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Opening Career Doors

How WIA President, Marge Dean, is shaping the future of animation and empowering underrepresented genders
March 29, 2022
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Marge Dean is a powerhouse in the world of animation, forging a path of inclusivity and opportunity for women and underrepresented genders in her field as President of WIA (Women in Animation). She was also recently appointed as head of the newly formed Skybound Entertainment Animation Studio. As a multi-platform content company, Skybound works closely with creators and their intellectual properties to extend stories to platforms including comics, television, film, tabletop and video games, books, digital content, and events. In her new role leading the Animation Studio, Marge oversees project creative vision and development across adult-animation franchises including 'Invincible' and 'Superfight', studio hiring, and schedule management.

Over the course of her 30-year career in the entertainment industry, she has achieved many milestones, including: Head of Studio at Crunchyroll, the largest anime streaming platform; and General Manager of Stoopid Buddy Stoodios, the largest stop motion studio in Southern California, where she worked on Emmy Award-Winning projects, 'Robot Chicken' (Adult Swim) and 'Buddy Thunderstruck' (Netflix).

At the forefront of a rapidly growing US animation market, Marge Dean is shaping the narrative of animated content, and pushing the industry towards a more open and inclusive working environment for those who create it. Her impact includes the normalization of flexible work hours, intentional hiring practices, and women in leadership roles through WIA’s Mentorship Program.

The growing animation market

Early in her career, Marge Dean set out to be a producer for live-action movies. In juggling grad school and life as a single mom, she took a job in animation, and has never looked back. As Marge explains, “I'm so glad I made that choice a long time ago to be in animation. It's really proven to fit me personality-wise and aesthetically. It's also an industry that's just getting bigger and bigger.”

The global animation market has grown from 2017 estimates of $254 billion to $354.7 billion in 2020. By 2030, industry growth is projected at $670 billion.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, animation jobs (specifically special effects artists and animators) are expected to grow 16% from 2020 to 2030. An incredible rate, compared with the 1.7 % average occupation growth rate.

With developing technology, animation now encompasses gaming, VFX, anime, and traditional linear animation. This expansion opens new storytelling avenues and growing job opportunities.

Adult animation, in particular, is an area that is growing in the U.S. Marge experienced the opportunity for this demographic while working as Head of Studio at Crunchyroll, and now sees the growth at Skybound Entertainment.

She explains, “The Japanese know that animation is not a genre, which is the way the U.S. thinks about it. [We see it] as kid’s content or sitcom comedy. But no, it's a medium. It's a way to tell stories, and you can tell any story in animation. There are some that will be better told in animation than live action and vice versa. But there isn't really any kind of story that you can't tell in animation, so it opens it all up. And our medium is the one that continued to flourish during the pandemic because we're all sitting on computers [creating animation], and we can all do it from home.”

According to Time Magazine, “The globalization of content has opened up American audiences to high-quality adult animation shows from Japan, France and elsewhere, raising the bar for everyone. As the streaming wars escalate, Netflix, Hulu and others are investing millions of dollars in animation studios and creators…”

The evolution of flexible work schedules

Technology is one of the driving industry growth factors. New cloud-based workflows allow for efficient rendering processes and remote team access. As a result, animation production lends itself to flexible work hours. Marge is now advocating for industry adoption of flexible schedules, so more people can benefit and pursue leadership positions as she did.

20% of the animation industry are women. Of that number, only 3% are directors. With Marge’s leadership, WIA is on a mission to increase those numbers. “[W]e have to change hearts and minds,” She says, “We have to get people to realize that it is wrong to assume that if a woman wants to have children, she can't be a leader in entertainment. And because of this misconception, the industry operates that way.”

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Trends show in this WIA study that female participation decreases once their responsibilities increase. The findings are related to three impediments:

  1. Homophily impacts women from feeling a sense of belonging
  2. Gender stereotyping and associating women as high-risk hires
  3. Women are perceived as lacking ambition or interest in the field

A shift towards intentional hiring

How might the entertainment industry collectively join WIA to empower women pursuing more creative animation jobs and executive positions?

One key step is intentional hiring. Marge sees opportunities to support underrepresented genders and shift the perceived risk for many studios who still hire based on gender stereotypes.

In a recent survey conducted by WIA and USC Annenberg Inclusive Initiative, 37% of early-career women, 57% of decision makers, and 26% of animation guild participants provided answers that fit into these two categories:

  • “Because people are not willing to try something new, females are seen as a risk as most animators are male.” 
  • “When it comes to feature films, studios aren't willing to take as many "risks." Being a non-white, non-male director is still considered a “risk” in the industry... the studios tend to hire the same directors that have made successful films before.” 

Given that only 3% of directors of animated movies in the last 12 years were women, we need leadership to take more risks and Marge chooses to practice what she preaches.

She recently hired a female director, highly qualified yet often passed over by other hiring leaders. Animation, like much of the film and television industry, is a highly competitive business, and bold personalities tend to win positions. This director has a less-typical, quieter leadership approach, and Marge recognized the benefits in her directing style. Marge knew she made the right choice when, a month after hiring the director, she received texts from the production team proclaiming, “[W]e hit the jackpot with her! She is so amazing!”

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Deliberate leadership choices can shift the status quo, but change requires consistency and transparency. Leaders of underrepresented genders are uniquely able to make a positive impact at team, project, and industry levels. Currently an estimated 30% of all creative animation positions are filled by women. With flexible work environments coexisting with healthy home life, opportunities can increase for underrepresented genders to shape our storytelling with a broader perspective. 

Equipping women to lead

Since the animation industry is dominated by men, the WIA and USC Annenberg Report explains how underrepresented genders are less inclined to grow in their respective career fields if they lack a common sense of belonging.

Often this shift in belonging happens after animation students graduate. About 60% of women make up the student population in animation schools, however, once they graduate and begin working professionally, that number drops to 20%.

The report further goes on to reference college student behavioral studies. When students experience bias and discrimination, “it’s associated with lower academic and interpersonal validation, which in turn predicted levels of belonging. Even more subtle environmental cues can influence belonging and intentions to continue in a field.”

How to improve the pipeline and create belonging?

The WIA Mentorship Program offers a solution, targeting women in early and mid-animation careers.

This program consists of 6-10 professional peer cohorts and an industry mentor who meets virtually with them over a 3-month period around a specific goal.

Mentors are just as important as peer-to-peer connections. Marge explains, “Many mentoring circles have gone off and formed their own groups… stay in touch with each other, and  talk to each other about their careers…as we know, networking in entertainment allows you to advance in the field. Our mentoring program facilitates  the growth of networks.”

Additional resources

Marge refers to Women in Animation as simply, WIA, explaining, “We want to also expand the constituency to be accepting for people who identify as trans and non-binary…I don't think working in animation is innate to a gender. But I do think that there is a lot of pressure on us with socialization to be a certain way. What I love about gender fluidity is that it starts questioning and challenging those assumptions that certain traits are attached to certain genders.”

Find out more about WIA and their initiatives to transform the animation industry and explore the latest news on their blog. You can also watch the Master Series webinar ‘Women in Animation: A 3D View’ featuring Dean, along with a curated panel of women creative leaders, discussing their careers and the future of animation.

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