Isabel Urbina Peña On Gender Balance in the Creative Field

As a letterer and graphic designer, Isabel Urbina Peña has a longstanding passion for everything related to letters. Growing up, she enjoyed coming up with new styles for her handwriting and would always volunteer to make the school bulletin boards. In high school, she started doing graffiti.

Yes, Equal – Isabel Urbina Pena
Photo courtesy Isabel Urbina Peña

 

After completing the Type@Cooper program at Cooper Union focusing on typeface design, Urbina Peña took part in several projects to further develop her skills. She has designed book covers for Penguin Random House, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, and The New York Times. Along the way, she has also become actively involved in the discussions surrounding gender in the creative field. These discussions led her to create the Yes, Equal project, a database of female creatives. We sat down with Urbina Peña to find out more about the project and the impact it’s having on equality in the creative world.

What experiences prompted you to create Yes, Equal?

There was a long Twitter discussion last year, started by friend and colleague Lila Symons, where one of the things that came up was that “women are not as interested in speaking” or “don’t have the drive to promote their work.” I certainly don’t feel represented by these comments and know a lot of my friends didn’t either, so I felt the need to take action.

I wanted the information to be available and easy to find. In my mind, this could give others a better sense of community—who’s doing what and where are they located. It could also work as a tool for event organizers. If they want to change the stats of participation, this would make it easier to reach out. Also, I wanted to raise awareness. Because it’s 2016 and we work in the creative industry, people think sexism is a thing of the past. But then you see the numbers (I wrote an essay on the site under “1+1=2”), and realize that yes, there’s progress, but things haven’t moved forward that much. We should be doing more if we want a tangible change.

 

Yes, Equal – men and women conference speakers

 

What has the response been to the site? Is your message getting through to people?

The response has been extremely positive and I’ve received [messages from] an overwhelming number of creative women who want to show their work and make themselves available. Also, I’ve gotten a lot of emails from women who are in the directory and have been contacted by others. When I first started the project, I naively didn’t envision such a quick growth. I think the message is getting through but I definitely would love to keep doing more.

 

Yes, Equal – men and women creative education

 

It’s interesting that the majority of people seeking education and careers in creative fields are women, but the majority of people getting awarded for creative accomplishments are men. How do we close this gap?

Well, I think that being conscious that there’s a bias and that things need to change is key. One thing that I realized while doing the research for the “1+1=2” piece is that most of the boards of different creative associations and the group of judges for many awards are mostly comprised of men and are highly unbalanced. So, a first step would be to have a more diverse set of voices. The same goes for encouraging people to participate, making an effort to get a more varied pool of submissions, and for supporting and actively promoting an environment that welcomes and recognizes everyone no matter their gender, race, and sexual preference.

 

Yes, Equal – men and women judges and winners ratio

 

How has this disparity affected your own experience in the creative field? What do you do when you’re clearly faced with the problem of gender inequality in your creative field?

Even though I’ve had my face-to-face encounters with gender bias in the workplace, I think the biggest issue lies in how this affects us all and it’s making us stumble as professionals and individuals. The wage gap, the imbalance and scarcity of opportunities, and the constant gender stereotyping are a few of the things that are making us live and work in a world that favors men.

I’ve been lucky to have been raised thinking that I can do anything I set myself out to do. This has encouraged me to push myself and to go for what I want. This comes with a bunch of high expectations that are not always met, but it has also made me able to speak up, be firm, and ask for what I believe I’m worth.

Interview by NatalieAnn Rich

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