Addressing Gender Inequality and Inequity in Industrial Design

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Walters, Kellie
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Symposium on Undergraduate Research and Creative Expression
Iowa State University Conferences and Symposia

The Symposium provides undergraduates from all academic disciplines with an opportunity to share their research with the university community and other guests through conference-style oral presentations. The Symposium represents part of a larger effort of Iowa State University to enhance, support, and celebrate undergraduate research activity.

Though coordinated by the University Honors Program, all undergraduate students are eligible and encouraged to participate in the Symposium. Undergraduates conducting research but not yet ready to present their work are encouraged to attend the Symposium to learn about the presentation process and students not currently involved in research are encouraged to attend the Symposium to learn about the broad range of undergraduate research activities that are taking place at ISU.

The first Symposium was held in April 2007. The 39 students who presented research and their mentors collectively represented all of ISU's Colleges: Agriculture and Life Sciences, Business, Design, Engineering, Human Sciences, Liberal Arts and Sciences, Veterinary Medicine, and the Graduate College. The event has grown to regularly include more than 100 students presenting on topics that span the broad range of disciplines studied at ISU.

Industrial Design

Research tells us that gender-inclusivity only improves corporate outcome. Corporations that are gender-balanced see an increase in creativity and innovation and a 15% rise in performance. Women are able to produce higher sales, employee engagement, team self-confidence, high physiological safety, and are more likely to promote and yearn for sustainable practice (Lance Hosey, Arch Daily).

These components are not only crucial to a better workplace environment, but are now essential to contemporary industrial design practice. Yet when looking for women in the field, we not only find few and far between, but there is opposition from both men and women toward the validity of discussing this topic and a tendency to tell female students to work harder for success rather than look for the root of these inequalities. While architecture, engineering, and STEM as a whole have support groups for women; there is no support base for Industrial Design, let alone a student organization to inspire female students. We have found an exorbitant, ever-present list of research on gender equity in other STEM disciplines and only one on inequality in Industrial Design. When discussion about starting a women’s Industrial Design organization started at Iowa State University, all other faculty told us that it would be an exclusive group and not supported by the institution; even though only 25% of our students are women regardless of the fact that research shows that women’s groups in male dominated fields lead to the success of not only women, but the field as a whole. We are not capable of even starting quantifiable research on this topic without expressing the validity and gaining support for pursing this area of interest. We want to shed light on the reality of gender inequality and inequity in Industrial Design professional practice and education. It is not only crucial to include half the population that would be using the product on the design team, but also to allow women to design things like female pleasure toys which have been designed by straight men like Karim Rashid.