WIL 1st Anniversary

8th April 2020

Women in Lighting celebrates its first birthday this year. Below we talk with team behind the project, and the army that supports them.

This year marks the one-year anniversary of the Women in Lighting movement. 

Established in February 2019, Light Collective duo Sharon Stammers and Martin Lupton joined forces with Sharon Maghnagi of formalighting and Katia Kolovea of Archifos, to create the global project. The digital platform profiles women working across the lighting industry with the aim to promote their “passion and achievements, narrate their career paths and goals, celebrate their work and therefore help elevate their profile in the lighting community.” Despite comprising approximately 50% of the lighting industry, women are not as equally represented on the professional platforms as their male colleagues. 

A statement on the WiL website reads: “The project is supported by individual female lighting designers in 60+ different countries. The Women in Lighting ambassadors are a point of contact in each location for anyone seeking to find out more about the project. The project also includes lighting designers plus those working in related lighting fields such as education, journalism and manufacturing. Women in Lighting is not about gender inequality but about inclusivity and how this is beneficial to the profession as a whole.”

“We started this project to try and make a difference. Although women make up at least 50% of the lighting design profession, you only have to look at the number of women speaking at major conferences, acting as judges in awards, being asked as keynotes and serving on editorial boards to realise that the profile of women is significantly lower than men. We want to change this,” explained Lupton. 

The project’s official opening was launched with high energy and a huge amount of support, which propelled them through the first year with great success. 

“Having been involved in lighting design from the very beginning, women have had a greater role in shaping the lighting design profession than in architecture and engineering,” commented Stammers. “The lighting design profession is a supportive industry for women and the many routes into the profession offer opportunities from a diverse set of backgrounds. It is an industry that is good at sharing information amongst its community and can therefore offer support to other women who may need it. We want to encourage women to choose to work in lighting or other related jobs.” 

Gaining rapid traction, many women came forward to represent the project as ambassadors in order to support and celebrate the female lighting designers in their localised communities. Finland was the first country to host an event for its community as early as March 2019, which was followed by events held throughout the year in Chile, Australia, Italy, Dubai, Turkey, Brazil, Israel, Peru, Singapore, Thailand, and India. These individual country events were dispersed amongst an array of industry-led events, where WiL held a strong presence, including panel talks for darc thoughts at Clerkenwell Design Week and Light Middle East, to the Pakistan ambassador, Momena Saleem, talking about WiL on national television. “In October, I gave a live TV interview as a WiL Ambassador for Pakistan along with my colleague Ana Tanveer,” said Saleem. “It created an opportunity to introduce the Women in Lighting project and raise awareness about the lighting design profession in Pakistan. “With the immense support of WiL, I have been able to take steps like these with great courage and determination.” 

Stammers added: “There has been some division of opinion about the project. On one hand, there have been countries that have embraced the idea behind the project, supporting the need to celebrate women in lighting and to inspire others with their stories. On the other hand, there are countries where gender balance is perceived to have been achieved already and see no need for the project. These countries are better placed to help raise up and inspire women in other countries and therefore we need everyone’s support for the project to succeed. There is a continuing need for more progressive mindsets and inclusivity in all areas of our industry.”

When speaking with Stammers, the Italian ambassador Giorgia Brusemini, explained Italy’s WiL journey: “The first Italian round table for WiL was held on 24 September, 2019 in Milan. Twelve professionals working in the lighting sector sat around the same table; their skills were: planning, teaching, journalism, production, art and research. Here was the beginning of the creation of original content to start highlighting the work of the Italian WiL on social networks (@Wil_Italy) showing the specificities of each. One of the goals of the Women in Lighting project is the construction of a digital platform for the promotion of women working in the lighting sector, creating a large database of testimonials that inspire future generations.

“We are happy to officially communicate the creation of the first WiL permanent corner in Italy, and it is a project very dear to me as the Italian ambassador! The corner, hosted in the Italian headquarters of formalighting (which we thank again for the great support), will serve to support and help the women in lighting interested in entering their video contribution on the international portal. We are interested in your story!” said Brusemini.

“In this first year, I started to involve and highlight the profiles of the professional Italian female lighting designers by building a strong group of twelve to thirteen professionals.

“Through these social networks I also advertise the courses and work of the Italian lighting designers…The WiL network is wonderful!”

Maghnagi and formalighting have supported the project from the beginning; she reflected on what she has witnessed over the last year: “It has been a privilege to sponsor the WiL project and witness the movement reach so many parts of the world in just one year.

“We celebrate those who took advantage of the opportunities the project offered – those who stepped out of their comfort zones and stepped up to speak, shared their work or journeys, served their own lighting design community, and created a new social network. This first anniversary is a milestone to reflect on the bigger picture and take pride in our own contributions. They are all part of the movement now. 

“For me personally, I imagined that the first year of the WiL project would be an exercise in listening, but it proved to be so much more.  The humanistic values from this experience have made me into a better leader and colleague. It was like some sort of professional awakening, which enhanced my relationships and helped me appreciate the role of male supporters. By serving WiL, we have positively impacted the culture of our own organisation, as everyone at formalighting embraced our involvement in the project and displayed genuine support for the lighting design community and renewed self-awareness.”

Coinciding with this year’s International Women’s Day, WiL celebrated its one-year anniversary by joining and promoting the social media movement #EachforEqual (see more on this on p.18). 

