|July 2018 edit: It's been about a year since I originally wrote this, and it's sparked endless conversations about paper cuts and microaggressions in the post production industry, and even a session with the Diversity Steering Committee at the Motion Picture Edito... last fall. This isn't a problem that's going away anytime soon, but when we talk about it we normalize it. We make it okay to be fed up and frustrated, and we make it essential to find each other and vent it out. I've updated this post a little bit with things I've learned since, and I hope it helps people to understand what women, especially non-white women, are facing in media industries.
For years I've been citing research about women leaving the post production industry in droves once they hit the glass ceiling and have had enough. A lot of people say women leave at this point because they're just not that interested in pursuing it any further or they wish to raise kids and start a family.
Their presence at this point isn't questioned or missed. Half the crowd says "what are you talking about, I work with tons of women" and the other half says "well, what can you do? Women just want to leave."
I'm on the verge of being 32. In what I've experienced of my thirties so far, I have met more women in my age bracket than ever who have changed careers or are seeking to make a change. And this change isn't prompted by unrest or a desire to try new things.
No way. These women? They're tired
For years I've been citing research and anecdotes from people an arm's length away at least. Now I'm talking about my
peers and seeing it happen first hand
These women have spent the entirety of their twenties and then some trying to prove themselves like anyone does, but they've had to do it even harder. And once they proved themselves they had to KEEP proving themselves. (Yes, men also have to prove themselves. But not because the assumption is that they are naive and non-technical.)
They have had to work to command respect and be treated like peers and not subordinates.
They have had to remind the men (and women) around them that they aren't children but rather experienced professionals.
They've had to have uncomfortable conversations about their family planning strategies or future plans with bosses in order to shake any assumptions away that could destroy their careers.
They've had to constantly balance between being too
ambitious or not wanting it hard enough.
They've had to find a way to be strong without being bossy.
They get stuck in assistant editor and coordinator and junior roles while their male peers are promoted more rapidly.
They're paid less for their work and given fewer benefits.
And they're supposed to be grateful for these opportunities.
Women show up at networking events and get hit on, so they have to think hard about what they're wearing and have a plan to leave when a stranger goes too far.
They get over-talked and interrupted during meetings, so they must strategize or force their hand and risk an issue with their tone.
Their opinions aren't taken seriously, so they must carefully craft and design every argument ahead of time.
They're infantilized by their coworkers and must find a way to demonstrate their experience and skills without insulting or threatening anyone.
Their experiences are put down by other women who have bought into the gender bias that pits women against each other.
And on top of all this, they've had to learn and grow as professionals in our industry, constantly meeting new people, finding more opportunities, and gaining new skills. On top of the normal stuff anyone has to do to make it in this industry, women have a whole separate agenda to focus on.
And it's not like we really want to do that. I would love to never speak about diversity ever again.
I'd love to just focus on my tech work and build my skills and go home and play video games. But I can't stop talking about diversity until it's resolved.
I know what you're thinking. This industry is hard
. Navigating your career is hard
. Before you think these women can't cut it, think about this: if you're able to scale a mountain much quicker and easier than a person wearing 50 pound weights on their feet, would you say you're better or more worth of being at the summit than they are?
Because women pursue careers in post and technology with weights on their feet.
Let me give you an example of a simple interaction in your day that exhausts me. If you're a man, maybe you come up to me in the workplace to speak to me and place your hand on my back, a little lower than I would ever expect. You think nothing of it, and you return to your work. In the moment between when your hand touches and leaves my back, I enter a spiral of strategic decision-making: is he going to slide it down? What if he does? Should I ask him not to touch me? If I ask him that, will he think I'm overly sensitive and emotional? Will he tell my mostly male coworkers I over-react to simple things? Will they remember it, even subconsciously, when it's time for me to be promoted? Will I miss out on a key step upward in the company if that happens? Will I stunt my career growth externally? Will I be unable to meet my professional and financial life goals because of it? If I don't say something, am I being complicit in a rape culture? What if it keeps happening and sends a message? What do I do?
Maybe you think this is overly dramatic, but it's vital to every woman to think about the consequences of every interaction on the work life tight rope. And yes, it's incredibly exhausting for women.
And now these women are so tired and I'm watching them leave. They wouldn't leave if they weren't so spent
. They would stay and use their incredible skills to tell the stories that need to be told with so many important perspectives.
