Monday, July 02, 2018

Gender equality and the design dilemma

If you work in learning media and do not believe in gender equality then this article is not for you. It may be you’re quite happy with how women and girls are generally portrayed in adverts, video games and films. It could be you’re comfortable with including a token woman in your productions, as long as she’s young and beautiful and only then as a sop to political correctness gone mad. If this is you, this article will not be of interest.

This article is for those people who genuinely believe in gender equality and want to do their small bit to make it a reality.

But who are caught on the horns of a dilemma.

As a designer of learning content, you have a responsibility to your client to deliver an effective learning solution – one that helps to satisfy the underlying need. And as someone who is familiar with evidence-based principles of learning and teaching you will be well aware that a learning experience has got to feel believable, authentic, convincing.

Your concern is that, if you major on gender equality, showing women in positions that they rarely occupy in real life, but which they are perfectly capable of performing, then your content loses credibility. You might turn off some of your audience.

So, let’s imagine you are casting a video. You want to show senior managers in an engineering company discussing a business strategy. Perhaps in your client’s company there are no women in those positions. So, what do you do? If you include no women, you do nothing to encourage a change for the better in terms of gender equality. If you include just one, you risk being accused of tokenism.

And if you go half and half, you might just put off some of your learners who find it all unbelievable.

If we’re not careful, we end up with a stalemate. We just go through the motions and we never move on. Women who are taking your courses and viewing your content will swiftly catch on to what is ‘normal around here’. And, unless they are unusually determined, they will be discouraged from pursuing careers in occupations dominated by men.

We need to take a stand and put gender equality first for once. Why? Because, as learning designers, we are well placed to make a difference. In many cases, we represent the establishment – the employers, the colleges, the governments. What we show in our content should represent how those institutions would like things to be, not how they have traditionally been.

What this means is that we go much further than putting a token female in a setting in which they are rarely to be seen. We show them on at least an equal footing and looking completely comfortable with that situation. And where we do include images of women in our content, we don’t show models with pretty faces and perfect bodies. If we do, we only swap one form of oppression for another.

And if we turn off a few of our learners who don’t feel that what we’ve produced for them is authentic then too bad. These people do not represent our future and we cannot put them first.

Clive is now Instrumentality


  1. Well written.
    Gender equality in design caught my attention. Awaiting more write ups on this topic.

  2. Great article, I am doing a project on gender equality and this article is really helpful

  3. Your article is very inspiring and true. Women can be as intelligent and resolute as men. Both of them are equally capable. While men may exude strength, women give forth soul, especially in the learning profession (among others). Thanks for a very engaging content!