Women In Furniture
Dr Lynn Jones
Published on February 26, 2018, Linkedin
So The Observer didn't acknowledge my letter last week pointing out that their article the previous week about up and coming 'carpenters' omitted any women makers, nor did they print it in their Letters column. In the grand scheme of things, it may not seem important, but for me, seeing nothing much changing in the 35 years I have been in this industry, frustrates me...
The reasons there are still fewer women than men choosing a career in the furniture industry are manifold:
1. Career choice
Girls at school are not presented with furniture making or design as an option in most state schools in the UK. Textile design, graphic design, fine art, illustration, ceramics and fashion design are more often part of the art & design ‘diet’ at school; anyone wanting to study Architecture at degree level is treated in even higher academic esteem by many teachers (over 35 years ago I was encouraged to study architecture by my teachers rather than furniture design and was not allowed to take woodwork, technical drawing or metalwork). By comparison, furniture design is invisible in school, and girls, like me, STILL only stumble across it by chance, either because a teacher (in my case, an Art & Design Foundation Course tutor) brings it to their attention. Changes to the National Curriculum and the reduction and even removal of creative subjects as core subjects only adds to the lack of visibility of the subject at school level.
2. Male dominant subject (in University and other HE courses):
When I studied furniture design at uni in the 1980s, I was the only female. Today, figures have improved on some courses, but not to the extent where there is yet equal gender balance on furniture specific courses.
3. TV and media presence of the subject:
Unlike baking, cooking (The Great British Bake-off; Masterchef et al) and sewing (The Great British Sewing Bee), furniture design doesn’t get the airtime. Gok Wan’s Fill Your House For Free, new to Channel 4, is perhaps an exception. The ever popular Grand Designs is half way there but it rarely tackles the design of the furniture, frustratingly featuring Eames and Corbusier chair lookalikes on the CAD visuals on almost every programme.
4. Drop in self esteem and confidence:
For me, this is perhaps the most worrying – I find many female graduates, often with first class degrees and MAs, working in retail shops, bars, cafes and other non-design related, low paid work. They tell me that if they don’t find a job in the industry on leaving college, they have to work to pay the rent and bills, with their debt from Uni/college fees only adding to their pressure nowadays. The longer they do this work, the harder it is to break the cycle and find a job in the industry because they work such long hours. They lose confidence and become dependent on the job they don’t necessarily like. They find it hard to get help to write a CV and prepare a portfolio and if they have other commitments like children typically, it is even more difficult.
Young women also leave the furniture industry more often then their male counterparts, citing commuting, inflexible hours and discrimination in the workplace as the most common reasons, so we know that they have to be inspired to both enter and then to remain in the furniture industry, which brings me right back to last week's article in The Observer: it's omission of any female furniture makers was perhaps just a clumsy mistake. But how furniture making, carpentry, joinery and any other male dominated discipline is portrayed by the media needs to change if we are all to benefit from a more healthily gender balanced, furniture industry workforce.
There will always be the people who get lucky, meet the right person at the right time, find a good female role model or happen upon a school which has a teacher or headteacher who cares about the subject enough to promote or include it. It is my personal belief however, that there are a great many more people, who don't.