Since startingYes, Equal and writing 1+1=2 well over a year ago, I’ve been interested in investigating more about each creative industry. Motion Graphics was one of my top interests. Even though I’m not part of the community, I’ve become well aware of its ins-and-outs through my husband and a handful of friends. So I started digging up a bit of research to better portray and analyze what’s the current status of the motion graphics industry.
I reached out to 30 motion graphics studios with a 1-min-survey about their studios and gender distribution within them. I only managed to get 5 responses, but with some additional research, I managed to get a little more information and a larger pool of data. Here’s a quick overview of the distribution of creative talent in 16 studios all over the globe. While this is a small sample, it’s pretty varied, including studios that have just started a couple years ago to more established ones with over 15 years in the industry.
While it’s heavily male, we see a few ladies here and there making their way. Big props to ILLO (Italy) for flipping the scale and to Slanted Studios, Mighty Oak and PepRally, smaller studios in Brooklyn that are women-owned and setting the bar high.
I got the opportunity to speak with a few of the studio owners, and here’s what they said about why there aren’t more women in the motion graphics industry:
“For one, I think things are getting better. There seem to be more young women entering this field every year. I could write a whole essay on this topic, but critical to me was the forced confidence I had with computers and technology at a young age. Neither of my parents are tech savvy. So if I wanted to playSim City, The Need for Speed or install Print Shop Pro, I had no one to ask. In middle school, my parents would ask me to spec out which computer to buy for the whole family because no one else cared to. When the computer broke, I would call tech support. I learned about Napster, pirating software and Geocities from my best friend’s brother. I was just exposed and never given an avenue to be helpless if I wanted to do something on the computer. I was also encouraged. (My mom signed me up for a weird computer camp that was hosted in our local mall. Weird to think about now). I think my story is an increasingly less unique story for girls, and for that I’m happy. I also think my story is a common one for ‘everyone’ in motion design – for both men and women. Of course, this is anecdotal, but in college I remember being surprised by some of female peers’ helplessness when it came to technological troubleshooting. (Not that there weren’t helpless men, there were plenty). But, I think growing up in the 80s and 90s there was something broadly gendered about ‘working with computers’. That cultural association has had a long hangover that remains today. We certainly see it in the tech sector. Again: I do believe it’s getting better. I also think being a woman in your 20s is different than being in a woman in your 30s and 40s. For me the continual question is: Why aren’t there more women in creative leadership positions? I think the answer has a lot to do with larger issues beyond the motion design industry.” –Erica Gorochow, PepRally
“We get your question almost every time we speak at a conference or event. And granted, we are not a beacon of equal employment here at MK12; we’ve only ever employed two women as animators (for perspective, though, we are a studio of six; biggest we’ve ever been is eleven). It has nothing to do with our culture though, and everything to do with a lack of candidates. It’s not so much that there isn’t an abundance of women in the field (though it is weighted more towards men), it’s that they are mostly behind the scenes: producing, editing, color correcting etc. But it’s not as often that they are in ‘alpha’ roles like creative and art directing, or design lead. Perhaps this has to do with the overall culture of the industry, which these days is probably one of the most gender-agnostic career choices available, but is still very much rooted in old-school male-dominated advertising and film conventions. It will take a while for that hangover to burn off, but it slowly has been. My long-shot/overly-stereotypical theory is that boys are mostly raised to be tinkerers and girls to be organizers. Consider the kinds of toys that kids get; overwhelmingly, boys get things that they can take apart and figure out (science/chemistry kits, cars). Girls get things they can organize and improve on (houses, dolls). I won’t make so grandiose a blanket statement as to say that men and women stay locked into those roles, but it would certainly help explain why so many women are in industry roles that require more gestalt and top-level management. It would also help explain why so many women gravitate towards print over motion design, because animation is more about getting under the hood, whereas print is more about solving a singular problem.” –Ben Radatz, MK12
I think Erica & Ben make really good points.Education and upbringing are crucial to changing the way things work. Gender bias is definitely a problem larger than this industry.
However, I do think that change can start in our own environment: If you are an educator, encourage women to participate and keep learning about motion graphics. If you are a studio owner, bring more female interns to your studio, offering mentorship opportunities, if possible. Reach out and recommend women to colleagues and other studios.