This is the excessive emotional labor
we put on women, which has been well-documented as a major stressor that wears women down. Tack on dealing with an industry with long days, egos, and tight deadlines, and it's a small wonder so many of us make it at all. And women's groups are no better: if technical women are the focus of any organization, it's usually as a requirement to apologize and make up for their own invisibility. Groups that support women in film and women in media really only support certain subsets of privilege women in high level roles, and place the emotional labor on already exhausted women to represent themselves.
Some dissent in the comments on the original posting of this blog mentioned that women being handed the biological task of having babies is just the way it is, and it means a lot more of them are going to leave their careers behind because they have other responsibilities.
It's true that many women do choose to leave employment to raise children. I think that's great. I think men and women both should have that choice presented to them. However, there is no path back into the industry for women who choose to do this. There are women who spent six years raising a son or daughter and wish to go back to work, but no employer will entertain the thought of hiring someone with a gap in employment, regardless of why or how much work they did to keep themselves up to date with their tools.
There is also the matter that there are women who will not choose to have children. You can't assume anything from anyone. Your management contingency plan for hiring women should be to treat them fairly, pay them equally, and restructure your workplace so they can thrive regardless of their choices.
But I can't shake this idea of shrugging off child birth as a simple fact of biology handed to women. There are so many women in this industry who have children and want to return to work within a year. A lot of them can't find a way to make it work, physically or emotionally, and leave. "Ah well," the employers say, "we can't help what responsibilities nature gave them."
We can grow human organs in dishes. We can replace lost arms and legs. We can perform transplants of nearly anything anymore. We can transfuse blood. We can perform c-sections. Biotechnology has never been more advanced -- and you're telling me we can't find a solution to helping mothers stay in their jobs when they choose to stay?
We all need to fight harder to make our workplaces more inclusive and welcoming. We need to do gender bias training. We have to aggressively seek out women to hire and provide a path for ascending within the industry. We need supportive organizations that are truly inclusive and focused.
Because if we don't have these diverse people working in an industry that is evolving and changing so rapidly, we're going to miss out on vital innovations that would allow it to be a sustainable business in the future.
But even worse, we're going to keep destroying passionate women
who work hard to stake their claim in our industry. And no matter what that means for your business bottom line, it's plain wrong.
Further reading from me on this topic:
Sexism in Post
Open Letter to Companies Exhibiting at NAB
Sexism in Post podcast interview
Sexism in VFX podcast interview
Ten Questions on Gender Issues in Post
Gender Equality in Post Production
Whenever I discuss gender in the film industry, someone usually pops up and says "yeah but it's waaaay better than it used to be!"
And every year, San Diego State University's Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film publishes their annual Celluloid Ceiling Report
on womens' employment "below the line" and shows just how not at all better
things are right now.
Inevitably, someone jumps in and says it's better "where it counts": in smaller markets or in non-traditional media.
For one thing, I don't trust this assessment. There are no statistics (that I know of) to back this up, and obviously if you asked for purely anecdotal evidence on feature films, many tend to wrongly say "it's totally better, I work with women all the time now."
And for another thing, the top 100, 250 and 500 grossing films DO matter. How many movies does the average person watch in a year? I looked it up briefly, and data seems to state it's something like 20ish movies a year, but only around 5 in a movie theater. So maybe only about 5 new movies.
In any case, out of 100-500 films, only 5-20 means a person is getting a very small slice of what the film industry has to offer. If the only 5 movies a person watches in a year are in the top 100 grossing films, they are not seeing much female representation on their screen.
You may think that female employment in Hollywood isn't a topic that matters outside our bubble, but it actually matters a great deal to peoples' understanding of womens' stories since nearly everyone
is watching movies. It matters to young women who are encouraged to follow the various paths in the film industry, creative or technical, and have the courage to deal with all the crap that involves by watching other women accomplish it too.
In Michelle Obama's words: “For so many people, TV and movies may be the only way they understand people who aren’t like them. It becomes important for the world to see different images of each other, so that we can develop empathy and understanding....The only way that millions of people get to know other folks and the way they live … is through the power of television and movies.”
Here are some of the highlights from the report. I encourage you to click through and read the full report
-- it's very short, and it's illustrated with graphs. SDSU also has many other reports in television and on-screen visibility of women you can read.
- In 2016, women comprised 17% of all directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors, and cinematographers working on the top 250 domestic grossing films. This represents a decline of 2 percentage points from last year and is even with the percentage achieved in 1998.
- 92% had no women directors.
However, on films with at least one female director, the number of women employed as writers jumped from 9% to 64%. The number of female editors jumped from 17% to 43%. The number of cinematographers jumped from 6% to 16%. This is a huge increase.
