Annecy: First Women in Animation World Summit Fights Unconscious Bias, Gender Imbalance

WIA priority is to achieve a 50/50 gender balance by 2025

Lindsay Nadler, Corinne Kouper, Jinko Gotoh,
Courtesy: Women in Animation World Summit

ANNECY, France — One of the main goals of Women in Animation is to reach a 50/50 gender balance in creative leadership roles within the animation industry by 2025.

A large question is whether that’s a realistic target. Taking place in Annecy on June 12, the Summit’s panel titles were:

Exploring Unconscious Bias, 50/50 by 2025 – How Are We Getting There?; Developing Diverse Stories and Artist Experiences.

50/50 by 2025  is “absolutely a realistic deadline if there is a deliberate and well-supported effort to achieve it,” said Marge Dean, WIA co-president and an Emmy nominee for “The Ricky Gervais Show.”

With over 65% of animation programs being female (some schools like CalArts have even higher ratios), there is an abundance of talent to fill the job slots. As of today, we calculated that the annual increase needs to be only 3.5% every year.”

“I feel it is about the talent pool. I personally would like to see us all do more to influence and guide the younger generation of women, starting the process of educating the next generation and exposing them to more options earlier,” said Alison Mann, Talent VP, Illumination Entertainment.

“Sport scouts start this process early on for recruiting star athletes; why couldn’t we adopt some of the same practices?” she asked.

Eliminating unconscious bias faces multiple challenges. however. “In our industry, women don’t seem to feel comfortable and supported in order to really push the boundaries of what they are capable of. We would like women to be far more daring,” said Corinne Kouper and Eleanor Coleman at France’s Les Femmes s’Animent.

“Unconscious bias is the result of shortcuts our brain takes because of the amount of data we have to process at any given moment. Most of what we think is unconscious. The way we function in our day-to-day lives is often driven by these shortcuts,” added Julie Ann Crommett, vice president of multicultural audience engagement at the Walt Disney Studios and WIA chair of industry relations.

One danger is inertia in employment practices: “We are a people business. We tend to hire people we’ve worked with in the past, and these people are mostly white men. The first step is to make a commitment and go beyond our comfort zones,” argued Jinko Gotoh, a producer at Warner Animation Group and WIA secretary.

Awuk founder Lindsay Watson agreed: “Research has shown that employers also recruit people who remind them of themselves. So if most studios are owned and run by men, more men are likely to be employed unless there is a strong equal opportunity policy in place.”

At Warner Bros., a conscious effort was made on “The Lego Movie Sequel” to hire female story artists, a female editor, and a female co-director.

”We are over 50/50 in our front-end depts. We can reach this general 50/50 if individuals and companies are committed,” Gotoh concluded.

Multiple hurdles have to be surmounted, however. At France’s Les Femmes s’Animent, for instance, Corinne Kouper and Eleanor Coleman point workplace harassment. They are working on a Best Practices comic strip poster which they hope studios will post and adopt.

Other issues could be more complex: “Our confidence comes from being competent; it’s not so important for us to run the show. And most women want to balance motherhood and career. Also, women need role models to follow,” Gotoh argued.

Two main panels and keynotes of the first Women in Animation World Summit took place at Annecy on Monday June 12. They were followed by a number of events including topic discussions of Women Directors in Annecy, with Léa Krawczyk (“À Perdre Haleine”), Katrin Rothe (“1917 -Der Wahre Oktober”), Anne Magnusen (“The Men Who Knew 75 Languages”) and Lucrèce Andreae (“Trois petits points”) on Tuesday.

With participants such as Armelle Giorennec, Marianne Chazelas, Kim Keukeleire and Christel Grandchamp, and Joëlle Oosterlinck, Anaïs Caura and Hélène Gendronneau, The Women of: ‘My Life as A Zucchini’ and The Man Woman Case unspool on Thursday.

Kouper and Coleman of Les Femmes s’Animent and Lindsay Watson, president at Animated Women U.K., suggest some singularities.

Unique to animation is the difficulty imposed by very long productions and working hours that are not always compatible with family life and raising small children,” Kouper and Coleman observed.

Labor location is another concern, Watson said, as are “background. education, lifestyle and access to resources. In Britain, 60% of animation studios are outside London, in hubs such as Manchester, Bristol, Brighton, Cardiff and Edinburgh. “

52% of animation employees are freelance so, unlike other countries where there may be a main city or hub to settle down in, a freelancer may have to move around quite a few cities to obtain continuous work,” Watson told Variety adding that stability has been another key factor because you must have high-enough income to cover maternity costs or to work for a company which does so.

According to data provided by the Animation Guild, Local 839 IATSE to Variety, 4,058 people were working in animation under union jurisdiction in Los Angeles as of April 2017. 24% of those employed were female, an increase from 2012 when only 2,766 people were employed and 18% female. In a leadership category, the percentage of females employed in an EP/showrunner role edged up from 8% in 2006 to 14% in 2017.

Animated Women UK launched in September 2013. Since then, the number of women in Britain’s animation and VFX industries has doubled.

“This is largely due to the introduction of the UK’s Animation Tax Credit and subsequent overall growth of the industry,” said Lindsay Watson, Animated Women UK founder told Variety.

As of 2015, there were 2,325 women working in animation and 3,000 in VFX. Unfortunately, women still only make up around 30% of both of these industries, and this hasn’t changed over the past 4 years,” Watson said.

She explains that in animation 52% of workers are freelance and many women leave around child-bearing age and don’t make it through to senior positions.

In order to eliminate the gender pay gap, in April this year the British Government Equalities Office announced that 9,000 voluntary, private and public sector employers with 250 or more employees will be required to publish figures by April 2018. Those figures will then be reviewed so that a plan can be made for the seven years that follow.

Explainer videos, educational trailers, simple 2D animation and dialogue-free motion graphics are regularly used to battle inequality. In addition, “animation is a unique medium in that in its simplest form (pencil on paper or stop motion via mobile) it can be accessed and produced with very low budgets and few resources,” Watson commented.

Dean said she was optimistic about 50/50, summarizing solutions as a combined effort of working externally with studios and hiring managers to think differently about how they find talent; and the encouragement of current female staff to grow in their experience; and a general commitment to building a more diverse animation talent pool.

She added: “We also work internally with the female artists themselves by employing mentoring, networking, confidence building and general encouragement to go for it.  With both those things in play, we’ll make it.”

The WIA Summit was sponsored by The Walt Disney Studios and co-organized by Women in Animation (WIA) and its sister French org. Les Femmes s’Animent (LFA). It was backed by the CNC, France’s national film-TV board, SACD, the French auteurs lobby, and audio-visual technical services company Hiventy.