Jay Gradin from Giant Ant also chimed in with regards to the gender distribution in studios:
“This is a really good question. As a studio owner, I’m often asked why we don’t have more female team members (11 male, 3 female). In my experience, the number of female applicants has been a very, very small percentage. However(!), as we move more into classical animation workflows, the female freelance talent we have begun to draw on — and specific recruitment efforts — has dramatically increased.”–Jay Gradin, Giant Ant
Here’s another interesting response from a studio that asked to be kept anonymous:
“As our EPs, both LA and NY, as well as our head of production are women, they have kept a strong women presence at [anonymous studio]. Always working with us to keep everyone together as a collection of talent, rather than separated men and women. I do remember one occasion where an artist was struggling with confidence in herself. Both [my partner] and I sat down and talked with her about trusting herself, because everyone else already trusted her. It echoed through our EPs, Head of Production and our artists, and she has become a force in the industry. The goal at the studio is to relay that confidence and inclusion to every person that steps foot in our door. We have surrounded ourselves with wonderful people who echo exactly that.” –Anonymous, NY / LA
As mentioned earlier, the challenge lies in actively making effort to change our workplace.
I also really wanted to hear out what women in the industry had to say. So, I reached out to around 85 ladies and got 38 responses in a week (about a 45% response rate).*
This group was also pretty varied in terms of years in the industry, background and current employment. Of 38 women surveyed, 11 are eitherFull Time Employees at a Studio or Studio Owners and 25 are Self-Employed/Freelancers.
*The average time to complete this survey was 40min. I’d like to thank all the ladies who took time to respond. What you shared was incredibly important and needs to be discussed more often. Also many thanks to Laura Alejo and Freddy Arenas for putting me in touch with so many women in the industry.
I asked all of them, if they had ever experienced gender bias in the workplace and I got an overwhelming number of yeses.
Out of 38 responses, only of 6 women said they have not experienced some type of gender bias in the industry. 38% experienced Sexual Harassment (!). 59% experienced Microaggressions, 44% Unequal Opportunities, 44% Wage Gap and 9% some other type of gender bias.
Many elaborated on their responses and I thought it would be useful — and eye-opening — to share some of their stories here:
*Some answers were kept anonymous at the request of the participants. Because of the overwhelming response rate, I had to leave out some of the comments that echoed the same message.
“Sometimes it’s being cut off and talked over, or old art directors getting uncomfortable when I’ve made myself outspoken and fight for an opinion. Sometimes, even when the sexism wasn’t pointed towards me I spoke up, and that made a couple of writers uncomfortable. …I certainly didn’t have the ideals and knowledge I do now to spot sexism when it came up, but those are the things I do remember: constantly feeling a little stepped on.” –J
“I was told I was the emotional barometer of the office. Read: My attitude/emotions drastically impacted everyone in the company (mostly males) and therefore I had to keep up the positive attitude on behalf of the entire office. Meanwhile, men in the office commonly swore, yelled, and slammed things, and to my knowledge were not told that impacted those around them.” –Anonymous
“Feeling like I always have to prove myself, having to be extra friendly and extra cautious about what I say, being excluded in meetings and forcing my way in, being talked to in a condescending manner, having other male designers steal my assets and take credit for work that I did.” –Anonymous
“There is an assumption of a lack of mathematical knowledge and a constant need to prove my intelligence.” –Anonymous
“Most (male) co-workers seemed a little shocked with how much experience I have and how many games projects I have under my belt. It’s a double edge sword. Mention nothing and I get everything explained to me. Mention my past projects, somehow that translates to me bragging and being a know it all… I’ve had male co-workers stating that women think differently… Saying it’s bullshit that there is this bias and that it’s hard for us to get those gigs.” –Elizabeth Kupfer
“Jr. artists unwilling to take art direction from a female Art Director. … Being called a slut and dragon lady to my face ‘as a joke’ due to feelings of resentment i.e. promotions, winning pitches, green light on internal projects.” –Anonymous
“…I’ve been told I’m a good designer ‘for a girl’. … When I was art directing at a prominent shop in LA, if I wasn’t specifically introduced to clients as the Art Director/Creative Lead, they often assumed I was a producer. I had one meeting where the (male) clients looked and spoke to my (male) producer the entire meeting. They assumed our roles were reversed. This kind of thing is subtle, but I feel it ALL of the time.” –Mara Smalley
