only? Because women have this additional obstacle to get through, that most men don’t seem to. Men are told to get out there and get visible. Women are told to wait and be found.