Survival tips for women in motion design

I’ve been working in the field of motion design for 11 years. As a woman of non-Caucasian ethnicity, I’m definitely a minority in the field.  

Sometimes, I think I’ve had a fortunate run. True, I don’t have any boastful awards to speak of, but I’m not poor, I’ve got a list of happy clients and good-looking projects under my belt, and I’m more or less content with life/work balance. This doesn’t mean things have been easy, and like any other women in the field, I am a ‘survivor’, so to speak.

So on that note,  I want to start a conversation by sharing some tips that have helped me survive as a woman in what is undeniably still a male-dominated industry.

5 Survival Tips for Women in Motion Design

01: Don’t use weak language

I first came across this article titled ‘Do You Sabotage Yourself By Using Weak Language?’ a couple of years ago. Ever since then, I have been as careful as possible not to do so.

Eliminating phrases like “I would just…” or “I may not be an expert in this, but…” takes real effort in the beginning. I was nervous that I would come across as rude, but my worries were unfounded. I discovered that by sounding surer of myself, I reduced the overall stress of the situation, for everybody.

As a leader, your team finds it far less stressful when you know what you want, as it’s a lot easier to communicate and follow your directions. As a team member, it’s less likely others will discount your opinion — which helps shift people’s mindset that women are less capable than men.

02: Call them up for being sexist — but never lose your temper

This is very difficult to do, but it is also very important. A well-phrased response delivered calmly is going to cause more impact than an angry rant. You also don’t end up damaging your credibility and professionalism.

When someone says something derogatory, insulting or sexist to you, try to simply say, “That’s terribly sexist and inappropriate,” before simply walking away from the situation. I’ve lost my temper once or twice, and I’m not always great at this, but it gets easier with practise.

03: Find fellow feminists (male and female) and build your support network

Related to no. 02, sometimes the only way to stay sane is to vent. Get your friends around for a drink, and vent to your heart’s content, after which (hopefully) you’re ready to face another day.

04: Look at the positives

Venting alone isn’t always enough. Sometimes, you need to keep reminding yourself of good things that come out of your minority status. As friends have pointed out, women motion designers are rare, so people tend to remember you more.

Secondly, there is a silver lining to this cloud of sexism. It’s easier to separate the good from the bad amongst your male colleagues and friends. Men who don’t dismiss your troubles, who will stand up for you, who are open to criticism, and who support gender equality: they’re keepers. The rest, well, we only hope they’ll learn in time. Things can only get better from here on.

Just as we gasp in horror at blatant sexism on display in period shows like Mad Men or Downton Abbey, someday our grandkids will look back on today and wonder how we could be so uncivilised.

05: Don’t measure yourself by their standard

Motion design, like any other creative field, still primarily measures success through the award system: Young Guns, Promax, D&AD, and so on. Awards are not necessarily bad, but they’re just one way of looking at achievement and career fulfillment.

Personally, I feel that the vertical structure (where a career fulfillment is achieved by climbing higher and higher, both in terms of monetary awards, position, prestige, or otherwise) is a very male way of measuring things. Women tend to prefer a more spherical model, where life and work balance is perhaps one of the most important things to strive for.

Child-bearing figures hugely into this equation. I look at female friends with newborns or young children who also juggle careers in animation and motion design and wonder where’s the award for them?

When I was younger, I too wanted to climb higher and higher. But as I get older, I realize that by keeping my eyes peeled on the gold star, I miss all the other stuff that is just as (if not more) important. Such as the joy in the creative process itself, the possibility to experiment with something new. A client who’s willing to take risks with you, and who pays you on time. All these keep me grounded, realistic, and confident I won’t miss the forest for the trees, so to speak.

 

These are some of my favourite survival tips. What are yours? Do share!

 

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About the author

Lilian Darmono

/ www.liliandarmono.com
Born and raised in Jakarta, Indonesia, Lilian moved to Singapore and eventually Australia for her studies, eventually graduating from Swinburne NID in Prahran, Melbourne. She then worked in print design before deciding to switch to the field of Motion Design in late 2003. Her obsessions include travelling, illustrating, and cats. She is currently in the London leg of her 'Mograph Tour Around The World', and calls Melbourne home.

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  • Scott

    Comment number 1 is spot on, this is also extremely relevant when it comes to things like salary negotiation. The pay discrepancies can be pretty shocking… see tip #3

    Also, 90% of men in the workplace care about and respect anyone who is smart, talented, or just a nice person to work with regardless of their race, gender, sexual orientation or anything else. On the flipside, if you’re an a-hole, it doesn’t matter how talented you are, quit now.

