Why are there more men than women working in motion graphics? What challenges do female artists face? And what changes can the industry make in order to shore up the current gender gap? Those are just a few of the questions five female artists tackled during Maxon’s Women in Motion Graphics panel session at NAB in 2018.
Moderated by award-winning creative director and designer, Tuesday McGowan, the panel included motion graphics artists Robyn Haddow, Penelope Nederlander, Julia Siemón, Caitlin Cadieux and Sarah Wickliffe. In a wide-ranging discussion, each woman talked honestly about her own experiences and shared thoughts on how the industry can and should change to be more inclusive.
Here are some edited highlights from the Women in Motion Graphics panel, as well as additional thoughts some of the women had after the discussion. (Visit the Women in MoGraph website to learn more about the panelists and watch the video of the panel discussion.)
Are women often given roles as producers rather than creatives because they are seen as having skills that are considered inherently feminine? Or is that just indicative of a larger problem, our sexist society?
Penelope Nederlander: 3D is a very technical field and, generally, women are not necessarily raised and praised to work in technical fields and I think that’s too bad.
A lot of the 3D artists that are men have really been raised in a very techy, geeky culture. I remember, as a kid in the 80s, it was the guys who did the computer games and were pushed in that direction. It was just enough social pressure to keep a lot of the girls I knew from getting into that area.
Are younger generations of women going to be able to have more impact in motion graphics?
Julia Siemón: Definitely. I think things are getting better. I teach in a school of visual arts, so I see a lot of women coming in. They’re really excellent at some technical field, like 3D animation, like Cinema 4D, and they pick it up quicker than my male students sometimes. So it’s definitely shifting in the right direction.
Caitlin Cadieux: I've noticed that the gender split in schools now is frequently 50/50. I think that’s awesome, but I think one of the problems is that we’re still in this period of time where the industry is not used to it. So after school, it’s still hard to get in there to do the actual work.
What would you say to women who want to get into motion graphics?
Robyn Haddow: I feel very strongly about the power of putting yourself out there and being visible. Once you see that there are other women in the power positions, you know that it is a viable option and a career path. It’s inspiring and gives you motivation to see that there are other females out there doing this. How can I be like that? And how can I do that, too?
Sarah Wickliffe: It’s also helpful for all of us to keep in mind that it’s really important to be assertive, Don’t sit in the back and not ask questions. Don’t be afraid to advocate for yourself. There’s a colleague of mine who’s just starting out in her career, and she’s worried about getting her next job. And I'm telling her to go around the office and network with people and say, ‘Hey, what do you know about that’s coming up next?’ Make it known that you’re looking for work. Don’t be afraid to reach out to the people who are higher up because you deserve a voice and people want to help you out.
Penelope Nederlander: My perspective is different because I am a trans woman who entered the business as a man. I was already established as a professional at the time of my transition and being a woman in motion graphics has been a very different experience for me. I see young men come into the field and they are loud and confident, and I probably started out that way too. Now I notice about a 1000 percent increase in how much I am talked over by men and how, if I’m having technical difficulties, I’m asked if I need “one of the guys” to come and help me. I can just be venting and I get tutorials thrown at me and I’m like, ‘I don’t need those. I’m venting because the software isn’t working, not because I don’t know what I’m doing.’ You get that time after time and it’s really hard not to doubt yourself, but you just have to push through your own self-doubt and the doubt put upon you by external forces.
This industry often requires long hours and work on the weekends. How do life choices, like deciding to have children, impact female motion graphics artists more than men?
Robyn Haddow: I have a two-and-a-half-year-old at home and even though there is the biology aspect of this, because the woman needs to be the carrier, I come from a privileged position since I'm in a same sex relationship. When the time came, both of us were freelancers in our own respective fields, and my wife decided to take the hit and leave her industry and go into a corporate environment in order for us to afford the lifestyle of having a family and raising a child. I thank her for that because, looking back, I very, very much wanted children. I work in film and TV and it’s basically and old boys’ club sort of mentality. How do we navigate that? I think the answer is dialog and I think that is happening now.
Sarah Wickliffe: I think one way that the industry could help be more inclusive to women that are of child-bearing age and interested in having families, is to be more open to the idea of remote work, or flexible hours or part-time work. I work in television, which is very on-site focused, and the hours are very, very long. And, I question how I will have a family, which I want, and continue to work in the field that I have years of expertise invested in.
And the thing with motion graphics is that it is possible. With communicating online, high-speed internet and the ability to send digital files, it is possible. The more women are in leadership roles, though, hopefully that changes.
Let’s talk about negotiating wages? Julia, you have your own business, right?
Julia Siemón: Yes, I run my own company, and in terms of negotiation, it took me a while to get to the point where I'm comfortable stating what my rate is and not backing down. So, any time I pitch on a project I just say what my rate is, what my overtime is and that I will not be staying late up all night doing this work. Building relationships is very important. So you have to work on those relationships because there has to be trust. The company that I'm working with has to trust me and know that I will do the work and do a good job. That’s why they’re going to choose me and pay me a higher rate. In my class, I tell my students that when you’re starting out there will be financial hurdles. But you are building your network. That’s very important.
After the panel discussion, what additional thoughts do you want to share on how you think gender inequity in motion graphics could be overcome?
Caitlin Cadieux: After the panel at NAB, I had some discussions with various folks on the show floor and I would really like to find more avenues to bring men into the conversation in a productive way. I think it's critically important to have all-women panels and discussion groups on this topic. But I've had enlightening conversations with men and women on the subject and think it's important to keep the dialogue open there as well.
Did meeting the other panelists and having a chance to talk with a bunch of women in the industry have any lasting effect, or make you think about ways to engage more women in the business?
Sarah Wickliffe: Absolutely! This entire experience gave me a lot of hope for the future. Not long after the panel, I was contacted by an old coworker who is now a successful motion designer She reached out to me, asking if I could recommend someone to substitute for her during maternity leave. Hearing about a woman working as a successful motion graphics artist while PREGNANT—after learning that no one on the panel had experience (yet) carrying a child while having a career as a motion designer, was huge. It was like hearing about a unicorn. But dang it, women in MoGraph in all stages of life do exist, and the more institutions can start making space for us, the better!
Robyn Haddow: Meeting other panelists and having an opportunity to talk and share stories with other women in the industry was a warm reminder that we are a community unto ourselves and it is important to support and encourage each other's success. Having the discussion alone acknowledges the gap and puts women artists in a positive context and highlights the importance of women in motion graphics. I feel very honored to have been invited to participate, and I really did think after coming home, ‘Wow, it would be great to work somewhere where more women work.’
Meleah Maynard is a writer and editor in Minneapolis, Minnesota.