“I’ve witnessed it happen to my female designer co-workers. Their intelligence was constantly undermined/questioned by a male co-worker of ours…” –Madeline
“In studio situations, some men tend to speak carelessly about women, from descriptions of women in the footage we edit, to language that’s used in discussing news or day-to-day matters. It’s difficult to describe, but there’s this sense of being an outsider looking in, of not belonging to an all-boys’ club, where most of the women are in administrative or producer-type roles rather than as directors, creatives or production artists.” –Anonymous
“…I worked on a team with about 9 guys, 10 people total, for nearly 3 years. …One day as I walked past the conference room at work, almost everyone from my team and a few people from various studios were in there drinking. I didn’t think anything of it, so I walked in. Everyone stopped what they were doing, went dead silent and just stared at me. One of the guys quietly explained to me that they just wanted to have a girlfriend-free party… He then explained that they wanted to be able to joke around freely without offending me. Furious, but also outnumbered, I returned to my desk where I found Frank*. I asked if he knew about the party. He didn’t. Both of us were upset, not to mention confused … Frank didn’t want to make a fuss about it the next day– after all, we still had to work with these guys but I couldn’t let it go. …When I finally did reach the organizer of the party, I asked a lot of questions. … In the end, a couple of the guys seemed to understand, some seemed indifferent, and the rest solidified in their minds an image of me as a raging bitch. As far as I know, the party’s continued with a change of location. I quit that job and Frank transferred to another department, eventually leaving as well. I still count it among my small victories.” –Alicia Reece
*(name changed for privacy)
On Unequal Opportunities
“Visual effects artists in the nineties were predominantly male so it was a constant struggle to be taken seriously. There was the misconception that men were more “technically astute” than women, and as a result I had at least two clients who refused to work with me simply because I was a woman. One of those clients had to be coached to work with me, which was equally as difficult and uncomfortable.” –Maryanne Butler
“It was actually at my previous job. The company wouldn’t give opportunities to women to become animators or motion designers. So positions were hilariously divided by gender. All animators were men and graphic designers were mostly women. I don’t think upper management did it intentionally, however it set the tone for the environment that women should not be animators –women’s role in the company was assisting male animators.” –Heewon Sohn
“I have seen younger, less talented, and/or less experienced men in positions of authority or promoted so many times I could not begin to count them. Some men seem to automatically respect other men more.” –Anonymous
“… It’s bullshit that I don’t really get to work on the gory stuff cause I’m a woman. Or that a woman was assigned to animate the female character ’cause I understand how a woman moves cause I am one. … I feel like I sometimes get pigeon holed for working on detailed and subtle animations vs. the big dynamic movements. That could be my previous projects, but that could also be a ‘she’s a woman, how would she know how a male character should move, fall, fight, etc.’ There was actually a studio that was at a job fair and I got to meet some of the leads on the animation team. They immediately were not interested in talking to me. Their eyebrows raised slightly when I mentioned how familiar I was with the program they used. I did their animation test, told a male friend about how they were looking for people and he got the job.” –Elizabeth Kupfer
“…When I first started there was no initiative from the company to include me or expose me to new parts of the process. This led me down a path of not animating, thus not being incorporated into the full design process. I was also told that being ambitious was a weakness.” –Lindsay
On Wage Gap
My male peer was making 20K more than me. –Anonymous
I’ve gotten lower pay for same level experience. –Laura Alejo
“I have always earned less than my male counterparts, especially in VFX compositing work.” –Maryanne Butler
“I don’t know if we do this to ourselves or what the deal is, but the more I find out what other people are getting paid… the more I realize that me and other females tend to ask for less money than our male coworkers.” –Anonymous
“Struggled for promotions. Pretty sure my pay at points was below market.” –Kell Miller
“When I found out my male colleague made more than me, I made a plan to quit and go freelance. I had been asking for a raise for several months prior.”
