Design professor Milena Radzikowska was inspired to organize the panel held on March 29, after another feminist event at MRU featured provincial cabinet minister Stephanie McLean, responsible for Status of Women and Service Alberta, speaking about workplace inequality.
“To actually hear someone in power acknowledge the way the world works was a little shocking and wonderful. It was like a breath of fresh air.”
Radzikowska says she remembers the moment she stopped identifying as just a person in the workplace, and realized, “Holy shit, I have a vagina."
The crowd drew women of all ages, ranging from young design students to older women with years of experience. There were several men attending as well. Much of the discussion was fueled by input from attendees, ranging from internship abuse to systemic discrimination.
Five Calgary female designers challenge workplace inequality
Lively discussion and candid anecdotes from both the speakers and the audience filled the room.
But behind the laughter and friendly atmosphere, the topics at hand were troubling. Stories of double standards and outright sexism in the workplace were met with insight from each of panelists. Here’s what they had to say:
Diane Mitchnick, senior programmer analyst at the City of Calgary on confidence and apologetic behaviour
“I’ve had guys tell me that sometimes I’m like a guy because I say how it is or I’m not afraid to go up against leaders and say if something’s a poor choice … but I don’t consider that to be a guy trait, I consider that to be confidence in what you believe in and confidence in your own morals. I actually mentor female developers that come aboard, and one thing I notice is they have a tendency to want to be agreeable, so I say, never say you’re sorry. Don’t start with I’m sorry, don’t even end with I’m sorry. If you want to say your opinion, you say your opinion and you back it up. You say why you think this design needs to be changed to be this way or why you think it could be another way … If you want to go higher, you gotta have that confidence.’”
Chelsea Watson, senior user experience designer at Evans Hunt on language and supporting other women
“Women a lot of times are perceived with their personality, like you are being more aggressive versus assertive. The positive traits we use for men being confident, but women are [thought of as] being aggressive or disagreeable, when I’m just being confident and I know what I’m talking about ... It’s like this fine line of where do I land? What should I be more of? What do I need to be less of? Something that I’ve caught myself doing and I’m trying to be better at is not speaking poorly about women. A lot of times it’s, ‘She is so bitchy,’ or ‘She’s so difficult to work with.’ Wait a minute, what am I saying? Is my male counterpart also difficult to work with? We need to champion each other and whether it’s standing up for their idea or maybe biting my tongue if I want to be gossipy or complain about another women in the workplace, not facilitating that and shutting it down.”
Cecelia Humphrey, creative director at Creative Capture on standing up and assertiveness
“If you do speak up and stand by what you believe should be right or fair, you get the backing and the respect, eventually, if you yourself really believe you have a right to say this, a right to believe that. But if you don’t believe in that and you’re quaking at the boots, that’s going to be sensed by those around you, whether they’re men or women, and they’ll question you ... I always looked at whoever was my superior or director as more of a collaborator in a similar goal, rather than are they a man or a woman? I think it’s subtle sometimes. I never really realized if there was any kind of sexual discrimination. I always thought it was a personality thing or a competency thing. Sometimes it’s blatant and sometimes it subtle. You don’t know until later on, you look back.”
Susan Casement, senior design specialist at United Way of Calgary and Area on education and self-marketing
"I would like to point out in the industry of design that you don’t have to go to school in design to be able to have a design job. Many of the men who were in a higher level than I was did not hold a design degree and did not do anything design. You see all the women who are taking these courses, but is there equality in education and in who is getting the jobs?"
Angel Aubichon, entrepreneur at Indi City on versatility and intuition
“Masculine and feminine is in all of us, we both have that set of traits and [can bring] them forward however we need to, in whatever situation we’re in … I believe that women, we are born with this really deep connection to our intuition because we’re the portals of life. We bring beings into this world through our bodies, so we innately have to have this connection to ourselves. So when I think about the world and what it would be like if there was equality, I believe we would have a world that’s just a little bit more intuitive, and a little bit more able to tap into human connection and the dynamic between all of us, so that we’d have more of an understanding of each other.”
Editor's note: This article has been changed from the original version to protect the professional reputation of one of the panelists.
- By Lexi Freehill