Marking a historic day for the capital, this non-profit organization explains where female creatives sit in the industry
Today Berlin becomes the first German city to celebrate Frauentag (Women's Day), also known as International Women's Day (IWD), with a public holiday. Celebrated around the world every year on 8 March, IWD is an occasion to champion the advancement of women's rights, gender equality, and empowerment, while also reflecting on what still needs to be done to achieve social, economic, cultural, and political equality. To mark Berlin's leadership, we wanted to shine the light on an organization that is helping widen the discussion in the capital's creative community, Ladies, Wine & Design (LWD) Berlin.
The organization is spearheaded by Julia Hoffmann, Franziska Veh, Sara Kalinoski, Susi Vetter, and Rosanna Motz, all creatives working in Berlin. They act as a satellite office for Ladies, Wine & Design, which was set up by Jessica Walsh, co-founder of New York City advertising agency Sagmeister & Walsh.
Founded in 2016, the initial aim of LWD was to foster and promote creative women. The non-profit organization says "only 5-10% of creative directors are women, and we aim to do whatever we can to be even a small part of the change in increasing this percentage through mentorship circles, portfolio reviews, and creative meet-ups. Ladies, Wine & Design has spread to over 200 cities all over the world." The Berlin chapter promotes female networking and creativity through a series of events that connect female creatives in the city. It's a space to have casual conversations on a wide variety of topics relating to creativity, business, and life.
This year's IWD is an occasion to protest, to remember, to celebrate and to fight for a feminist future. Initially celebrating World Women’s Day in 1911, Germany has had the date fixed in the calendar since 1921. It was only in 1975, that the day was acknowledged by the United Nations and adopted as an official celebration of women, drawing attention to equality. To mark and reflect Berlin Senate's decision to recognize the day as a public holiday, we talk to Franziska from the Berlin chapter to find out more about their work and what needs to be done to achieve equality.
What is Ladies, Wine, & Design, and how did the Berlin chapter evolve?
LWD was started by Jessica Walsh in New York City as a monthly salon night series with the aim to connect creative women. The concept is that a small group of women (typically six to ten) meet up for dinner and connect over design in an intimate and casual environment. After launching the chapter in NYC, Jessica published the designs of LWD as open source files calling women all over the world to start the same concept in their own city. In less than two years of launching, more than 200 city chapters were founded all over the world, from Berlin to Tokyo to Maputo. We also do have a closed Facebook group for all LWD chapter leaders from all over the globe. There we share experiences from our events.
Julia Hoffmann founded the Berlin chapter about two years ago, and half a year later Rosanna, Susi, Sara and I joined forces to make more salon nights and other, bigger events.
Operating as a non-profit organization that networks through events, screenings, and discussions. What is it exactly that LWD does?
Only a small percent of people in leadership roles are women, and LWD wants to help change this through these salon nights and other events like mentorship circles, portfolio reviews, talks, and creative meet-ups. Our meetings are inclusive and supportive spaces. They are inclusive of trans, intersex and all nonbinary, agender and gender variant people. If you feel that you are included by our gender policy, you are welcome.
In our Berlin salon nights, for example, we’ll wine, dine, and have conversations relating to business and creativity. Sometimes our salon nights have specific topics–branding, product design or book cover illustrations for example. We also plan movie screenings, mid-size networking events, workshops and last year we organized a half-day conference with 90 women.
It’s a great way to meet other designers, to network, and after a lot of different events over the last two years our community is growing and women in the community share business contacts, job offers, they help out with practical advice and some even organize new events together or start new coworking spaces or businesses. We have about 300 Berlin-based creative women in our closed Facebook group and it’s growing every week.
It’s amazing to see that the concept is working and that all the love and effort you as a person put in a project in your spare time for no money connects, helps and inspires people. That makes me personally really happy and meeting all these fantastic women is actually one of my biggest sources of inspiration both for work and life.
How is LWD influencing the discussion in Berlin?
We make people aware of how underrepresented women are in the creative and design scene in Berlin. When we did our conference last year, we sold-out in less than 20 hours. We didn’t expect the interest to be that big. When we did our initial research for female speakers, we realized that the majority of design studios in Berlin are founded by men. According to other conference organizers, we didn’t have problems to get women on stage. Not at all, actually. All speakers we reached out to in the first round confirmed, we even had to expand the time for the speaking slots. On the other hand, people reached out to us asking why we are excluding men. We even got called sexists for having a female-speakers-only conference. We found that a bit funny. The thing is: We didn’t exclude men in particular. Everyone could buy a ticket, we just wanted to empower women on stage and raise the visibility of female creatives in Berlin.
Most conferences have way more male speakers than female speakers. A lot of people take that as a given and don’t question why that's the case. We think that it’s a lame argument saying that it’s hard to get women on stage. It isn’t. That’s what we wanted to point out.
How does change come about, is it through a series of small steps or by being bold?
Change comes through small steps over a longer period of time. It doesn’t really help to make one bold move and think that this alone will bring change. There are still male creative directors out there feeling amused when they hear about our concept and asking if we just hate men all night long when we sit together. It’s about raising awareness on all levels long-term. Women that feel more empowered. Men that treat their female coworkers respectfully.
Ladies, Wine & Design Berlin is made up of 4 women. Can you tell us about your creative backgrounds and how you all connected?
We became connected as hosts when we all answered Julia's call for co-hosts. Julia is the original host of LWD Berlin and moved to Zurich last year for work. We all have slightly different design areas we focus in: Sara’s focus is on tech and product design, Susi is an illustrator and product designer, Rosanna focuses on print and brand communication, and I focus on branding and data visualization.
For those who might not be too familiar with Berlin or Germany’s creative community, what is the current climate like for gender equality and biggest issues concerning those within the industry?
People are becoming more aware of the disbalance that still exists in the design industry. As I mentioned already, only a small percentage of people in leadership roles are women, although the majority of design students in Germany are female. How can this be? Besides promotions or filling influential job positions that often go to men instead of women, this also, for example, affects women who get back to work after maternity leave. If they work part-time, they sometimes aren’t taken seriously or don’t get good projects, or sometimes it’s even hard to get a part-time job. A friend of mine was looking for a part-time job a while ago and even hired a recruiting agency. The guy there said: "That would be the first part-time job in design we facilitate in 10 years." Seriously? It’s a structural problem, and we think that companies in the industry should start supporting women in a better way.
Overall we also think that bigger design institutions in Germany should step up too and try to reach gender equality on their boards, juries, and events. Look for example at the speaker list of ADC Germany congress in 2018: 20 men, 3 women. We think there should be clear signals and actions, and we’re trying ourselves to change these structures by connecting and empowering women through our events.