“Women in Lighting and Design is a feminist organisation. We believe in the equality of the sexes and strive to promote and encourage this in the lighting industry.”
Assistant Editor Sarah Cullen spoke with Kelly Roberts and Megan Carroll, key members of WILD – Women in Lighting and Design – to discover more about the organisation that celebrates and supports professional women in the lighting industry across North America.
During the mid-1990s, a pattern emerged as professional women across the lighting industry met at international lighting conferences and events, and realised their conversations centered on parallel journeys and roles as women in the industry. Megan Carroll, currently Senior Specification Sales Manager at New York Digital, participated in these early conversations. Working as an informal network, WILD, Women in Lighting and Design, was established as the place where women in the industry could come together to discuss gender matters and more. A decade later, Kelly Roberts, Studio Director of Wald Studio, joined in the discussion, taking a leadership role to shape WILD today into a better organised, mission driven group of professional women.
“We knew that women had become a significant presence in the lighting industry,” reflected Carroll. “We enjoyed each other’s company, but lacked some of the same networking connections as our male colleagues. We knew we wanted to come together more purposefully, to learn from each other and to support each other – to network and share.”
At the very beginning, when momentum started building, they would organise spontaneous gatherings in their homes or businesses where word of mouth started to spread.
“Today, we utilise simple digital tools to send our message and to connect women across the country and to promote our events,” explained Roberts.
“Chapters [localised groups] are home grown and develop naturally as leaders come forward. Each chapter controls their own events, allowing growth within those communities at their own pace. A core group of volunteers from each chapter make up the ad-hoc national committee to help plan networking events at larger conferences.”
“The group functions solely on a volunteer basis, as Carroll explained: “We operate independent of dues or sustained, annual financial support of sponsors. This has made for some interesting pot-lucks, like the ‘all hummus’ or ‘all sweets’ gatherings. Volunteers do it all.”
“That said, recently sponsors have begun to approach us to offer their financial support. That gesture is very telling and appreciated.”
Carroll and Roberts have observed that many of the sponsors that have approached them to offer financial backing were either owned by women or had female contacts at the company who wanted to support their community. “However, recently we have seen a growth in the number of men or male-owned businesses that are interested in supporting our chapters. This is encouraging as the message WILD tells, and growth we support in the lighting industry, is for everyone. When women succeed, we all succeed,” championed Roberts.
Over time, as the meet-ups grew and developed, so did the name of the organisation. Different communities formed and other titles like Ladies of Lighting were used, as the original name of Women in Lighting Design felt limited to the design community. However, even as new names were considered, Roberts and Carroll felt they couldn’t abandon the charm of the WILD acronym. By adding the ‘and’ between ‘Lighting’ and ‘Design’, the organisation holds more weight: “The ‘and’ is more encompassing. It invites women from all parts of the lighting community to be a part of WILD. We also don’t ask that any previously existing groups change their name. We act as a conduit for communication, and they are offered the chance to come under the WILD umbrella to join the network, and yet keep their local identity if they prefer,” explained Carroll.
Gathering at some of the industry’s top lighting conferences in North America, the women look to openly discuss multiple workplace issues and topics that affect both men and women. “Our events focus on topics such as professional growth, workplace sexism, financial health and parental planning, as well as supporting charitable causes,” explained Roberts.
“These are not simply women’s issues, but are issues that affect the entire community. WILD is open to anyone in lighting: manufacturer, rep, distributor, engineer, designer, human resources, etc. Everyone has something to offer the group and is welcome to attend. We are first and foremost a networking group, and that network was begun for and by women.
“Many issues are repeatedly explored at gatherings because they haven’t been resolved after just one discussion. Our perspective is limited and, while each country and even each region in the United States has its own culture and norms, it’s very helpful to see which topics are recurring,” continued Roberts.
“For example, when compared to many other developed nations across the globe, the United States is lacking in parental support. It is telling that one of our main topics of conversation continues to be how women (and men) can both work and raise children, or care for their parents, or take a leave of absence for a disability. Sharing our stories and being vocal about our needs reverberates in the industry and helps drive change.”
