Equal pay in design: how do we make it a reality?

Filed Under: Article , Womens Leadership

Equal Pay Day is the symbolic day recognizing how far on average women must work to earn what men earned in the previous year.

Two powerful words, one unfulfilled promise. Equal pay remains a goal, not a reality, for many women not only in the design industry, but in every industry. In fact, as more women move into male-dominated fields, salaries are dropping, according to research aggregated by the New York Times.

But it’s a problem that can be fixed if there’s enough determination to have the necessary conversations at the individual, organizational, and societal level. Here are the facts that every designer and employer should know:

  • On average, full-time women workers’ earnings are only about 79 percent of their male counterparts’ earnings.
  • The pay gap is even greater for African American and Latina women, with African American women earning 64 cents and Latina women earning just 56 cents for every dollar earned by a white non-Hispanic man.

Equal pay is the law, but it’s often ignored.

Despite common misconception, equal pay is not simply a recommendation. In fact, the White House website plainly states: “Despite passage of the Equal Pay Act of 1963, which requires that men and women in the same work place be given equal pay for equal work, the ‘gender gap’ in pay persists.”


Image by Lynda Decker and Kevin Lamb

Equal pay is a family issue.

As more women enter positions that have traditionally been occupied by men, they now make up nearly half of the U.S. labor force and are becoming the breadwinners in their families. This compounds the modern reality that when women are not paid fairly, not only do they suffer, but their families do as well.

Equal pay is a competitive advantage.

Women are responsible for $7 trillion in consumer spending in the U.S. alone. If women are every brand’s top customer, shouldn’t they be in leadership roles at those brands? In addition to practicing lawful business equity, when a company pays equal wages it also gains a strategic advantage by creating a climate that honors everyone and offering products that resonate with a large contingency of its consumers.

According to a recent study by She-conomy, 91 percent of women feel misunderstood by advertisers. And if advertisers don't understand women (and their spending power), then it stands to reason that brands don’t either.

What can designers do?

Learn how to recognize compensation discrimination. The White House has excellent guidance and action items.

Talk with your leadership team and frame equal pay as a competitive advantage. From Kate Newlin’s compelling argument to Judith Glaser’s work on conversational intelligence, which favors co-creation over confrontation, there is a wealth of resources to start the conversation.

Value your own work and worth. Become an advocate for your own equal pay. Author Mika Brezkinski articulates this process in Know Your Value. And don’t miss our three-part webcast series led by She Negotiates founder Lisa Gates:

Exercise empathy. No matter your gender, leadership status, or personal experience with (or without) bias, you can rely on empathy—the keystone of good design—to advance equity in your own workplace culture and spheres of influence. Stay tuned for an exciting toolkit dedicated to this topic coming late 2016.

Share your story with AIGA’s Women Lead Initiative (WLI) on Twitter @AIGAdesign #AIGAwomenlead


Image by Jada Britto

Julie Anixter is the executive director of AIGA, the professional association for design​. Since January 2016, she has been working in the design space to oversee strategies and ​new initiatives to enhance the value and competitive success of designers. A vocal advocate for the power of design for more than 20 years, ​Julie’s career has spanned business, education, and the public sector.

All graphics by WLI Steering Committee members.