- Women comprised 17% of all editors working on the top 250 films of 2016. This represents a decrease of 5 percentage points from 2015 and a decrease of 3 percentage points from 1998. Put another way: the number of women dropped 25% in a year, on par with ongoing trends for a long time -- we're now 3 percentage points below where we were 18 years ago
- Women in post are not fairing well outside picture editing either. 4% of sound designers, 8% of sound editors, 3% of composers.
There's lots more information in the report -- like women are most likely to work in documentary and least likely to work in action. You can logically conclude that women are seeing these problems and hiring other women, so the fact that 93% of these films had no female editor means the female employment is not rippling downward into other creative or technical roles.
So consider this. A woman born in 1998, when this data first began to be collected, is now at a point in her life where she is deciding what she wants to study and pursue as an adult. The number of women in editing on the films she has watched her entire life has remained steady or decreased every year of her life. What does this mean for her?
And a response to "what can I do" to change this? I wrote about that last year for you.
Did you know the #allmalepanel is such a common phenomenon that a UN organization is urging its employees
(and 8,500 member organizations like Coca-Cola and Cisco) to stop participating in them? “There is no shortage of qualified women," says executive director Lise Kingo.
The post production industry is no exception to the all male panel phenomenon. From SMPTE to NAB to ACE, our community is vibrant, filled with podcasts, articles, meet-ups and classes. Trade shows feature product demonstrations and broad concept discussion panels of all sorts. Enrichment is important to us. The most frequent recurring advice we give to young people is “never stop learning” and “meet lots of people,” which we accomplish through these extracurriculars.
But our events and podcasts and demos are not diverse, not even kind of
diverse. While the post production industry as a whole is lacking in women for reasons I’ve written about in the past
, the people that are chosen to speak, teach, and represent us to ourselves are even less
There is no shortage of qualified women for post either -- I would like to introduce you to a few dozen women (and counting) you can add to your contacts next time you need a demo artist, podcast guest, or beta tester with our Women in Post PR List
, available as a regularly updated PDF with a version you can download now.
I’ve recently begun asking people in the post industry why their events only feature male experts.
“I don’t know any women who are interested.” “I booked a woman, but she had to cancel.” “All the women I know are working!”
There is a disconnect between the largely male pool of people in charge of these various stages and women who are experts in their part of the industry. This is true of all industries where men dominate the selection of “experts” to the public.
In the media, one journalist discovered that men are more often interviewed as experts in news articles, and men cite themselves more often
In academia, women who co-author academic papers with men are less likely
to get tenure than the men.
And on the site allmalepanels.tumblr.com
, you can see examples of all male panels from hundreds of other trade shows and events across the world.
From allmalepanels.tumblr.com -- Royal Television Society’s Special Camera’s talk - all men including chair
It shouldn’t be difficult to find women who can speak on behalf of their work, but many men say it is. So alright, you tell me you don’t know any women who are interested or available or panels or workshops or classroom talks. Your follow up question should be: “how can I help change this?
In partnership with London-based editor Siân Fever, I’ve put together a simple document and form for creating a database of women who are experts in different topics in the post production community. Women can fill out the form
and add themselves to the list. Once a month, Siân and I will update and distribute a nicely formatted PDF containing the information of all women who have added themselves to this list.
At NAB 2015 -- Working Together to Close the Gender Gap with Me and Siân, and Megan McGough Christian, Ellen Wixted and Amy DeLouise
It’s still a work in progress, and we’re still figuring out the best way to handle the flow of names and updates (and accepting feedback and assistance to make it bigger and better.) But it’s a start. And it’s hardly a new concept — Binders Full of Women has been doing the same thing in journalism since Mitt Romney uttered the phrase in 2012, and Ms in the Biz has a database for female filmmakers from all kinds of jobs. We’re focused on post production only: engineers, editors, vice-presidents, assistants, coordinators, CTOs, supervisors, sound editors, everything post.
Here’s what everyone needs to do right now:
Women: add yourselves to this page, even if you’ve never thought of yourself as someone that should be speaking as an expert.
Your voice is important in this industry. Women are less likely to declare themselves an expert and seek opportunities to be on a stage in their career field. There are a lot of reasons for this, but I think a big one is because being the only woman in a room full of men makes it feel like more is at stake -- if people don't perceive you well, you're doing a disservice to your gender.
