Despite Rise In Female Executives, Hollywood Animation Still Has a Gender Problem

Dr. Stacy L. Smith, a leading researcher on diversity and inclusion in Hollywood, has released a new study about rarely discussed but nonetheless important efforts to diversify the animation world. Her findings, published by USC’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, reveal that some progress has been made in an industry that can still go much further.

The study evaluated women’s access to both on-screen and production roles, as well as executive positions. The latter was by far the area where women have experienced the most success. Half of the C-suite jobs at major animation studios are filled by women, as well as 68% of vice president positions. While the numbers are much lower in television, researchers find this encouraging, as data suggests that underrepresented groups in leadership roles tend to hire more underrepresented people for jobs up and down productions.

Onscreen, the findings were less inspiring. Just 17% of the top 120 animated films featured a female lead or co-lead, although that number more than doubled in animated television. In both cases, a very small fraction of said roles went to women of color.

Most disappointing to Smith and supporters of her work are the study’s findings in the directing category. Only 3% of major animated films were directed by women, and the television numbers are not much better.

Smith worked to make sure that nobody could spin her findings as women not being interested in directing. She interviewed early career women in animation and found that 91% of them aspired to leadership roles. The number of women in jobs that lead to directing, such as animators and story heads, was higher, but declines on each rung of the ladder. Smith took this to mean that while there is a large pool of capable women pursuing careers in animation directing, their careers are hitting roadblocks that men do not face.

The study ends on a positive note, referencing the increasingly large crop of up-and-coming female directors. In 2018, 60% of animated shorts at major festivals were directed by women, up from just 33% in 2016. Once again, this suggests that women are actively pursuing this work, and can thrive in the industry if given the opportunity.

“This study validates what we have known all along, that women are a hugely untapped creative resource in the animation industry,” said Marge Dean, President of Women in Animation. “Now that we have a greater understanding of how the numbers fall into place and what solutions may help rectify this deficiency, we can take bigger strides towards our goal of 50-50 by 2025.”

The study can be read in its entirety here.

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