Women in Lighting: in conversation with Sharon Stammers

I sat down for a Skype conversation with Sharon Stammers to look back on an amazing year for Women in Lighting. Having launched (symbolically) on International women’s Day (8th March), WiL has made stunning progress, despite running on a shoestring and with only three people looking after the shop.

I asked Sharon for a quote. She says:

‘When we launched the Women In Lighting project on International Women’s Day in March this year, our aspirations for the project were quite small. We wanted to challenge the fact that female lighting designers are under-represented in our industry in many platforms despite there being approximately 50% of them. The project has grown beyond our belief and we have a massive list of potential avenues to explore in 2020. Top of the list is to continue to promote gender balance and ensuring that the project is not all female-female support. Men, for this to work we need you too. We also want to ensure the project expands to encompass women in all lighting fields: journalism, education, art and manufacturing.

Martin and I feel privileged to have interviewed 52 women  to date in the UK, Spain, the Netherlands, Italy, UAE, Mexico, Brazil, China, Singapore, Bangkok, USA and Sweden and for having the opportunity to share and celebrate their personal stories and career achievements. On a personal level, we are so inspired by all the women we have met this year. Every single one of them has been amazing.”

And this is what we talked about:

SS: We thought we’d have a chat . . . I don’t really know what about.

JB: I just thought, well, as its year-end and its been a fantastic year for Women in Lighting, maybe we could just review what’s happened since that day in March.

SS: We never imagined it would be this ridiculously huge. We though we might have 20 ambassadors; we’ve now got 69 countries involved. It means that we feel that we can do a few things, rather than just chat about it. Conference organisers are coming to us, asking what they can do to increase women’s presence on their platforms and we’re speaking to lots of designers looking at ways that they can improve the situation.

JB: How do we actually go about getting women onto public platforms when ‘there’s no one there to do it’ – and I’m conscious in my own work of the predominance of men in ‘public’ positions . . . how is Women in Lighting looking to improve that situation? Is WiL promoting 50:50 platforms?

SS: we’re speaking to organisation who want to become a 50:50 partner, but we’re not going to hold them to that figure; its about their intention to achieve 50:50 platforms. There will some arenas, emergency lighting, for example, where there are very few women, so we’re unlikely to hit 50:50 – but its about trying to make it.

There are so many directions to go in, its about which ways you want to go and what you want to prioritise. As an industry we’ve all been focussed on all the wonderful work we do, but there’s all this other stuff that’s not tackled, such as health in the workplace – not just women’s health, but health in general.

JB: Does any of this lead to the possibility of women’s conferences?

SS: There are probably women who would like that and there are lots of positive reasons why that should be – particularly when it comes to technical things. We get feedback about women not feeling comfortable, not being taken seriously, mansplaining and the like, so on one hand there are arguments for creating a safe space where issues can be discussed. But on the other hand the whole project is not about women complaining, its about gender equality – if we’re balanced, everything will be better.

JB: The Women in Lighting website says that we’re talking about ‘women working in the field of lighting design’. But I feel that, if we have a problem with representation, it’s beyond the design studio and within the manufacturing and supply sectors.

SS: Yes, its been a real struggle to find them. I’ve been asked to find women product designers to speak on platforms; there are some, but its very limited. We have to ask why this is the case; are they out there but we never hear from them, or are they not there at all. Is there a perception among women that what they do doesn’t make them ‘useful’ or a real part of the industry; I don’t know.

JB: We seem to have a strange situation that women in manufacturing are either doing the ‘soft’ work like marketing – or they own the business. But the main body of the business, among the technical and development side of things, there’s little to encourage that kind of career opportunity among women.

SS: As I say, there are so many strands, so many directions that we could take. The practicality of this is we have to choose where to put our energy and to pick our battles.  We’re making great progress on the visibility of women in lighting design and we’ll see what next year brings. But, if someone comes along and says “what about this?”, we’ll say, “that’s great, but you need to come along and get involved”.

JB: And on that pointed comment, I’ll have to see how The Light Review can connect with Women in Lighting in a very practical way on some of those ‘out there’ issues – and we’ll see what happens.

SS: Just to say before we go, we’re looking forward to a great event WiL at Frankfurt Light+Build next March. Martin and I (and lots of Women in Lighting) will see you there.

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John Bullock is the editor of The Light Review

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