The Confidence Gap
is a real thing, and I've struggled with it too. It's difficult to walk the tight rope of being assertive but not "bossy", to feel self-assured but not egotistical. We're brought up to play by the rules, and we think that if we work hard we'll be plucked from the masses to be on a stage or discussion panel instead of doing what many men do -- trouncing ahead and declaring ourselves the experts we are already. The more women we have on stage, the less likely gender bias will push them away.
Men: strongly consider not taking part in panels or events that make no attempt at gender parity.
Make it your pledge to not sit on an all male panel this year. Your absence makes a difference to changing the visibility of women.
People in charge of events, groups, podcasts, and public relations in general: download this PDF each month and reach out to women.
Encourage other women to add themselves to this list. Make your user stories more diverse. Seek gender parity in your beta teams. Look for fresh voices for your panels and podcasts.
On the eve of this year’s NAB Show, consider asking vendors and programmers why their panels or demo artists are mostly men, and share this document with them.
When we think of experts in post production, women should not be invisible or limited to a list of token individuals that can be counted off from memory. By making gender parity a priority for our extracurriculars, we’ll all help reinforce that women ARE experts — and that kind of influence will make an impact on the subconcious gender bias that keeps women from thriving in post. Our most public individuals should represent the working community we're striving to create.
There is no shortage of female experts in post -- let's put them on stage so they can impact the next generation of post professionals.
[If you would like to receive an updated version of this PDF on a regular basis, email firstname.lastname@example.org to be added to the distro list.]
When I was in Vegas a couple weeks ago for the NAB Show, I went to the Hofbräuhaus, the traditionally crazy German restaurant based on the brewery of the same name in Munich which is loaded up with a menu of Deutschland beers and meats.
The south lower hall at the convention center had more sausage than this place.
And that's my crude and unladylike way of asking: where all the women at?
Video post-production has been male-dominated for a long time. I don't need to be reminded of the big time Hollywood editors that have made their mark on the industry: Sally Menke, Thelma Schoonmaker, plenty of ladies in television doing great stuff. Or that there are a lot more women coming about now than there have been in the last few decades. I also don't need to be reminded that editing started with women. None of us do. It's common knowledge. They're out there, working and being really good and probably being better than you.
So where ARE all of these women hiding at NAB? I spent a day walking around the lower south hall. The ONLY time a female spoke to me was to scan my badge. If I had questions, I talked to a guy. I didn't participate in Post Production World this year, but I glanced at their speaker list: three ladies, two of which talked about social media and producing/directing. Christine Steele is the only one on the roster actually talking about post production. Really?
I spent another couple days working in a booth. I remember seeing a few women workers, but they were mostly around for the performance side of things. Or to scan badges and collect forms. Hell, even IN the booth, I talked to very few women.
But I'm going to be honest here and say that part of me sees the distinct abundance of Y chromosomes on the show floor, while the other part of me says "yeah, so?" Big deal, right? We're all equal, so if there's mostly guys, that's just the way it shook out and maybe there will be more girls next year. No reason to force it if there's just no girls available, to work at NAB or to send from your company to attend.
But then I go back to the part of me swimming in dudes, and I wonder if I should
be asking "why" a little louder. I doubt intentional malice here. I don't think most guys are overtly sexist about including knowledgable women on their NAB teams, and I REALLY don't think the organizers of Post Production World are smoking in a back room, laughing maniacally over their old boy's club, plotting on how they can get rid of Christine once and for all. I can't speak for employers choosing to send male employees to NAB over women because I can totally see that happening, though I hope it doesn't…much.
I just wonder if I should be asking "why" a little louder in case nobody really thought about it.
Correct me if I'm wrong (really), but I've heard the NAB Show of maybe 10+ years ago described as a very male-dominated and bigwig-only type experience. Decision-makers were the most plentiful attendees, so lower ranked employees weren't around so much and certainly weren't so included in anything of importance. And most decision-makers were guys because that's just how the industry is or was then. That's how a lot of industries are, in fact, so it's not like I'm accusing the video industry of being some crazy backwards place. There have been several gigantic companies only recently naming their first female CEO. So you know, whatevs. But what if the lack of gals on the show floor is just a remnant of that time? Just invite back the same people, send the guys because they'll get more out of it, do the usual thing we do every year, just go about our business as we always have.
Or you could try some fresh meat, you guys. Not just women, but in general. If the best choice for your business is to bring an 18-35 year old white male to man your booth or teach your class or represent your company, then I'm not going to argue with you or say you're a male chauvinist pig and burn my bra in protest. I'm just asking: why?
Have you thought about it?