Something’s been bugging us for some time. 

We’ve noticed large numbers of female design students, yet a much lower number of women in senior leadership roles. We want to change this.

UP is a vehicle for change; an initiative to motivate, galvanise and shake up the status quo. We don’t need to put up a fight, but we can all make a few small but significant changes to make sure that everyone has the opportunity to flourish and that female designers can get to the top of the ladder, just like their male counterparts.

What’s UP?

UP came to life when our MD, Emma Blackburn, was working closely with students and graduates through Buddies, a WEDF scheme that connects students with senior design professionals. Noticing that most of the pairings were male professionals working with female students, she felt strongly that WEDF needed to act. Hooking us up with inspiring London initiative, Kerning the Gap, Emma’s observations were backed up when they told her women make up 70% of graphic students yet only 11% of leadership roles.

We started the UP initiative in 2017 by running a couple of informal workshops under the working title, Women in Design. Understandably, only a couple of broad-minded guys joined us. This sparked the realisation that if our initiative was going to succeed, it needed the support of our entire industry. And so, just like that, UP was born. Our new name is intended to be inclusive, positive and unifying. 

The UPs and downs

We know that not enough women are rising to the top, despite making up the majority of graphic design students. But in the workplace, the problem can be hard to spot.

The days of Mad Men levels of sexism and misogyny are long gone. It’s not as simple as agencies simply choosing to pay women less, or deciding not to hire them into senior roles. On paper, men and women appear to be given fairly equal opportunities.

It all started to make sense when we realised that giving everyone the same’ opportunities doesn’t necessarily work in a world where everyone needs different conditions to thrive. We’re all a product of the society we’ve grown up in: a society where gender biases (and many other biases) feed our diverse experiences and expectations.

With that in mind, we’ve decided to focus less on the idea of treating everyone the same, and more on the idea of embracing difference.

Our idea of UP

UP isn’t just about climbing the career ladder. It’s about creating an ecosystem that enables us all to thrive, whatever our idea of success. So we’ve decided to ditch the facts and figures and concluded that there should be no measure of success – other than for UP to be deemed irrelevant.

Action changes attitude faster than attitude changes action.

— Adam Ferrier, psychologist

Moving on UP

We’ve initially chosen five key areas to focus on which provide us with practical and achievable ways we can all make a difference. The UP website shares working models and case studies around these areas, providing a digital home for our movement for change.

Divide UP

Let’s embrace shared parental leave with open arms. If you assume every employee might take parental leave at some point in their career, then you’re looking at everyone through the same lens.

Listen UP

Good mentoring is important. A classic instance of more is more. The more people are given, the more they’ll give back, and the happier and more productive they’ll be.

Loosen UP

Flexible working patterns mean a better work/​life balance for all. Whether you’re juggling family life, projects on the side or just need time to learn to juggle — it’s not a lot to ask.

Mix it UP

We’re an eclectic bunch, and that’s a good thing for design studios everywhere. By giving everyone the chance to tailor their own training, you’ll only enhance that eclecticism. 

Big UP

Celebrate success, share brilliance, champion ingenuity at every level and give credit where it’s due. Create regular time in your team meetings, start an internal recognition scheme and tell the world about the great people you work with. Get in touch if you’d like to create your own regional version of UP, or to blow your own or agency trumpet in one of our case studies.

Big UP: credit where credit’s due. Get in touch if you’d like to join the case studies.

Keep UP

You can find UP online, on Instagram and on LinkedIn.

Join us on the UP

WEDF UP is a growing, evolving initiative and is seeking fresh thinking and ideas to share. Created by a group of passionate volunteers who have given up their time for free, and supported with generous pro bono help from Taxi Studio, Touchpoint Design and creative freelancers like Stu Humphrey, we also need your help to ensure this initiative reaches those working in design. Please get in touch with your case studies, tell us about great people doing good things and most importantly, get involved!