The statistics don’t lie, though some will try to deny the reality: The percentage of women in animation programs is approximately 60 to 70 per cent, yet women make up only 20 per cent of the professional creative roles.
This is how Marge Dean, co-president of Women in Animation and general manager of Stoopid Buddy Stoodios, introduced the “Cartoon Creatives: Women Power in Animation” panel at San Diego Comic-Con. Accompanied by Lauren Faust (creator, My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic), Brooke Keesling (director of animation talent development at Disney TV Animation), Lauren Montgomery (co-executive producer, Voltron: Legendary Defender), Stevie Wermers-Skelton (co-director, the Frozen Holiday Special), Gina Shay (producer, the Trolls), Katie Krentz (senior director of development at Cartoon Network, Steven Universe), Daron Nefcy (creator/executive producer, Star vs. the Forces of Evil), and moderator Leslie Combemale (Animation Scoop), the panelists discussed their experiences as well as the goals of their association, which include evening out the playing field by 2025.
Part of the process, Dean explained in a subsequent interview, is to shift the thinking right at the point of recruitment. In an industry like this, who you know is often the first step in hiring, but since animation, like many entertainment industries, is largely populated by men, the default setting is to hire other men. In some cases, employers simply don’t realize that they are perpetuating the inequality, so WIA encourages employers to ensure that they at least start with a hiring pool of 50 percent women. Their mission:
“As the popularity of animation has grown, it now reaches audiences of diverse age, gender, ethnicity, and culture. As this growth continues, so does the need to ensure that animation content represents the world as it should be–a world where women are equally represented, both behind the scenes and on the screen, to move culture forward.
“Women are known for the ability to value, tap into, and use our creativity and abilities to influence. And women’s influence in animation is one that rounds out the industry, grows revenues, and contributes to that forward cultural momentum.”
Externally and internally, the organization works diligently to rectify the inequality. They are focused on working with women to develop their leadership skills and instilling in them the confidence they need to achieve their personal goals. WIA runs a mentorship program, hosts networking events, as well as screenings and panels featuring women in the industry, and provides educational programs and workshops in voice acting, copywriting, and much more. They make the connections for peer groups in particular positions that aren’t taught in schools. For example, women create great shows, but often lack the confidence to become the showrunner. WIA strives to make the connections that will help women aspire to do and be more.
WIA acknowledges the achievements of women in the industry–past and present. Because women have always been there, but, as is often the case, Dean notes, they struggle with a veil of invisibility. The association itself has been around since 1995. As the new century approached, there was a dip in the industry, with many layoffs that caused membership in the association to falter. At the time, founding members Jan Nagel and Rita Street kept it going, but in 2013, it was clear that new leadership and direction was needed to keep the association afloat. Along with Kristy Scanlan, vice-president of business development, animation, and games at Technicolor, Dean stepped up to the plate.
“I’d sensed a shift in the culture,” she explained, and, as a feminist as well as a single mother with grown children, who had worked her way up to a high point in her career, the choice was simple. She also relished the opportunity to work with women, like Bonnie Arnold of Dreamworks Animation, Lenora Hume of Shut Up! Cartoons, and Susan Grode of Katten Muchin Rosenman LLP.
At its relaunch, a concern was expressed that the WIA board lacked creative representation. Dean makes no apologies for this decision as the women in the organization’s leadership roles are well connected within the industry and know how to build things up and get things done in order to provide the structure needed for creativity to flourish. Building teams and organizing studios is Dean’s specialty and, while she notes that the industry has come a long way since 1994, there is still much work to be done, as the statistics she quotes suggest.
When asked what makes for good animation, Dean stressed that good collaboration is the key to brilliance. “Everyone who touches [the project] can make it better or worse,” she said, describing the process as “a big machine that must work in perfect harmony.” Undoubtedly, this is the case at Stoopid Buddy Stoodios under her guidance and wisdom. She had worked in production at Mattel for some time, where she hired members of the Stoopid Buddy team to work on WWE Slam City. As the studio grew, they found themselves in need of someone to help them scale up. Having worked with several large studios, Dean embraced the opportunity to work with a studio that encourages such a fun culture.
The studio that brought us Robot Chicken, the longest running stop motion animation series, are also the brains behind Supermansion, starring Bryan Cranston, both of which Dean includes on her list of favourite cartoons. She also loves Bob’s Burgers, Rick & Morty, and especially anything by Hayao Miyazaki. To work in an industry that produces the kind of entertainment you love is a dream for many. And along with the other members of Women in Animation, Dean hopes to ensure that more and more women can actualize those dreams.