    Some of the most talented and hard working motion designers I know are women, only wish we could keep more of you around longer and not lose you to the producing side of things. What’s up with that inevitable shift that seems to happen?

    Just know that there are a lot of guys out there who want to see you succeed!

    • Thank you Scott. I hope you continue your good work of encouraging women and other minority groups such as people of colour in your immediate environment!

    • “…only wish we could keep more of you around longer and not lose you to the producing side of things. What’s up with that inevitable shift that seems to happen?”

      I think it’s because there is less competition with male counterparts and derogatory stereotypes on that side. Women seem to be more of a norm there. No matter how strong you are not everyone can do it forever and the fight never seems to end. I’ve been considering that shift myself. I’m loosing some of the fight in me as I get older.

    • LL

      “Also, 90% of men in the workplace care about and respect anyone who is smart, talented, or just a nice person to work with regardless of their race, gender, sexual orientation or anything else.”

      So what you’re saying is… “not all men”? If 90% of men spoke up about the lack of women in their companies, how their studios are recruiting, the culture in their offices, the types of work they do, and who is given credit for that work, this situation would not exist.

      • Z

        YEP this. When I was sexually harassed in the workplace, the men I told about it were uncomfortable — and didn’t want to hear about it or speak up. If something that big gets that kind of silence, well, the small stuff isn’t gonna get bothered with either.

  • Timothy

    Hello! I might not have had the typical experience but I have worked for years in LA, and have the good fortune of working for, and with, some of the greatest wemon ever. The co-owner and exec creative director at Blur, Jen Miller, is a legend and her right hand is another woman, Norn Kittiaksorn Jordan. I loved working for both and their gender was inconsequential. Hema Mulchandani was the exec producer/creative director at buster for years and under her guidance the studio won a plethora of awards and I had a fantastic time working for her. Busters also had 2 designers and a creative director while I was there and all 3 were wemon, and minorities, and their talented work impressed clients and colleagues. The twin sister of busters creative director worked at Imaginary Forces for years and she has such a wide range of skills that it was an honor the two times I have got to work with her. The list goes on but those are just 7 amazing wemon from only 3 studios.

    While I realize that wemon and minorities make up too small of a percentage in this industry, the ones who I have worked with got there by being very good at their jobs. I have seen a large number of wemon transition from design to producing and it is a travesty. We also don’t have enough female animators. I met one at prologue, one at buck and one freelancing, but 3 is nowhere near enough. This is just my opinion but if wemon want to make it, specifically here in LA, they just need to be super talented and better than everyone else at what they do. And that’s regardless of gender or race.

    There isn’t a secret formula to success in motion graphics. There are the people who work hard and the people who work harder. Don’t be a one trick pony. Be versitile, be flexible and don’t stop growing as an artist. Don’t let your gender or race define you, let your work and your work ethic define you.

    • “…There isn’t a secret formula to success in motion graphics. There are the people who work hard and the people who work harder….”

      Yes, but it seems women need to work harder than men in order to get to the same position. Over and over again. Thanks for sharing the name of those amazing women you’ve worked with, we all (male or female) need to be aware of more talented women in leadership positions!

    • LL

      Why… do you keep spelling “women” that way?

    • “This is just my opinion but if wemon want to make it, specifically here in LA, they just need to be super talented and better than everyone else at what they do. And that’s regardless of gender or race.”

      This is a confusing statement. I’m not sure if you’re trying to say women need to be extra talented to make it in LA, or if you’re saying that given the lower number of women in the industry, most women are not talented enough to make it.

  • Thank you for this, Lilian. I really appreciate your voice. We always need people like you giving us support. As you know, it’s a tough fight and we can use all the help we can get.

  • Thank you for this post, Lilian. This reminded me of this old TED talk that I really enjoyed. http://www.ted.com/talks/sheryl_sandberg_why_we_have_too_few_women_leaders?language=en

    • Thanks for sharing that TED talk, Eunice. The last point really hits home, as I’m now at the stage in my life where I’m thinking of having a kid. And yes, she’s absolutely right, I’m on the verge of leaning backwards, and this talk has made me realise, i really shouldn’t do that. Great stuff.

      • I am genuinely surprised at this article because I thought the struggle was in my head. I have had some difficulties in this industry but I’m lucky they’ve never been subjected to discrimination of any sort.

        Admittedly, regardless of the job, each gender does approach their roles differently and the majority of those that are applauded for their work in Motion at the moment are men. That doesn’t mean there aren’t any talented, female Motion Designers nor does it mean that these men do not deserve the accolades. Females generally do put in more hours because we have it hard wired in our brains to care a lot of what people think about us, and so we work, and work, burn out and rethink our careers because we want that life balance that and family. So then we choose to go down the path of Producers or Creative Services.

