Women in Design & Technology

Historically speaking, the entertainment industry has been a dominantly male workforce.  Workers in the design and technology sector have followed this trend, minus a few notable exceptions in areas like costuming, wigs, and make-up. That is not to say that there aren’t capable designers and technicians lacking the Y-chromosome in every area of design and technology. In fact, as a university professor I have noticed a trend to the opposite; over the last decade at separate universities of varying size, demographics, and missions; my observation is that women tend to outrank the men. My area of expertise lies in theatrical design, but in speaking to a number of my colleagues in art, interior design, music, and graphic design this trend seems to be consistent with their experiences, as well (the exception being in Simulation and Video Game design, which still featured more men).

I attended a conference this weekend for high school students auditioning for university theatre scholarships. Of all of the designers and technicians I met, 88% of them were young women! This is obviously not a designed test group for scientific study, but my personal experience and those of many of my colleagues tells me that we have more women than men studying to be designers and technicians these days.

The fact is interesting, given the comparison of women in training programs vs. those in the upper echelon of their respective fields. The difference becomes quite disheartening. The Bureau of Labor Statistics throws a somewhat wide net over the entertainment industry, listing one generic marker of “Arts, Entertainment, and Recreation” for those in the industry. In a November 2013 survey from the BLS,  55% of the individuals who categorized themselves as working in the Arts, Entertainment, and Recreation sector were men. While, at first glance this doesn’t appear to be a great disparity,  let’s extend our look out to those regarded as the most successful in their field. Will the numbers remain consistent? The Antoinette Perry, of “Tony” Awards symbolize the highest honor a theatrical artist can  achieve on the American stage. Last year 6/40 Tony nominations for theatrical design were for females (7, if you count a co-nomination for a man and woman) with 3 of those coming from costume design. Best case scenario, women only accounted for 17.5% percent of those recognized as the best in their field. From a strictly numeric approach, that seems to indicate that even though there may be more women entering into the entertainment design & technology industry, they are less represented at the highest levels of the industry.

What does it all mean? Well, it’s hard to say. For one thing, these are two different study groups. Those Tony award nominees have typically been working in the field for decades. The young women training to be designers and technicians over the last ten years are highly unlikely to have reached that professional level at this point in their careers. The real question is will the trend of an increase in females studying to be designers and technicians find its way into the industry? It remains to be seen, but I, for one, certainly hope so. If the young ladies I met over this weekend and those in my classes are any indication, though, the old guard had better get ready. The industry is about to be shaken up by some great designers and technicians!

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