Gender Inequality in Focus: Women in Photography

Gender inequality in photography - Female photographer

Feminist wedding photographer (and EW Group events snapper) Rowan Williams responds to the recent spate of controversies over the lack of diversity in the photography industry.

Where are all the women? Gender equality in the photography industry

Earlier this month, Nikon Asia announced their 32 brand ambassadors for their latest flagship professional camera. All 32 were men. Another day, another social media debate about the lack of diversity in the photography industry.

As a woman and as a feminist in the photography industry, I’m growing a little tired of this. It’s 2017, not 1972. I feel like I am surrounded by enormously talented photographers who also happen to be women. Yet there’s still a clear bias towards majority male conference speakers and brand ambassadors.

Only last February, Fuji hosted a gear demonstration seminar and provided the audience with a topless model to photograph using the new camera. Fuji were somewhat slow to respond to the social media backlash. Eventually they made a statement that distanced themselves from the photographer leading the workshop, and apportioned blame to the individual rather than the brand.

These are just two examples of many that I could list out. But to be frank I haven’t got the time because I’m too busy being a woman in the photography industry.

Women in the photography industry – the numbers

Women are systematically excluded from the top table of the photography industry, and this has to stop. It is no longer acceptable to justify not including women in the speaker line-up of your conference or workshop because the photography industry is made up of men.

Facebook marketing whiz and creatively brilliant photographer / videographer Hannah Millard found that just a quick and dirty review of Facebook suggests that approximately 24,000 people in the UK have their job title set as either photographer or photographer/owner. On examining the gender split of those 24,000 people, roughly 13,000 are men and 11,000 (or 45%) are women.

If a Facebook data mine isn’t robust enough for your liking, I contacted several industry bodies to ask if they could provide an estimate of the number of women in the photography industry based on their membership split. Only the Royal Photographic Society could share information. They said that 25.1% of UK members were female (with more than half of their staff being female). The Society of Wedding and Portrait Photographers, and the Bureau of Freelance Photographers said that they don’t collect the data. The British Institute of Professional Photographers and the Association of Photographers were asked to comment but did not respond. I’m not even a member of any professional body myself. And I know many of my female peers aren’t, either.

Women in the photography industry – the benefits

In June 2016, the UK government published a report that focused on employment in the creative industries. Unfortunately, the photography industry data is very broad, as it was combined with film, TV, video and radio. The report does indicate that women make up 39.9% of that industry group, slightly higher than the creative economy average of 37.2% but still lower than the national average of 47.1%.

So it turns out that there are women in the photography industry. And the proportion is sizeable. It is now estimated that approximately 80% of all photography graduates from UK universities are female. Women are a growing customer base in this industry, and it would be detrimental not to represent us at a leadership level. This isn’t just my opinion. It’s a well-reported fact that gender-diverse organizations out-perform their competitors by 15%. Or that performance escalates to 35% when the organization is also racially diverse.

Now is the time to start showing consumers that diversity is valued. This means that, as an industry, we have to start giving a platform to women and people from diverse backgrounds.

Even if you aren’t interested in commercial success but more so the artistic integrity of photography, then to continue only representing white men will mean that we only get to see art from white men. Art, after all, is the accumulation of experience from the individual creator. Do we really want to see just one perspective on the world being repeated ad nauseam?

Addressing gender inequality in photography – what can we do?

Several large workshop and conference organizers have specifically said they struggle to find women to include in their panel of talent because women don’t put themselves forward to speak, or aren’t willing to through lack of confidence. I know from my previous career in marketing that brand ambassadors and conference speakers aren’t born, they are made. To be considered a leader in any industry requires confidence and a specific skill-set that doesn’t come naturally overnight.

I’m particularly excited by a recent initiative from Laura Babb at Snap Photography Festival. I have been to the Festival every year since its inception in 2016, and one of the reasons why I’ve now attended three times is because of the commitment to diversity and inclusion.

Every year Laura finds interesting, creative and inspiring people from all backgrounds to share their expertise. Her aim is to invite speakers that reflect the make-up of the community. This means that she actively seeks out speakers from groups that are currently under-represented and encourages their participation.

Laura has boldly taken the criticism and created a scholarship program to specifically nurture a female or non-gender-confirming photographer to develop these skills and start putting themselves forward.

If you’re interested in supporting the Snap Photography Festival Aspiring Workshop Leader Scholarship, you can donate here to their latest crowdfunding initiative. Or if you’re interested in the rise of women in the photography industry, check out these recent articles in Wired and Stylist, or read Rebecca Douglas’s open letter to Nikon.

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