Why Are Women Still Behind in the Design World?

It’s 2020, but women designers still face lower pay and less opportunity. What gives?

Olivia Brown
Published in
6 min readJan 28, 2020


Illustrations: Olivia Brown

EEqual pay. Equal representation. Equal opportunity. If you think these are givens of the professional design world — think again. In some ways, design in 2020 is still in the dark ages. We spoke with top female creative directors to find out just how dark it is.

Fifty-three percent of all graphic designers are women, but only 11% of creative directors are women. We know what you’re thinking: That’s it? 11%? You’re joking. But it’s true. It’s perfectly plausible that a female graphic designer might never work under a female creative director. In fact, 70% of young female creatives say they have never worked under a female creative director.

But does it really matter if your CD is male or female? After all, your boss might never be your favorite person in the world, so does it make a difference if they look like you?

It does. Women in graphic design who have worked for women — like Abbey Kuster-Prokell, creative director at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, and Claire Fraze, senior art director at Swift Agency — told us exactly how valuable that experience can be.

“Over the course of my career, I’ve made a conscious effort to only work for strong, uber-talented women,” Kuster-Prokell said. “In most of these roles, I didn’t make as much as some of my friends, but I valued the experience more. Not to discredit my time with male CDs, but it’s the female CDs who have helped to shape not only my career, but who I am.”

“I was a decade into my career before ever experiencing female leadership,” said Fraze. “When I was finally lucky enough to work under an incredible female CD, my self-confidence and growth just skyrocketed. She challenged me as much as she encouraged me and took the time to figure out what motivated me in a way I had not experienced previously.”