Blog: Women's History Month: Mill Film's Lauren McCallum on the studio's pledge for gender parity

Posted By Lauren McCallum on March 04, 2020 07:08 am | Permalink
Last year, Mill Film originally shared our diversity commitments in an article just like this on LinkedIn (check it out here). Our commitment was to achieve gender equity in our creative crew, following a plan called 50/50 by 2020.

The article came on the back of our success in 2018 where we exceeded our commitments and went into 2019 confident, resilient and a little bit bullish. The article resulted in a great and candid debate, lots of new allies and eventually led to a broader peer group, all working together for gender equity in VFX.

We thought if we'd exceeded 30 percent in 2018 surely, we could achieve 40 percent in 2019, we'd just repeat the methodology, right?

Ultimately, we fell short of our target.
At the close of 2019 Mill Film had achieved 38 percent female creative crew in our Montreal studio and 29% female creative in our Adelaide studio.

Despite this, I'm still fired up and remain proud of the achievements of our team. We promised that no matter the outcome we'd share what we learned, and we're following through on that commitment to you, today.

So why are we still committed to achieving gender equity in our creative crew at Mill Film today? Because the time is now.

In 2019 all five of the winners in the National STEM competition were young women for the first time in the competitions history and Diversity and Inclusion was given its own summit at Siggraph LA organized by the devoted and kind Tony Baylis, the time for gender equity is upon us, it takes a concerted effort and commitment from business leadership to make it a reality.

I've spent a lot of time speaking with peers and researching outside of the immediate VFX community at events such as Siggraph LA, taking part in VES AMA's and speaking at Lesbian Who Tech's Montreal conference. I've traveled the globe and come across the same gender equity issues in the worlds of Games, Software Development and Tech. There is a whole community of change agents, value-driven organizations and industry and community groups focused on solving gender equity in STEM which means there is a wealth of experience to draw from. At the same time, we see Niki Caro directing Disney's Mulan and Cate Shortland directing Black Widow for Marvel, proving again that diversity doesn't come at the expense of talent.

This community of change agents can be found closer to home as well. One of the benefits of Mill Film being a Technicolor company is our connection and collaboration with our sister brands Mr. X, Mikros VFX, and MPC Film and Episodic. On a monthly basis, each brand meets to share their gender equity programs throughout the different studios in Montreal, London, Bangalore, Mumbai, Paris, Los Angeles, Adelaide, and Toronto. This ensures that our gender equity programs account for each region and its unique diversity.
As well as this, Access VFX and Women in Animation are powerful industry groups we've worked really closely with, to support apprenticeships for women and girls, sharing best practices, participating in outreach and mentorship programs and participating actively in research.

I believe the most valuable lessons are learned through our mistakes and it's my responsibility to share those with you, so you don't have to make them too.

Everything we're going to outline is advice only and we'd love to hear what you've learned too. One thing is for sure, the talent is ready and waiting and if we don't work hard to attract them to VFX as a career, our peers in Games, Software Development and Tech are ready to act. Simply put, the talent will pass us by.

With this in mind, I am pleased to share our 5-point plan that any VFX studio can follow to increase gender parity.

1. Visibility

The Why. According to the Women in Film 2019 Celluloid Ceiling study, women comprised only 5% of the visual effects supervisors working on the top 100 films of 2019 and there has been only one female winner of an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects in the last 20 years, Sara Bennet for Ex Machina in 2015.

The How. The more women in senior creative and leadership roles, the higher the number of women in more junior roles. The power of visible female role-models is huge and cannot be underestimated. I guarantee there are talented women working in every studio who have been put off from pursuing leadership roles because they do not see themselves reflected in that leadership team. Visionaries in our industry like Victoria Alonso are opening doors to female VFX Supervisors and Directors which proves again that female representation doesn't come at the expense of talent

2. Talent

The Why. On our own journey to gender parity, the first negative, albeit constructive, feedback levied to us was that we'd be incapable of securing top-level talent if we stuck to our diversity commitments. Critics said there were simply not enough talented senior women in the market to deliver on the quality of work we had booked. We were committed to disrupting this notion. We discovered that there were lots of women in the VFX community who had never had a manager approach them for a leadership role despite being capable. As a result, they considered themselves counted-out and ultimately their confidence was comparably low. We worked closely with these women to figure out what was holding them back - was it talent or self-belief? Most of the time it turned out to be the latter.

The How. Done right, diversity never comes at the expense of talent. Talent should always be the priority, ensuring you have 50/50 gender equity at the point of interview for each role, helps to ensure that women have the same opportunities as men to win the role based on talent and team fit. As employers we need to commit to working harder to find the women already in our teams who don't yet feel ready for a promotion but who are more than capable of taking the next step. The more women we worked with, the more we learned that women often didn't feel they could apply until they'd evidenced 100% of the skills required were their male counterparts were often more confident applying at 60%. This taught up that interview training, negotiation and management training are key aspects of opening more opportunities for women. Of course, we are using generalizations here, not everyone fits that same experience, but we witnessed signification trends towards these common experiences, as did our peers in the VFX community.

3. Commitment

The Why. Business leaders need to be aware of what the gender split is in their own creative teams. Before you can fix it, you've got to know where you currently stand. Once you know, you can make an internal or an external commitment.

The How. It's ok for organizations to fail to achieve gender equity commitments on day one if you learn from the mistakes and share these with the community. I hope reading this article and seeing Mill Film's honesty in action, will encourage you to do something similar. You can start small and commit to an increase of 5%, achieving this still means there are more women in VFX across the community.

4. Champions

The Why. You can't achieve gender equity alone as a single leader or leadership team, you'll need a whole team to make it happen. Champions of diversity and equality need to be identified at the artist level. You'll need these champions to reinforce the commitments your business makes and to ensure these are delivered daily. We have both succeeded and failed at this and learned it takes practices and vigilance.

The How. Find the diversity champions in your studios. They will be the people who are already feeding back on initiatives or are always getting involved in social and team activities. You might also know that they are campaigners or activists outside of the studio. Don't make the mistake of thinking these should all be women. Some of the most impactful allies and champions will be men.

5. Belonging

The Why. We learned last year that while it's easier to hit our gender targets at the point of hire, the harder challenge is to retain your talent without your studio, especially if they don't feel they belong. In order to create a studio environment where your crew feels comfortable bringing their whole selves to work, as a manager or leader, you've got to be listening to your team constantly. Some things will be within your power to change, others may not be, but you must be constantly listening. Often the feedback you hear is tough but hear it as the gift of feedback and try to make a change.

The How. Belonging means having an opportunity to participate, to design and to innovate. We've achieved this by adding feminine care products free of charge in our women's toilets and providing gender-neutral toilets for those who are gender fluid or trans. Yet despite this, during periods of hyper-growth as Mill Film experienced in spring 2019, it was challenging to prioritize belonging and culture over show crewing and delivery. Through working with our crew forums and diversity champions, we were able to get regular feedback on what was working and what needed to change. We made mistakes and we're learning from them and that's the key to creating a studio where crew feels they belong.

I continue to believe that sharing our own lessons is vital and that if more businesses in our VFX community made similar commitments to gender equity, we'll have a real opportunity to move the needle for diversity and inclusion in VFX.

Lauren McCallum is the global managing director of Mill Film.