In 2019, USC Annenberg partnered with Women in Animation to conduct a study on the gender environment in animation. According to the Increasing Inclusion in Animation study, 37% of animation producers are women and 5% are women of color. The total percentages of women in roles like story editor, head of editing, animation director, lead animator, lead character designer, and lead storyboard artists only reach 19% with women of color in those same roles reaching only 7%.
The percentages for women directors in animation are also low. According to the study, women constituted 3% of film directors and 13% of TV directors. The percentages for women of color in these jobs were even lower, comprising 1% and 2% respectively. Animator Hannah Lau-Walker created a series of animation workshops called She Drew That after noticing the lack of women directors in London.She found that many female animators wanted to be directors but more often than not, the market was saturated with male candidates. The Annenberg study reiterates this point, noting that of 38 early-career women animators, 90% aspired for leadership roles like showrunner, director, art director, and executive producer.
Lau-Walker that she “initially started the workshop after being quite frustrated with the lack of women I was working with” (Cartoon Brew).Having participated in residencies in Spain and Hungary, Lau-Walker understood that “having the space and time, away from the hustle of freelancing, really helped me think about where my strengths lay and what I enjoyed creating” (Cartoon Brew). She Drew That partnered with the animation production company, Strange Beast, to create a residency, giving Bianca Beneduci Assad, Eva Munnich, and Gaia Lamiot the opportunity to attend virtual lectures and feedback sessions with Strange Beast’s team. Female directors were also invited each month to discuss their work and process, creating a foundation of understanding that the three residents used to make short animations they would receive feedback on. Lau- Walker noted, “The monthly workshops became a combination of positive role models, animation practice, and plenty of feedback within a community focused on professional development and social support”(Cartoon Brew).
Which begs the question, what makes fostering a career in the animation industry as a woman so difficult?
Lau-Walker thought a key reason was that the animation industry was still a boy’s club. Male directors and studio runners recycled the people they trusted, which based on the numbers seen in the Annenberg study and Lau-Walker’s own experience of not meeting many female animators within her 10 years of freelancing, meant the people being recycled were men. Being seen in this Boy’s Club is difficult.
The Annenberg study also found a steep drop off of female participation in between festival screenings and actually working for an animation company. The study asserted, “Females do not have the same access and opportunity as males and do not seem to be moving up the ranks as quickly in the space” (Smith, Choueiti, Pieper, and Clerk, 11). To change the percentages, the study recommended companies set target inclusion goals, reduce ambiguity and subjectivity in evaluations, foster belonging, ensure the environments don’t trigger stereotypes, create inclusive consideration lists, and make inclusion a goal for everyone to create systemic change within the animation industry.
The BRIC Foundation, standing for Break, Reinvent, Impact and Change, tries to combat the drop off in female representation as leaders in the entertainment industry by targeting the start of a creative’s career. Founded by Alison Mann, Nicole Hendrix, and Hill Gilbert, the foundation aims “to discuss how we can truly change the landscape of how women and underrepresented groups are hired and supported, especially in creative leadership positions” by engaging high schoolers and middle schoolers in the entertainment industry. Much like She Drew That, through a series of workshops and feedback, the BRIC Foundation hopes to make the entertainment industry, including animation, a more accessible career. The Bric Foundation focuses “on educating the students about the different careers available, how to access those careers, and the fundamentals needed for that industry” and discusses “networking, portfolios, and different college/vocational programs available.“
While numbers are rising, women representation isn’t close to the 50/50 ratio that organizations like Women in Animation are aiming to reach. However, residencies like She Drew That and organizations like Women in Animation and The BRIC Foundation that promote workshops to hone skills and networking events, are working towards increasing the percentage of women participation.