On Sexual Harassment
“I was fired from a motion studio, where I was the only/first female hire aside from the receptionist, after I realized one of the partners was handing a porn DVD to another designer and talking about it in not-so-subtle coded language. The same week, I realized there were porn videos on my computer, in my iTunes movies, left there from a previous employee. Apparently, before they hired me, they all used to watch porn together in the office. … I reported finding the porn on my computer and a week later I was fired.” –Mara Smalley
“…I’ve experienced a lot of sexual harassment as an artist, and on multiple occasions had male directors try to come onto me. One concluded that I was a lesbian, because I took my job more seriously than his advances. During one session, I had to walk away from a job due to the physical nature of a director’s sexual advances.” –Maryanne Butler
“…I have been hugged and grabbed by male co-workers in social settings without really wanting to be hugged or grabbed. They’ve also gotten uncomfortably close or stared at my boobs or crotch. I’ve been hit on several times and asked out on dates. Being married and wearing a wedding band seems to have quashed all of those advances, but I still sometimes get the stares. –Elizabeth Kupfer
“…There was that one time my 10-15 years older boss reeeeeaaaaallly wanted to have sex soooo… that sucked.” –Anonymous
On why there aren’t more women in Motion Graphics
“I think it’s a sort of word-of-mouth type of industry. Friends introducing friends. And if most of those people are male and they’re introducing their mostly male friends … it stays mostly male. Also a lot of the decision-makers client-side are male, interested in male storylines, etc. so maybe that perpetuates the whole thing. It seems like it’s still ok for the male decision-maker to pick the “guy” over the “girl” because he relates to him more easily, while it’s no longer ok to do that in terms of race or social class.” –Anonymous
“I definitely believe that the Motion Graphics industry is representative of larger societal biases that lead us to think that even the least qualified man could do a better job than a highly qualified woman…. So, maybe this looks like fewer job opportunities out of school or reluctance to hire women by those on the client side. Maybe it’s also about women who become parents in a society lacking appropriate social programs to support their caregiving efforts, pushing women to leave the industry at a stage when they could be in leadership positions hiring other women. Or maybe women who choose to leave the industry at any stage because of getting tired of being outnumbered. I know when I was younger, I felt like the industry was a boy’s club and this caused me to question whether I was the right fit, so it’s real… when you walk into an office and you’re the only woman. It can be tough, and sometimes that wears on you. But hopefully we can stick it out and find community. I know I have been lucky enough to find this, and it made all the difference.” –Anonymous
“Unconscious gender bias starts at the top. When you have studios who have never had a female director, you have to ask yourself why? On the other hand, Jenn Sofio Hall at Elastic is a great example of someone who is helping to change the game. She is the Managing Director and co-founder and she hires women. …[Elastic] was the most gender balanced studio I’ve ever worked at. There is a strong correlation between gender equity and good work. I wish more studios would get this…” –Mara Smalley
“I think historically it’s been a white male dominated industry and women are often pushed into production/supporting roles.” –Anonymous
“One problem is the lack of female leadership that more junior women can see and read and be encouraged and guided by. It’s easy to give up, if you can not see a clear path forward to success.” –Anonymous
“I think the technology can be intimidating and young girls are taught, whether subconsciously or consciously, that tech is a dude’s game and is too complicated for them.” –Kell Miller
“Anything related to software expertise such as motion graphics, 3D modeling, CAD, and coding are largely male-dominated fields. There are minimal female role models in these industries. Moreover, graphics are heavily attributed to video games (also aimed at males heavily), and finally – motion graphics are a version of film. The low amount of female directors and producers in film is astonishingly bad.” –Anonymous
“I think society as a whole is still grappling with gender stereotypes. You can see the way they’re reinforced from a young age by the way toys are marketed to girls…” –Madeline
“I can’t really speak for the larger markets, but from a USA (Midwestern) point of view, I’d say it’s a mix of ignorance, indifference, and a lack of hiring in general. When only 2 maybe 3 students are hired full time in the local market each year, progress is slow. Sure, we have some good years, but for the most part, the bulk of our workforce remembers a time when there were booth-girls selling software to nerdy guys. To be clear– I have nothing against the older generations– they are my mentors. I’m merely trying to explain why, even though there are more women graduating today, getting them into local studios is proving to be a lengthy process. The waves of work are very tumultuous in the Midwest, and studios reasonably want to keep their ships small. The ignorance and indifference help ensure that the 2-3 students that are hired, look just like the people who already work there.” –Alicia Reece
