Divided Desks: The Inequity of Gendered Design

Creating more ethical educational and work environments.

Nina Bellisio 
Associate Professor 
St. Thomas Aquinas College

Academic hoods are sexist. I’m reminded of this at every Commencement when my male colleagues easily slip the looped string over a button to prevent it from pulling back and choking them while the rest of us search for a pin or something to compensate for the fact that we’re not wearing button-down shirts. This inconvenience would not prevent someone from pursuing a career in academia, but it is a small reminder that historically women were not supposed to rise to those ranks.

Reflecting the impact of the #metoo movement, the idea that design can have a gender bias has gained traction. The objects we encounter and the spaces we inhabit can have an impact on our behavior, subtly and unconsciously, giving men an unethically privileged position.

An awareness of the conscious and unconscious biases perpetrated by the designed environment is the first step in creating more ethical educational and work environments. An increase in both the number of female designers and feminist-based design initiatives will also work to create more equity and equality within these environments. In this paper I would like to share my research in this area and begin a dialogue with other designers and academics about how the physical spaces we occupy can be used to reduce gender divisions and preferences.