Women’s Voices in Type, On- and Offstage, Part Two

Written by Dyana Weissman on August 14, 2015

In Part One, I talked about the ineffectiveness of shame. We still need to talk about the causes of the problem so we can focus on solutions. As much as society affects us, everything we do affects society. If we lived in a truly equal society, it would mean everyone would compromise. Therefore the onus is on everyone to make a difference.

Just having more women speakers [would help], which would in turn make it seem more viable for other female designers to take a chance and try to take part, but this is a bit of a chicken and egg situation.

Aoife Mooney

Unconscious favoritism

There’s a lack of awareness around issues of sexism. It’s hard to be aware of it when you’re not in the group that’s experiencing discrimination. It’s even harder to look in a mirror and realize that you may have unintentionally contributed to it.

Laura Worthington

Let’s consider unconscious bias. Google admits it. Harvard Business Review asserts: you may think you’re not biased, but you probably are. The evidence is everywhere. As long as this remains the case, we can’t not keep bringing it up.

Nicole Dotin mentioned a subtle brand of sexism that easily gets reasoned away as something else. But: “When you have experience after experience like that, you start to think maybe it’s not a coincidence.”

“I’m pretty sure there is some bias built into the system; sort of like metal type has an inherent bias for Latin, simply because that’s what it was developed for. Our professional structures come out of a male-dominated society, and are shaped by such,” noted Nina Stössinger.

“Where does the imbalance come from, and are there similarities in other fields? Then we can see if sexism is involved or if there are other socioeconomic factors at play,” said Lara Captan. In my opinion, type design occupies a zone between graphic design, which is said to be well balanced, and tech, which is infamous for its gender bias and stereotyping. It makes sense to me that the situation we have — good, but can be better — is what it is.

Next time you’re in a meeting, take notice of who gets interrupted, and how many times. Most likely it’ll be more women than men. Observe whom the speaker looks at when they’re talking. Do they look everyone in the eye, or just the white people? This is just the very tip of the unconscious iceberg. Men are often promoted based on potential, while women need to prove themselves.

This is not to blame men for being men. Men don’t like generalizations made about them any more than any other group does. It’s not anyone’s fault that they were born a man, or queer, or black, or rich, or with an extra toe. No one can help being born. What matters is what you do with your life.

“Educate and encourage women, offer them flexible, equal jobs and an environment they want to work in. Be understanding about fears, doubts, and weird behavior. Ask their opinions, include them and take them seriously and not only if they adopt male manners,” advised Indra Kupferschmid.

Being aware of unconscious bias is the first step. Consider how it might affect your decisions. Could you be viewing society through an androcentric lens? Talk about it and find out what others have experienced.

We can make choices about what we do, regardless of our upbringing. We can look at ourselves and say, with pride, “Hey, maybe there’s something I can do to be a better person.”

Internalized oppression

Just as men need to acknowledge unconscious bias, women need to acknowledge internalized sexism. I will be the first to stand up on my chair and admit that I recognize it in myself.

Internalized sexism sucks.

Internalized sexism sucks.

I was pleased to see that only half of educators reported differences between how the different genders participated, but the problem of women practicing self-doubt remains. “I think that Sheryl Sandberg was right (I wish she wasn’t) in writing that women tend to blame themselves, and men tend to blame others but themselves,” said Liron Lavi Turkenich. “Female students seem very apologetic often, while male students do it much less. I agree with the statement that something is happening with female type designers,” she continued. “In [my] MA studies, we were nearly half women, and something along the way changes, and it’s mostly men that are staying type designers.”

I see imposter syndrome in my (mostly female) students. Why is this? That’s a complex answer, but there’s a tiny voice that sits on every woman’s shoulder whispering keep quiet, you’re not qualified to do that, don’t embarrass yourself, don’t post that, don’t toot your horn, and other self-deprecating things. Many of us have it, even those of us who don’t hesitate to speak at conferences. Where does that voice come from, how does it get there?

