Female suffrage in the spotlight
Posted on 01/03/2018 by IED
One hundred years is clearly not long enough in design and engineering!
So, you have probably been made aware through various media campaigns that 2018 marks 100 years of women’s suffrage - or, put another way, 100 years since the 1918 Act of Parliament that gave some women the right to vote.
I noted, for example, that the National Trust, of which I am a member, devoted much of the Spring edition of its magazine to women associated with both the suffrage movement and the NT’s places. Not many designers or engineers made it onto the list, I see! Well, what would you expect from those associated with NT places? I hear you ask.
Then I noticed that Design Week recently featured an article on ‘The most influential female designers of the last century’1 - again driven by recognition of 100 years of women’s suffrage. Graphics, furniture, textiles, architecture all feature and there were some famous names, such as Ray Eames, Zaha Hadid, Lucienne Day, Eileen Gray, to name a few - but no product designers. The closest was industrial designer Hella Jongerius.
I then turned to the Women’s Engineering Society (WES), established in 1919, only one year after the 1918 Act. WES which runs the 50 most influential women in engineering campaign, picks the following as being ‘familiar senior engineers’2 from its 2016 list: Dame Ann Dowling OM DBE, President of the Royal Academy of Engineering; Naomi Climer, President of the Institution of Engineering and Technology; and Dame Judith Hackitt DBE, former Chair of the Health and Safety Executive and now Chair of EEF, the Manufacturers’ Organisation.
Appropriately, given the current focus on women’s suffrage, Chi Onwurah MP – the only female engineer in the House of Commons – is on the list. I also noticed two of our own Honorary Fellows making the 50 list: Dame Ann Dowling and Amanda Chessell CBE FREng. However, I ask myself, would any of these be names familiar to the general public?
So, as the only professional body to be able to award a Chartership specifically for product designers, it is time we celebrated suffrage and produced our own ‘Most influential’ list for product design, and to call upon the membership to devise our top 5 or 10 most influential women in that category. It would be great if some of those named were as well known as, say, Philippe Starke, Dieter Rams, Ross Lovegrove, Ken Grange, Jonathan Ive, or our own Honorary Fellows James Dyson and Ian Callum.