As a female focused studio, gender is an issue we don't avoid talking about. Jen was invited to speak on the panel to kick off this AIGA series tackling topics regarding design, career paths, leadership, work/life balance, family, the next generation of female leaders, and more. It was followed by a brief Q+A, all moderated by Kristin Rogers Brown, Art Director at Bitch Media, Assistant Professor at PNCA.
Jen Lorentzen | Creative Director at Clutched Key
Keri Elmsly | Executive Creative Director at Second Story
Liz Valentine | Co-founder and CEO at Swift
Tsili Pines | Founding Co-Director of Design Week Portland, Host of CreativeMornings, Creative Director at FINE
Jen's recap below:
We agreed we wanted to answer questions about design from our experience as women, but not discuss specific issues relevant to being a woman. We discussed gender on a few points, but wholly it was a perspective based evening.
Most of us agreed that women aren’t asked to speak enough, the reasons for that were speculated in line with industry coverage on the subject (women have to get home to families, that they don’t get asked and then don’t come up in searches, etc). We all agreed you say “yes” when you’re asked so that it perpetuates a reality where it happens more. We talked about the benefits of single speaker content verses panels and and how they connect differently with an audience. Single speaker can be more complete and thoughtful because there is usually a message and an a thesis. Panels, like this one, are stronger when the participants varied backgrounds bring contrasting insights to the same topic. Each panel member had wildly different roles and experience - but there was a lot of consensus on the issues we discussed.
There is an expectation that women mentor women, and while senior women should make sure junior women are not being left in the dust, my mentors have been gender equal (two men and two women). As a woman, I do my part to answer all the emails I get from young female designers, but you can’t ask to be a mentee. It’s all about chemistry, and these relationships are organic and grow like any other. Like-minded mentors will see things very similar to you, and their suggestions might seem more natural but come with sage wisdom and experience. Other mentors have a really different approach and their perspective can be enlightening and influence how you handle a situation differently than your gut reaction. A mentor doesn’t need to be from the design scene - sometimes it’s all about personal dynamics and how you handle challenges, not just the craft. Appreciate the chapters and the people who help guide you through them, it’s important to understand they will come and go.
On preserving the Portland design scene.
I think the most important facet is to keep the collaborative vibe happening. In the small studio scene there is a great community between friends and colleagues that help each other. Not just for billing or logistic help, I have shared files for help tweaking a letterform I can’t get right. Sometimes you just need fresh eyes, and that sharing and collaboration makes us all deliver better work that elevates the credibility of Portland studios. Liz talked about how Swift works hard to hire people who share the principals they see as relevant so that these new folks contribute to the scene instead of derailing it.
On conferencing vs collaboration.
When I went to the 3% Conference in SF it seemed like the biggest waste to have 450 of the best female creatives there listening to panels of people who had experiences similar to their own. Where was the call to action? Where was the take away? When we hosted Mahfia Sessions we went out on a limb to host a gathering that activated those who came to help solve a problem, not just listen to others give their perspective. I think this was an amazing way to engage, build relationships and for everyone to learn something. Women respected each other and everyone got out of it what they put in.
On being the only woman.
In the Q&A a young designer asked if she was compromising by staying at a studio where she was the only female. I asked her if she was happy, to which she replied that she was. One of the best chapters of my career I was the only female on a team. We worked seamlessly and looked out for each other. It’s all about the people - never walk away from a good team (it will be over before you know it)! This exchange at the event prompted me to reach out to those guys and we engaged in nostalgic email banter that lasted days.