Amy Papaelias

Gender participation: fifty-fifty.

Gender participation: fifty-fifty.

“I have been to conferences where I thought, I could totally give a talk better than that person. But when you come up with a subject, you always think that it’s never enough,” Marina noted, capturing almost word for word what I have thought myself many times. Many of the women who responded appear to feel the same way, too — which is fascinating, because every single one of them does have interesting things to say, and I have scads of emails to prove it (but not enough room to put them all in this article).

Not only does internalized oppression manifest itself with self-blame, it also makes us pessimistic. “It feels like I can’t win,” one woman noted. We need to remain positive. “Being submissive and silent never got me anywhere. I made really awful decisions when I acted that way. Everything in my life got better when I was upfront and direct. If you are hesitant and being meek, you need to ask yourself why you are holding back, and fix it,” Lila shared.

Internalized sexism is not just self-defeating thoughts, but even opinions of other women that are sexist: hostility or stereotyping ourselves.

[Women and men made] jokes about whether men were going to be okay working with someone with [my] looks, and it was talked about overtly with others. This made my coworkers believe this was a big important part of why I was hired. I needed to work ten times harder to prove that I was a hard worker and deserved everything I was getting.


“Genderization is very much alive in our age, and nerdiness, a deep focus on hyperspecialized and technical activities aren’t qualities generally valued in women. I struggled with this growing up as a girl who liked my Lego Technics way more than my friends’ Barbies; and I sometimes still struggle with it today, as a designer who enjoys thinking about math more than shopping for shoes.” Nina sums up the plight of the adult tomboy well.

“I was asked by a fellow female colleague about whether I was married, what my plans for marriage were, how old I was, etc. while working in the US, which I not only found extremely nosy, but it made me wonder if she would ask the same questions of a man,” Pooja Saxena mentioned. I’ve observed that sometimes we stereotype ourselves as a means of bonding. Though our intentions are well-meaning, this can be alienating. Shoe-shopping is just as valid a form of stress release as crushing zombies in video games.

Fiona Ross notes: “It is interesting that it seems that today’s designers have to be more self-promotional than in the past — and I see this on Facebook. Something I would find hard to do. It seems to be mainly men who do this. Yet, I frequently work with quite a number of very talented quiet men, who do exceptional work and are not at all self-promotional and also shy away from talking in public!”

I digress. Here’s what I do when I catch myself being internally sexist. I replace unproductive thoughts with productive ones. If I could talk about anything in type, what would it be? What do my friends think of this idea? Can they help make it better? or Just because this student is dressed like a harajuku girl, doesn’t mean that she doesn’t have talent and good ideas. In fact, she’d probably draw some pretty amazing fonts that I could never conceive of. I hope she emails me.”

We can make choices about what we do, regardless of our upbringing. We can look at ourselves and say, with pride, “hey, maybe there’s something I can do to be a better person.”

Community & pride

We discussed how shame isn’t effective. Pride is. Let’s highlight the things within our community we can feel good about. And help lift each other up.

On the whole, most of the people that I’ve known from the beginning of my time in the type industry (since 2000, which is when I attended my first ATypI, although I entered Reading in 1998), have been very attentive towards gender balancing issues.

Shelley Gruendler

“I think the most important point is not to focus on the difference between men and women; this makes you think about this more than what a project/research/etc. is really about; the focus should be on the content,” Emmy van Thiel noted. Moving forward, this should absolutely be our goal: focusing on the bigger picture, making work we are proud of.

I learned very quickly as an adjunct design and typography instructor, that if I was passive when it came to group discussions, Q&A sessions or anything else that involved student participation, that the dialogue would be very narrow as it’d be based on just a small handful of opinions. The loud would get louder and the quiet would become more quiet. I would get to know my quieter students and give them attention and encouragement, so that when the discussions came about, I could call upon them to participate, and they were much more willing to do so. The result was very diverse opinions, ideas and insight and it was absolutely wonderful.

