Dear Friends of Women in Animation (WIA),
I’ve been trying to write this letter for a couple of weeks now because I’ve been really thinking about the working from home scenario and how the animation industry has an opportunity to take the lead in changing the culture of work in entertainment. But I kept stumbling over survivor’s guilt. I read about the thousands of people who file for unemployment each week and I don’t know how I can talk from the perspective of someone still earning a salary.
But then I had my “Sullivan’s Travels” moment and realized that we in animation have an important role in all of this. We’re not just making cartoons, we’re bringing entertainment to people when they need it the most. We should be grateful that animation is a medium that can withstand a pandemic; we must embrace it and do our best work.
Everyone is talking about what the “new-normal” will look like when the quarantine is lessened or lifted completely. How do we transition back to what? Since we’ve never lived through a pandemic before, it’s anyone’s guess. I’m not going to opine on what it will be but I have been thinking about what it could be.
What if we didn’t dismantle the production pipeline that we put together in response to the pandemic? Let’s say we keep the possibility of doing animation production from home alive. Ideally, employees would have a choice. For some people, based on their job as well as their disposition, they would be better off in an office environment. But for many others, the option of working from home all or part of the time could be more effective for them and the team. We now see that our industry can exist in a remote situation, we are able to safely continue making content in quarantine, and as we transition out. And we know we are prepared if another infectious surge comes up in the fall or winter.
During quarantine, the response of the Human Resource teams in most companies has been thoughtful and supportive. We were asked if we had everything we needed to do our jobs well from home. There was concern about staff feeling isolated from their teams. We were encouraged to break from work and go outside to take a walk or exercise or just see daylight. Supervisors spent a portion of meetings asking people how they are doing and what new skills did they master. Colleagues who normally don’t socialize shared updates of their activities at home.
The intersection of life and work suddenly expanded; the line has blurred.
Before the pandemic, co-workers often hid their family life. There was no place for it in the office. The ideal staff person was unencumbered or always appeared that way. Parents were known to lie about absences related to family obligations to not appear that they were anything but 150% committed to their job. People with health challenges (physical or emotional) had to discreetly deal with them and hope that no one would notice or judge them less fit.
But what if our personal side didn’t have to be checked at the studio door?
I propose that a more humanized work environment is a more productive one. A balanced, flexible, and healthy work culture attracts and retains balanced, creative, and strong talent. Lots of money is spent on recruiting and talent development; perhaps additional consideration should be put toward altering the work climate. Since we re-launched Women in Animation, our core message has been that diversity means access to a greater talent pool. Supporting a virtual pipeline and the subsequent humanizing of the work culture will open the doors for an even greater reach and wider access to new talent. People who cannot easily work in a studio in a major animation hub because of family obligations, physical or other limitations, or geographic restrictions can join teams; they can bring new voices and expand the talent pool to be truly global.
I can’t help but think that the more integrated life and work is, the better both would be. We could soften or humanize the concept of professionalism. Rather than the model professional being a high-powered elite whose life is driven by ambition, advancement, and the job, we could define the ideal professional as someone who is working toward a rich, balanced, and good life. If you adjust the basic paradigm, then everything changes.
Let’s not go back to the way it was. Let’s continue to build a more balanced, flexible and efficient way of working that keeps job and home commitments more complementary. Let’s develop a production plan that is built around the personal needs of individuals, allowing them the flexibility to work their best on the job while maintaining a home life for themselves and/or their families from wherever in the world that they choose to live.
In an effort to create a global culture of connectivity and support during this isolating time, Women in Animation has successfully converted all our programs to a virtual experience. We are hosting online webinars, guest lectures, and more: you can find out about them all on our website, womeninanimation.org.
This week, in honor of Mother’s Day, we are hosting a Parents in Animation panel led by Nicole Rivera. We’ll have some animation superstars who also happen to be parents talking about their experiences. It is on Thursday, May 7th. You can get the details on our website.
In June, we will launch our 2020 Mentor Program with mentoring circles that is not limited by geography. We are looking to offer twice the number of circles than in the past in order to support more people. Some will be skill-based groups, but we are also expanding into other formats and themes including four circles that will be led by life coaches. If you are interested in leading a mentoring group, please contact us. Volunteering is one of the best antidotes to possible feelings of powerlessness brought on by the dire situation we’re currently in.
Additionally, we are forming a collaboration with The Animation Guild (TAG) to raise awareness of the need for parental support. In particular, there is a growing concern that as the pandemic continues or when we transition out of quarantine, the burden on parents will be overwhelming. With schools closed at least until September and summer programs being canceled, parents have lost the child support assistance of pre-pandemic days. Additionally, it is estimated that about 20% of existing childcare programs will have gone out of business by the time we return to the workplace. So, there will be less of the already limited resources.
For a parent, having sufficient and appropriate childcare is equivalent to having the right piece of equipment or software. They will do much more effective and creative work with the right support. It is to the communities’ benefit that we support them in this time of need.
How can the animation community support our colleagues in an extremely challenging situation? What can the studios do to help their employees? What can we as individuals do to help our friends?
We look forward to working with TAG to help answer these questions and to garner support from the industry and community.
Take care of yourselves and each other. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it is that we are part of something bigger than ourselves and that carries with it responsibilities and big rewards, if you choose to be part of the community. Show your full self at home and at work…which happens to be the same place right now, but you know what I mean.
Wishing you continued health, happiness, and balance…
President, Women in Animation