On Child Care and Maternity Leave
“…As a director and woman, I know that I have to project myself into 5 years or maybe more if I expect to be a strong director. It takes time: it’s fighting a lot, to get the best jobs. I know that, for now, building a family and having children can’t be possible: I’ll probably think about it later… This job requires a lot a patience and passion, which can’t allow to have a family when you are starting out. You have to put that aside, and hope to be more stable after some years…”–Emmanuelle Leleu
“As a mother of 2, I feel very alone in this industry and often think that there is no place for people, especially women who have to balance their life. The schedules in motion graphics and the demand that companies require from their talent do not permit leaving by 5. There has to be more flexibility and ability to have a successful career without sacrificing the choice to have a family. The women in this industry need to start talking to one another and not living in silos…We are not a boutique industry anymore –the women are growing up and going to face the challenge of having children. Feeling like freelance (where you have limited opportunity to lead and grow) is the only path to flexibility, is a loss and shame. Our voices are critical right now, especially. Let’s look at what is going on in other industries to have a more productive dialogue that will give women (and men) more choices. This isn’t just a women’s issue. –Lindsay
“Not being aware as an industry of the reality of an aging talent pool where there are other responsibilities in play such as being a parent. Pretending as an industry that we are all still in our 20’s and there are no limits for time and amount of work expected.” –Laura Alejo
“Having paternity care as well as maternity care is important. If the man is also offered an equal amount of time off, then the childcare can also be shifted towards the dad and it frees up the woman to go back to work if she wants to. Ultimately, it gives the woman more options. –Anonymous
“We need to discuss age and gender discrimination more, for example I was breastfeeding while on-site. Needed to pump, but the facilities didn’t have a women’s only bathroom, so I had to wait until I got home. I could not discuss it with the producers, since they were all male.This issue will come up more within the next 10 years since more and more mograph women will start to have families. … –Anonymous
“…The other issue in motion graphics are the hours we work. Working 10am-7pm (As opposed to 9-6 or 8-5?) makes child care nearly impossible without a nanny. When women in their 30’s, start thinking about starting a family the options look VERY bleak. There is a very good chance that I will leave the industry all together when I have kids, and that totally stinks.” –Mara Smalley
On getting support from others in the industry
“I have always been encouraged by other female artists, and like to think I do it with the next generation. Years ago we created a social group for women in the business– I’d love to get that going again. It was a wonderful way for women to share stories and be motivated and inspired by one another.” –Maryanne Butler
“The studio I’m at now, makes an effort to hire more women, and actively seeks them out. They are also partially woman owned.” –Anonymous
“I’ve been incredibly lucky throughout my career. My bosses have backed me up on design choices and have treated me with so much kindness and respect. One of my bosses really sought to make his workplace inclusive and welcoming, and it happened to be my first job. I’m so thankful for that, it set my bar really high for workplaces ever since.” –J
“On my current job, many of my female co-workers like to help each other with brainstorming new ideas and teach each other different softwares, etc.” –Heewon Sohn
“The people that have made me feel included are those who gave me the best opportunities.” –Mara Smalley
“I have had MANY male mentors who have been extremely supportive. And of course the women in my career have been great.” –Kell Miller
“I was the Senior Motion Graphics artist on a CBS show. I was pregnant with twins at the time, and the Lead Editor (a father of twins) asked me, ‘Is that breakfast #1 or #2? My wife always had 2 breakfasts when she was expecting our twins.’ And then he went on to tell a funny anecdote about misplacing one of his babies. He saw me as a fellow parent of twins and an equal colleague–I could tell from his tone and approach.” –Anonymous
“When I started my first job at Fischer Edit, I think most people assumed I was someone else’s kid wandering around the studio. A producer named Kathy started talking to me, and when she discovered I that I could animate, she did everything she could to help me animate more. She’s my work mom. I also had my work brothers, Carlos and Matt, who reminded me daily that I was not hired to be someone’s assistant. Actually, I truly loved everyone at Fischer Edit- but Kathy, Matt and Carlos helped me find my place there.” –Alicia Reece