Following suit with universal industry topics, the group also puts a spotlight on the financial world and the gender pay gap that is something most industries are currently dealing with.
“In New York we have annual financial seminars presented by financial planners or local lighting business owners to provide education and guidance. In an industry where many are looking to start their own business or learn investing techniques, this is an important topic with information that is typically not provided elsewhere,” explained Carroll.
Tackling the gender pay gap was recently on the agenda at LEDucation 2019 in New York. “The gender pay gap is a very real and frustrating reality for many women. Pay transparency can lead to more equal wages, but the topic is frequently considered taboo,” she added.
Aside from helping and supporting those in the lighting world, the WILD teams are also passionate about giving back to the community. Such charitable acts include: donating products for women’s health and hygiene to shelters for abused women; hosting events to support young girls’ education in computer science or in the arts; and supporting charities that WILD members feel personally about.
“We’ve also established yearly collaborations with some charities, specifically a breast cancer survivor group in New York called Paddle for the Cure. They offer a unique survivorship programme that uses recreational dragon boat paddling to manage side effects of treatment for breast cancer survivors and promotes a positive and healthy lifestyle,” explained Roberts. “WILD has helped build their yearly fundraiser – a bowling tournament – which has become a much-anticipated mixer event for the entire industry. Whichever charity we choose, we are always conscious of impacts on the local community and where we can do the most good. We are always women supporting women.”
Upon reflection, the WILD members have also found it a useful tool to look at the societal feminist shift that occurred in the United States during the 1970s and 80s, and how the lighting industry has changed and adapted to these changes over the years.
“As chapters become more established, their events grow around the needs in their communities,” reflected Carroll. “It’s actually quite interesting to witness the change in the lighting industry through a WILD lens, as new faces come into the field. The huge feminist growth that the United States saw in the 70s and 80s is largely taken for granted by the younger generations. In reality, that is what we are striving for – that the future would see more gender equality and that they could concentrate on fighting for other concerns. Our membership tends to be on the low side for emerging professionals, until their first negative experience in the field pops the bubble.”
The current goal for the team behind WILD is to continue to control and encourage its rapid growth, whilst maintaining the local culture of each chapter. “Our single largest challenge is steering WILD locally and nationally as a group of volunteers without infrastructure, without financial support and while maintaining our independence,” explained Carroll.
“We love the spirit of collaboration and growth, but there is only so much we can accomplish right now – so it’s a matter of prioritising what we can do and what will make a difference, while staying true to our mission.
“Women across North America are randomly learning of WILD and approaching us to learn how to establish a chapter in their community. Women need a local network for local discussions in their immediate community for support and knowledge sharing.”
To further their goals of building relationships and community, you can find the WILD team at two of the largest events in the States each the year; LEDucation in New York, with the Designers Lighting Forum, and Lightfair International, next in Las Vegas. “We also collaborate on both an ad-hoc and more structured basis with the IALD, and the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America,” explained Roberts.
“The reality is that many women still struggle on a day-to-day basis with inequalities and harassment, and as long as that occurs, our Women in Lighting and Design network will be needed and will continue to grow,” she elaborated.
Moving forward, the team is working on expanding their network and facilitating new communications systems. An online networking platform is being developed that will encourage further conversations to carry on following events, the ability to delve deeper into certain topics, and expand on ideas that members can use to change their personal stories. It will also benefit those in more rural situations, that do not have their own networking community, to become a part of the larger WILD network.
This also marks the beginning of a working relationship across the pond between Women in Lighting in the UK and WILD: “The Women In Lighting project is happy to announce the start of a collaborative partnership between WiL and the long established WILD in North America,” announced Sharon Stammers of Light Collective and Women in Lighting.
Carroll added: “We are thrilled to begin a relationship with Women in Lighting and to help encourage our members to be a part of that project. Women in Lighting’s goal to become a database of stories and experiences parallels the work that Women in Lighting and Design has promoted over the years. While our stories have traditionally been told locally, it is a unique opportunity to share them around the world.”
“Whether your women in lighting and design community is a few women or many, WILD has a place for you.”