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Let's talk about female design leadership

5th December 2019

We’ve been partners of and co-conspirators with the Ladies that UX (LTUX) London team for over 5 years and have hosted over 10 events.

LTUX are a global organisation with chapters all over the world who champion females in the experience design space.

We recently hosted another inspiring panel on the topic of leadership within the design industry. We wanted to uncover what it’s really like to hold a leadership role and explore some of the associated lessons, as well as challenges.

The move from a doer to an overseer is a seemingly natural progression in many careers but it doesn’t just happen, and it certainly isn’t for everyone. As a design leader, we might spend more time having meetings with executives than handcrafting design. With responsibility may come anxiety and emotional challenges to make a decision that impacts the whole organisation. All of this and more can make the idea of transitioning to leadership a daunting one.

We spoke to three inspiring female leaders in our industry the challenges and the rewarding opportunities that come with this transition:

Below are some memorable topics we covered on the night.

What’s your style?

As part of the discussion, we explored different leadership styles and their origination. Liz described having a “bossy” streak when she was younger. When asked if this was something, she brought to her leadership style, Liz spoke about using her voice at the right time.

Being adaptable was a key theme that came from all of the panellists as they described their style. Sometimes you need to have a voice of authority and call people to action, at other times you need to step back and let people work things out for themselves. Being able to judge the situation and the individuals involved is an important skill for someone in a leadership role to demonstrate. 

Moving on, we spoke about being empowered to make sometimes unpopular decisions. To be able to manage the responsibility which comes with overseeing a team or project. The consensus from the panellists on how to achieve the confidence needed for these challenges was to “do your research”. 

They admitted everyone can’t know everything but putting yourself in the best position to have an opinion and have the knowledge to challenge and guide others is essential. You may not always be right and may not always know everything, but this is part of working as a team. It’s also easier to seek forgiveness for trying and getting it wrong than for not trying at all.

How have your hobbies influenced your leadership style?

We all have passions outside of work that allow us to learn and express different skills. During the panel, we spoke about how these learnings can be brought into our work life. Paula told us about her talents as a Yoga teacher. One important part of yoga is breathing, thinking about and controlling your breathing. Paula described how this is something she frequently reminds herself at work.

We all breath but being conscious of how we’re breathing and giving ourselves a moment to pause can have a positive effect on our mood. It allows you time to think and to consider a course of action.

Paula also suggested that it allows others the chance to speak up and offer their ideas in a room. It may seem like obvious advice but being self-aware and having more control over your instincts is very powerful.

Can you be a friend and a leader?

One of the experiences we discussed on the night involved uncovering the transition from doer to leader. From a creative’s perspective, we know the idea of stepping back from getting stuck in is unappealing. However, our panellists believed that this is not always true. 

Liz shared how she is very much still involved in project work and that this is important to maintain relationships within the team as well as a way to refine her skills.

In terms of relationships within teams, the panellists gave examples of how moving away from your peers through a change in job title can take some getting used to.

Naturally, relationships can feel different, but this is nothing to be scared of suggested Niki - this is something to embrace. She talked into trying too hard to force being a friend to your colleagues and peers, this will come with time and only when you feel comfortable about yourself in your role.

Our panellists highlighted the power of the ability to stay true to who you are. They encouraged reflecting on the leaders you’ve experienced, good or bad, and try to echo how they made you feel in your action. Also remember that as a leader, you shouldn’t stop asking for feedback.

Again, you’re likely to have to increase the amount of feedback you give out so remember to embrace and encourage receiving it.

Words of wisdom

As we wrapped up the panel, it was important to reflect on the advice given and share some final words of wisdom.

The panellists finished by highlighting that “there is no such thing as a design emergency”. The panellists emphasised the fact that in our industry, no matter our role, we are making a difference, but we also need to remember to have fun, to breath and reflect on the great work we do.


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