“I’ve always been really into ‘bands’ or ‘groups’ of people working in this industry. I’m also doing that job (directing) because I love working with a team. And I have to say, I’ve always been very close to men in this industry (probably because there’s not so many girls actually!). But it has never made a difference. I don’t feel any difference working with them, while working with girls. I think they appreciate to work with women, because it’s a different sensibility. My producer, Nicolas de Rosanbo, always pushed me to create and write for short films. Not only because it’s his job, but also because this industry is about connections: this job requires so much sensibility, feelings, emotions, that you need someone to rely on sometimes. He has been the one to find the right words to help me finding a direction into this job, and actually to give me the opportunity to become a director.”–Emmanuelle Leleu
Additionally, MANY women expressed how great it has been to be part of the the Ladies of Mograph group. Here’s what a few of them said:
“I’m part of the Ladies of Mograph group. We email each other about jobs and projects we’ve worked on. Whenever we have a new website or reel. It’s pretty awesome.” –Elizabeth Kupfer
“The ladies of mograph group has formed several years ago and formed a small community. Please reach out for jobs, drinks, food, talk.. etc” –Anonymous
“NYC has a VERY strong and awesome community of female motion graphics artists. We are great and supportive.” –Anonymous
Positive thoughts and comments
“Be kind to each other. Support each other, it will only bring us higher.”–Heewon Sohn
“I like to think that tide is changing and I am encouraged at how many female applicants for positions in digital design there currently are. I see more women in the digital arts than I have ever seen before and hope that continues to grow. … Women still have a small mountain to climb in what is a very male-dominated industry, but we are getting there! I certainly feel like there is much more respect for women in the industry than there was 20 years ago when I was starting in it.”–Maryanne Butler
“Motion graphics is a really fun and growing part of the design industry, I’m glad folks are asking questions about why the gap is there and the experiences of others. I’d love to work with more women in motion design: there’s so much good stuff to be done.” –J
“…In the last 3-4 years I have seen more women animating and it’s wonderful. They’re talented, capable and driven. We should all make an effort on a project by project basis to have women on our teams. Having that become the norm and integrating our perspective into the process is critical to showing our value.” –Lindsay
“…In my experience, I’ve never felt excluded, or felt disadvantage because I’m a woman in an industry consisted of mostly men. When it comes to wages, again I don’t think women get pay any less than men. If the woman can do the same job delivering quality work, companies are willing to pay (equally to men).” –Manda Cheung
“I don’t necessarily think it has to do with gender bias directly. I will say that when I started in this industry there were very few female role models. I never worked for a woman-owned studio until my friends started them. But, I know that as my generation gets older and takes leadership positions, things are changing and evening out a bit.” –Anonymous
“…I came from a Tech job before this and it was a totally different ballgame. Very hard being female there. Wage gap. Less opportunity. Stereotyping. Old boys club. I find the motion graphics industry a much nicer environment all around and I might be blind to some of the smaller transgressions, because I was so used to much larger ones there.” –Anonymous
With these thoughts below I’d like to close for now, hopefully this won’t be the end of it, but a conversation starter:
“Equality is about balance. Is not about just one thing. We can talk equality without looking at the big picture, at all the things that influence a career. Is about how we present the discipline in schools, how we bring in new talent, put together teams: looking for variety, points of view and different profiles of people.” –Laura Alejo
“Myself and other women don’t typically cry gender bias for jobs we don’t get or opportunities that don’t come our way; either we never know about these missed opportunities or we often think that maybe we weren’t the right fit or didn’t have a strong enough portfolio. But when you look at the distribution of women in the industry versus, say, my undergraduate program (which was heavily female), there’s clearly an unwillingness to recognize competence or potential in women in the industry, as well as a reluctance to place women in leadership positions whereby they could promote gender balance in their teams” –Anonymous
We also should be more confident, share our experiences as motion designers and encourage young designers to play and try out motion design as their creative medium. not be intimidated by technical aspect when it comes to motion design. If you have good ideas, we can always figure things out. –Heewon Sohn
“We need more women mentors in motion graphics, formal or informal meetups with other women pursuing a similar career path, a greater sense of community. … As a continuing education After Effects teacher, I see a lot of women who are interested in mograph, but few who end up staying with it and getting to higher levels. How do we encourage more women to pursue the field, or stay in it once they’ve started?.” –Anonymous
Thanks for reading.
This article was originally written for Motionographer. Thanks to Joe Donalson and Justin Cone for opening up a space for this important conversation.