“International Women’s Day 2020 had the theme #EachforEqual. ‘An equal world is an enabled world. Equality is not a women’s issue, it’s a business issue. The rise of women is not about the fall of men. Gender equality is essential for economies and communities to thrive,’” explained Stammers. “Everywhere, gender is on the mainstream radar and impacting how we work. Stereotypes and bias are more likely to be called out. Men’s role in society is more varied and gender roles are fluid. In more recent years, men as advocates and champions of change have been recognised as playing a key part in accelerating women’s equality and as allies in helping build diverse and inclusive organisations that challenge stereotypes and bias.”

Reflecting on her time over the last year, Portugal’s ambassador Paula Rainha had a big year both professionally and personally: “I had a baby last year who is now seven months old, so I’ve been on maternity leave for most of last year. However, among other things, we had a social get-together, participated in a light festival, did a lighting guerrilla, and were on a conference panel thanks to the enthusiasm of the Portuguese community in helping to make this happen. I’m aware I couldn’t have moved this far forward at this stage of my life without their help. So, I think that’s the lesson I’ve learnt about WiL; it’s about solidarity and being there for each other. We are not competing at a professional level but moving along and helping each other in whatever challenges we come across. Tomorrow it might be another one of us that will need an extra push. I think this is the beauty of this project; we create community spirit and we have fun along the way. Thank you all for being part of this, I know some of you, not all, but I’m happy to be part of this project.”

To commemorate the project’s one-year anniversary, Lupton created a featured video distributed online and through the WiL network on this year’s International Women’s Day. It reflects on the various events and people involved in making the WiL debut a great success over the last year. The video was launched on the WiL social media platforms, which have already gained more than 3.5K followers. Social Media Manager, Kolovea, commented: “I am deeply grateful and inspired by all of the amazing people I have met virtually on our WiL social media networks and physically at the events we attended this year.

“The incredible online participation and interaction on our social media challenges, the wonderful positive messages that we receive daily, as well as the growing inspiring content on the WiL website: interviews, blogs, new supporters and positive energy, bring me a massive smile and make me excited for what is coming next. Stay tuned! Together we are STRONGER so let’s keep lifting each other up.” 

The website platform currently features nearly 50 interviews with leading international female designers sharing WiL stories. With many more lined up for 2020, the WiL are actively encouraging others to upload their own interviews, either written or filmed, to the website as well. 

As well as the interviews, the website hosts the R.A.W Health blogs. R.A.W, written by Architectural Lighting Designer Martina Frattura and Lighting Designer and Architect Dipali Shirsat, looks at covering fresh perspectives on the contributions of trailblazing women in lighting. The Health blog is a series of contributed stories regarding different health-related experiences women in our industry have gone through, laid bare for all to understand and respect. 

Providing Russian-specific content on the WiL Russian Facebook page, ambassador Olga Tu’zova has created a series of interviews for the Russian lighting community. Reflecting on her experiences, she said: “It’s such a pleasure to see how people started to change their mind about Women in Lighting. I don’t receive all the bad comments and letters anymore. People have started to support us, to be interested! And it’s just one year in! Thanks to all of you with all my heart!”

The team has been successful not only in its online presence, but it has also been recognised professionally from the industry, earning awards for Lux Persons of the Year 2019 for its contribution to the industry, shortlisted for a PLDC Award At Large and a large amount of 40 Under 40 awards for ambassadors.

The project has been widely covered by international industry media supporters, of which the [d]arc media team is proud to be from the very beginning. Both magazines frequently publish articles on the women, projects and events lead by the WiL movement, as well as host panel discussions during [d]arc room, and for the 2019 [d]arc awards, we were excited to welcome a full WiL panel of judges. 

Spanish Designer and Educator Lara Elbaz reflected on her year of participation with WiL: “In less than a year, WiL has proven to be a powerful tool to celebrate the work of a growing number of female lighting designers around the globe. The project has unveiled the uncomfortable reality of the lighting industry and is offering positive ways of increasing the profile of very talented women. Personally, I am amazed at how fast and tight the WiL community is growing and developing, which proves there was a real need for such a movement. It has also made me discover there are women in lighting in the most unexpected countries, all fighting the same fight, which fills me with pride and hope!”

When speaking about her experiences with WiL, Swedish Designer and Architect Beata Denton commented: “Thinking about Women in Lighting three words spring to mind: Sharing. Encouragement. Joy.

“This project has no doubt had the effect it set out to do: make female lighting designers more visible. The core of the project is a feeling of inclusivity. It has been and continues to be, a lot of fun. For me, I think the sharing of life and work experiences has been the greatest inspiration. The interviews were the starting point. Personally, I enjoyed being forced to reflect on my own path and my values. It has been amazing to see female lighting designers from all parts of the world, and to listen to their challenges and passion for lighting. Meetings in real life always has the greatest impact on me. That’s why the strongest memories from the last year are the Pecha Kucha in Rotterdam – an amazing evening; Sharon’s own talk at PLDC in Rotterdam, so generous; and the panel discussion at [d]arc room, women and men sharing their views and thoughts. Nothing changes unless we talk about it. All in all – I am super grateful to be part of this project. It means a lot.”

Stammer’s concluded: “Let’s tackle unconscious bias wherever we see it in the lighting industry and move forward together. Let’s use this network to share knowledge and inspire each other. Let’s empower and support women wherever they are, in whatever way we can. Let’s celebrate great lighting design all over the world.”