Words by Lily Therens & Photographs by Betty Zhou

On Friday, October 5, members of the Lionakis Graphics Studio attended the AIGA San Francisco Event “WILD: Women in Leadership & Design.” As part of a larger initiative by the American Institute of Graphic Arts to aim for gender parity in design and graphic arts, this WILD Event allowed artists and designers to come together to discuss and analyze the gender divide in design leadership. Paintings, digital art and sculptures by eleven local female artists surrounded the room of the West Sacramento City Hall Galleria, allowing attendees to view the art while networking with industry peers. After connecting with peers, attendees gathered for a panel discussion moderated by Monica Archuleta, Graphics Technician at the City of West Sacramento and Amanda Sanchez, Freelance designer and organizer behind Design Week Sacramento. The event’s five panelists included:

Amanda Sebastiani, Freelance Art Director and Co-Host of Creative Mornings Sacramento

Carol Heard, Creative Manager at the Grid Agency

Ashley Rodseth, Creative Director at Honey Agency

Olivia Jones, Design Lead at Finance of America Mortgage

Hans Bennewitz, Art Director of VSP Global and artist at Interval Press

(listed as pictured above, left to right)

Each of the five panelists were creative directors in the design industry, with stories to tell of their roads to leadership. Each panelist shared how they came to a position of leadership as well their unique thoughts on the importance of diversity (gender and race alike) in such positions.

Panelists discussed how surprisingly under-represented females are at the higher levels of leadership, especially in a female-dominated industry like Graphic Design. With a scale-tipping 60.4% of graphic design degree-holders identifying as female, why are we not seeing that reflected in our leadership?

Why are only 11% of leadership roles filled by women?

What challenges are there for women looking to achieve those roles? How can we encourage current and upcoming professionals to be mindful of this gap? Female panelists discussed their unique challenges in pursuing a leadership role, and Bennewitz, the sole male panelist, recounted witnessing challenges his female coworkers endured. Takeaways from the event for us were many. One that stood out most was the importance of mentorship, not only for leaders but for fellow designers who are too often pitted against one another in a competitive fashion. This means both women and men encouraging female designers to pursue the highest possible rank, and passing on the knowledge gained from climbing the ladder to those on the lower rungs.

Following the panel was a workshop that utilized a Gender Equity Toolkit by AIGASF to break down gender norms:


Attendees broke into two groups and asked one another questions from the Toolkit. Questions included prompts like “What is your design super power?” “What does leadership mean to you?” and “what is the one thing you would change about yourself?”

Not surprisingly, the answers came loaded with tons of gendered expectations. One female answered if she could change one thing about herself, she would be more assertive. Several other females commented in agreement, cringing at how normal it was for women to feel the pressure to be more assertive in order to be better suited for leadership.

Word Association: Female, Male or Neutral?

In this exercise, participants paired off and were given a stack of flashcards with completely random words to quiz their partner. Does the word shown feel female, male, or neutral? Words like “brave,” “angry” and “conquer” garnered a lot of “male” responses, while other words like “hope,” “peace” received more “female” responses. People tended to stay neutral on words like “utopia” “hands” and “surgeon.” The exercise was an eye-opening look at how even simple words carry connotations of and associations to gender.

Role Play

This challenge was indeed challenging! Two participants sat at the front of the workshop, one playing the role of the boss, and the other as the employee. The challenge for the employee: Ask for a raise. The challenge for the boss: Say no five times. Each round grew increasingly more difficult for both participants, with both learning how to stand solid when challenged but also how to communicate and negotiate.

This exercise felt especially useful, with the ever-looming issue of gender pay-gap on the minds of attendees. Additionally, females in active leadership positions have issues of their own, particularly with how they come off to others. Many women feel that appearing cold-hearted or uncompromising—a trait men are continuously heralded for—can make them polarizing to others. Many women are tremendously compromising in fear that they will rub folks the wrong way. The dilemma women face with toeing the line of assertiveness can often be stifling.

The workshop and panel helped to emphasize the fact that gender stereotypes and disparities are still prevalent, even in a female-dominated industry like Graphic Design. However, it was also a nice reminder of the attainability and benefits of female leadership. While women in design might struggle to find those “ins” and salary boosts, women and men alike can provide support and understanding to help achieve gender parity.


See more event info here  and learn more below about the Gender Equity Toolkit by AIGASF in this video: