In late July, Chronogram Media teamed up with Maryline Damour, founder of Kingston Design Connection, to host a panel discussion with women designers on the reality of working in male-dominated industries.
Held via Zoom and hosted by Damour and Chronogram Media’s digital editor, Marie Doyon, the call brought together three New York State panelists and over 40 remote participants for a rich discussion on gaining respect and legitimacy in male-dominated workplaces, managing discrimination, and bringing a female sensibility to design and management. Watch the full discussion below, or read on for a recap.
Monica Burke, a welder living in Ithaca, creates custom metal work and collaborates with other makers to create furniture, lighting, and sculpture. In the Zoom call she spoke about embracing the physical limitations of what she can carry and maneuver on her own and using it to guide her design. "When i was starting out welding. men tend to sort of gravitate toward materials and scale, even metal profile and sizes of tubing and rod that are just bigger and heavier, and to me that is not very interesting," she says. "My work tends to be very minimalist—to me that is my expression of femininity. When I look at metal and go into steelyard to choose metal for a project, I want to do the most with the least amount of steel. I want people to celebrate and understand how strong that piece of steel is. To me that is about honoring women. That is about our feminine divinity. That is about how women are strong in these very quiet ways. And I think that is worth celebrating, and it totally gets infused into all of my world."
Kim Markel, a Newburgh-based furniture maker, focuses on reimagining discarded materials and experimental techniques to create handmade pieces, most often from recycled plastic. Markel spoke about how, rather than trying to conform to the masculine aesthetic prevalent in the furniture world, she decided lean into the feminine in her designs. Her ethereal pieces eschew straight lines and harsh angles in favor of soft, rounded edges and her palette embraces pastel pinks, greens, and yellows. "I could make a more austere, more neutral piece, but then I would just blend in with everything else," she says. "So the one thing that I was sort of self-conscious about when I started—which is making the stuff maybe a little 'too feminine looking'—I realized, from a business perspective, that was what set my work apart. So I just went with it."
Kathryn Whitman is an architect at her own self-titled firm and a construction manager at Quatrefoil, which she founded with her husband and that specializes in contemporary design and restoration work based in Hyde Park. She spoke about the alienating experience of being one of four women in architecture school, and the adverse experiences she deals with around overt and implicit sexism on a daily basis. "In architecture school, our graduating class started out with four women in a class of 25, and as the class size grew, fewer women made it to the end," she says. "So school was really difficult in that regard with professors being sexist and terrible. I had one professor not even look at my drawing but just start asking if I could imagine what it would be like to make love to a mannequin. That was my design critique, and it was shattering at the time. Then, on a daily basis now even—not things like that, but people assuming you don't know what you're talking about. The good thing is I'm sort of the boss, so they have to just put it aside eventually. Even though it happens, they're not going to get very far if they don't listen and work with me."
The conversation also covered incidences of discrimination and harassment in the workplace, collaboration with other women professionals in the design field, and how we can all support moving toward a more equitable and balanced future.
Stay tuned for more news on the next At the Design Table panel discussion.