—Laura Worthington

I wish, more than anything, that everyone could experience what I went through over the past couple of weeks. Having so many intelligent, respected women open up and share was intensely moving. The connections we made filled me with so many feelings at once: joy, hope, pride, sadness, camaraderie. When women spoke about the things that inspired them, it made my heart glow. There were also some stories that literally brought me to tears. Sharing those moments was equally meaningful.

Sibylle Hagmann’s article [PDF] advocates for a women’s network. I think many of us, independently, are thinking the same thing. We need to build resources for each other — as well as other marginalized groups. We need to make time to connect and bounce ideas off each other in a safe space. Something that is open to everyone, but doesn’t brook any kind of oppression. There remains a need for internships and mentoring, and she puts forth the idea that a large company such as Monotype could establish type competitions especially for women, with a money prize.

Finally, several respondents shared the outstanding people who helped them, who made them feel included and inspired. Some of these names were mentioned several times. My sincere apologies to those of you who are humble, but someone else felt you deserved recognition. If there were an Outstanding Contribution to Diversity in Type Award, the nominees would be:

Tarek Atrissi, Peter Biľak, Veronika Burian, Nadine Chahine, Cecilia Consolo, Pablo Cosgaya, Si Daniels, Brenda Dermody, Nicole Dotin, Rubén Fontana, Tobias Frere-Jones, Sibylle Hagmann, Thomas Huot-Marchand, Niamh-Ann Kelly, Indra Kupferschmid, Gerry Leonidas, Richard Lipton, Laura Meseguer, Thomas Milo, Sébastien Morlighem, Marcela Romero, Thomas Phinney, Fiona Ross, Guido van Rossum, Nick Sherman, Christopher Slye, Joan Spiekermann, Mirjam Somers, Sara Soskolne, Sumner Stone, Gerard Unger, and Laura Worthington.

I would personally like to recognize Marina Chaccur, Michelle Perham, and Ksenya Samarskaya for their above-and-beyond help with this article. And of course, thanks to everyone else who participated by giving their time, sharing their thoughts, and providing links:

Alexandra Korolkova, Alice Savoie, Amy Papaelias, Aoife Mooney, Caren Litherland, Elizabeth Carey Smith, Emmy van Thiel, Erin McLaughlin, Fiona Ross, Indra Kupferschmid, Isabel Urbina Peña, Jill Pichotta, Jinyoung Kim, Judy Silvan, Ksenya Samarskaya, Lara Captan, Laura Meseguer, Laura Worthington, Lila Symons, Linda Hintz, Liron Lavi Turkenich, Liza Enebeis, Maria Doreuli, Marina Chaccur, Martina Flor, Michelle Perham, Nicole Dotin, Nina Stössinger, Oana Clitan, Pooja Saxena, Shelley Gruendler, Sibylle Hagmann, Tiffany Wardle de Sousa, Veronika Burian, Victoria Rushton, and Zeynep Akay.

Women’s Voices in Type

Dyana Weissman is a typeface designer at Font Bureau. She has been a presenter at ATypI, TypeCon, and Type Camp. When not making fonts, she is hiking somewhere in the world and sharing her adventures.


  1. Thank you so much for listening and bundling so many voices, Dyana. Here’s to continuing this conversation with everyone everywhere, and especially those who still don’t understand that we need it.

    Also: Maybe we should actually have an Outstanding Contribution to Diversity in Type Award.

  2. Ray Choired says:

    Glad that someone’s written this.

    But to kick off the tedious bafflegab early:

    ‘There remains a need for internships and mentoring, and she puts forth the idea that a large company such as Monotype could establish type competitions especially for women, with a money prize.’

    Why wait on Monotype? I think a ‘Look at all the cool stuff women type designers have made this year’ run by the community would be better for the community. When I was developing an interest in type, I didn’t know of or keep track of the awards pooped out by Morisawa, EDA, TDC, et al but I kept an eye on Typographica’s ‘Our Favourite Typefaces…’

    Perhaps it should have a companion? I’d be happy to help.

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