A group of women in the design field at ASU are working to reshape some of their discipline's most persistent problems: a lack of representation for women and public perceptions that can prevent them from advancing in disciplines like architecture.
And it's a problem that begins at the college level, experts in the field say.
“Pretty much all design fields are seen through the traditional white male idea,” said Samantha Perkins, a professor in The Design School at ASU. "And it's interesting because women are not well represented (in that idea), which is startling with the amount of women in the field."
A 2017 study by the Architectural Review states that 60 percent of architects believe members of the industry have not fully accepted the authority of women architects. The study finds that women have experienced widespread discrimination and in some cases harassment from clients and coworkers alike.
Combatting this issue and others in the design field is part of the objective of the Women in Design conference that The Design School is hosting on March 15. The conference will bring together student organizations and women from five different design fields to discuss their career paths and issues of inequity.
The free event is hosted by a collaboration between groups including Latino Architecture Student Association (LASO), the American Institute of Graphic Arts, the American Society of Landscape Architects, the Student Organization of Women Architects and Allied Arts and more.
Perkins said she is glad to see students identify and seek to rectify the disparity between men and women in architecture.
“ASU is known for its desire to smash the walls of inequity, so it should happen simply because we house the education of those ... industries," she said.
Amanda Gomez, a junior majoring in graphic design and the president of the ASU chapter of the American Institute of Graphic Arts, said the Women in Design conference is starting a conversation on inequality in the industry at an important time.
“I think in the last five to 10 years women have been making a statement, and it’s important that women in design realize where we are,” Gomez said. “I think it's a really great opportunity, not only to network, but to learn and grow as a person and designer.”
One key point is that the conference is open to all — including men, who have a role in improving representation for women in the design field as well.
Oriana Gil Perez, a senior majoring in architecture and one of the founders of LASO, said the idea of architecture as a male-led industry stems from the fact that women architecture students don't feel supported going into their field.
“I think there needs to be more diversity there as well because we want to say, ‘I'm able to be a leader of my own firm and community and make a change,'" Perez said.
Brett Cordova, a senior majoring in landscape architecture and president of the ASU chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects, said men can learn to speak up in spaces where women are underrepresented and bring light to the impact that women make in the design industry.
“I think we can just respect women and give them credit when credit is due,” Cordova said. “I feel like we’re all equals trying to better our discipline.”
He said a lot of his favorite designers are women and that they have inspired him as a design student.
“Without them I wouldn’t know what to do or have that inspiration,” Cordova said. “The information needs to get out that women are underserved in these industries and it’s unfair.”
Perkins said she hopes these stories can serve as inspiration for young designers hoping to come up in an industry where the odds can seem stacked against them.
“We want those students to smash the glass ceilings in place within the professional industry,” she said.