Personal growth Finding your path Graphic design Purposeful work


It can often take years to find our grooves in employment, or even to take that first step into being freelance. It can be particularly difficult as a woman when there is a lack of role models in senior creative positions. Finding women-led communities can provide you everything you’re missing in permanent employment, and ultimately drive your professional development to the next level.

20 February 2023 • 4 min read

Photo by Norbert Braun on Unsplash

Five years ago, my all-consuming focus in life was to move on in my career and find a more senior design role. Due to the immense competition in the graphic design industry, and the fact I was getting nowhere applying for jobs, I decided I needed to go out and search for opportunities. I set about finding as many creative talks, groups and design networking events in London as possible, in the hope of finding a route to my dream job.

Rather than attending events showcasing polished design projects or led by top industry players or studios, I looked for groups that were about creating connections and conversations, where people were sharing advice and lessons learnt throughout their careers, and relating to each other in a real way. Before long I realised something – I was largely being drawn to female-led initiatives.

Many of the communities I became part of were set up by female creatives who saw the need for more supportive spaces and recognised the importance of forming alliances with peers, rather than viewing others as competition. At one design mentorship event, I remember feeling the air fizz with emotion in a group discussion as a participant shared her story of being undervalued in her company. There was an equal sense of frustration and relief as we shared stories of feeling stuck in our working lives. It was transformative to be sat in a room with creatives who were being so honest and open, and discovering they were striving for the same things as me.

These open and transparent initiatives encouraged reflection on what it means to be a woman or non-binary in the design industry, and the challenges that one can face. A study by Prospects Illuminate1 shows that although more females than males study creative arts subjects in further education, a smaller proportion of them go into creative jobs after education. Reasons outlined in the study include many ‘creative industries’ being viewed as traditionally male spheres, a lack of female role models (for example, the same study quotes that 96% of Creative Directors are male whilst a survey done by the Young Creative Council in 2016 revealed that 88% of young female creatives feel they lack role models), the impact of negative placement experiences and the prevalence of self-employment in creative roles.

The last point is particularly interesting and can perhaps be linked to how female creatives are more reluctant to confidently advertise their own abilities. This is reinforced by a Hewlett Packard report that found that men will apply for a job if they meet 60% of the qualifications, whereas women will apply only if they meet 100% of them. When a large part of freelancing is not only having the confidence in your skills, but also to share your expertise without hesitation, freelancing can seem daunting for some female creatives.

For me, becoming a regular at these female-led design events in the city was a huge boost. I found communities that offered support when I was feeling isolated, uninspired, and at a crossroads in life. Discovering how other women had made career decisions or started their own companies inspired me to reflect on my goals and consider a different path. Conversations and connections opened me up to a new way of thinking and were catalysts for new ideas and projects. I may not have found role models in the traditional working environments of my permanent employment, but I was certainly finding them here.

Finding spaces where the ethos is about championing each other was a breath of fresh air. I felt my sense of value growing again. I was making connections and forming friendships, reigniting my passion for design and in turn, a renewed energy for my work. I learned of the power of a design community for an individual as well as the industry as a whole. If we strive to create a better industry for ourselves, working together, ensuring we have diversity and are open to a wide range of voices, that in turn, will have a positive impact on the work we do, and the future we create for the world.

I never found that dream job. But I found a great plan B – the unexpected inspiration to pack in my job hunt and go freelance, despite the challenges. The network I’d grown by the time I made my decision played a vital role in my journey to going solo, and still supports me now. I had fears about becoming freelance but reaching out to the people around me helped demystify a lot of my ideas and gave me the courage to go for it.

It seems clear that there is still a long way to go for there to be true gender equality within the creative industries, and not enough is being done within traditional agencies to address this. I would urge any female creatives out there who are looking to grow to reach out and look for female-led communities. These groups, focused on empowering creatives through collaboration, sharing knowledge as well as lessons learnt are where true change is happening. It is through these communities you will find your role models, your mentors, your peers. Here is where you’ll find women leading the march to equality within the industry.

I’d like to share some of the amazing organisations who have been part of my journey: Kerning the Gap, Ladies, Wine & Design, Rye Here Rye Now, She Says and Fail Better talks.

Finding your path Graphic design Personal growth Purposeful work

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