        I recently read Lean In by S. Sandberg and this article is a great initiator – supporting each other (both men and women) in their chosen field is what we need to start looking into in order to expand (or keep) the talent pool and build an even wider basket of creative work. We need to level out the playing field so that those who love what they do and work for what they want are recognized for it and supported to the top!

  • In addition to what is said in #1 (Language), there’s something to be said about swearing too. Psychologically, swearing makes one feel powerful. However, professionally it could be deteriorating. By choosing to use clean vocabulary, it looks powerful in a professional matter.

    This is a topic that isn’t quite as relevant in the creative industry as opposed to a business setting.

    So, my question is when does clean language qualify as weak language and when does it qualify as strong language?

    • I’m a swearer, so it’s very hard for me to control. Anyone who’s ever worked with me may say I have a potty mouth, especially when I’m deep in the production trenches. BUT, yes it can affect how professional I look—I work extra hard to keep it clean when I’m negotiating stuff that’s extra difficult, when I’m talking to people whom I’ve never worked with before, and to me personally it’s related to point no. 2 of not losing my temper, I only swear when it’s not in anger, and when it’s not directed at another person. I swear at the render timeline, at crashing computers, etc. In the end I believe people can ‘sense’ when you’re putting on a mask or not, and that’s what makes people respect you, if you’re real. If you’re not the sweary type and you swear a lot just to ‘fit in’ with the boys, then everyone will see through that and you’re just a fake. I really think this is one of those ‘case-by-case’ thing. Use it when your intuition tells you it’s appropriate…and your intuition only gets sharper by practice…

  • Thanks for sharing, Lilian!

  • Wow! A lot of great takeaways here. The weak language part really gave me a nice wake up call. I’m struggling to establish credibility with one of my clients right now and this could really be a game changer for me. They will say “we trust your expertise” and then when I give it to them they decide on the exact opposite. I could complain and talk about what a horrible client they are but in reality at least 50% of that has to be on me and how I communicate with them. I’m sure I’ve said “I feel and I think” waaaay too much. Even though this article seemed directed a bit more towards the workplace and our colleagues, I think it’s equally helpful for improving how clients perceive you. Thanks Lilian!

  • I’m a lady mographer going on 9 years of experience. I’m grateful to Lilian for writing this article! Here’s what I have to say:
    First of all, I consider not using weak language as a great survival tip for anyone, male or female, especially in a position of leadership. For me this point touches less upon the female predicament (though yes, women have a tougher time avoiding this language because of what we were often taught) than the fact that it is particularly problematic in an industry that bestows positions of leadership upon people who are incredibly talented artists, but not necessarily talented leaders. So yes, everyone- speak definitively. If you are in a position of leadership and you don’t take it upon yourself to work on that skill as much as you work on your skills as an artist, you are failing yourself and your team, and whether you are male or female- that’s on you.
    Tip 4 is awesome and I wholeheartedly agree- embrace anything about you that makes you different! There is so much positivity to be gained there!
    Tips 2 and 5 touch upon some very valid points and bring up issues that are sadly not specific to the motion graphics industry. They also tread the murkier waters of generality (since they are results of systemic, broader forms of sexism) which makes these problems (though not any less real) harder to solve by any tangible, immediate means. I have to add that in my experience, I’ve had a MUCH easier go with all of these in mograph than the women I know in other fields of science/tech (ahem- software, video games… even medicine). I’ve very rarely ever felt marginalized or mistreated by the teams I’ve worked with, who happen to be the most progressive and diverse groups of people you’re likely to find in any industry. So for me, these issues haven’t come up often and I really would like to salute all the men and women I’ve worked with who’ve created these awesome environments. However the fact that I’m super lucky to have had an experience that provides me with this outlook is not lost on me, and I completely acknowledge the validity of any woman who feels that it hasn’t been quite the sunshine rainbow party that I’ve just described. It’s also very important to me that young women are not deterred from entering the field if they are perceiving these issues as barriers to their potential success.
    I guess what this article leaves me desiring are the finer tuned points of discussion that can truly move us all forward as an industry. Obviously changes in society at large will have to occur to contribute solutions to the broader problems. I’m not patient enough for that- we’ve got to step up and take what we want without fixating too much on the obstacles. It is entirely possible for women to thrive in mograph, so do it! For what it’s worth, I’ll add 3 survival tips of my own:
    1. NEGOTIATE PAY LIKE A GANGSTER – When men do it it’s treated more like a matter of business, when women do it, it often becomes a personal ‘how dare she’ situation. Or at least, that’s what we fear so much that we may abandon negotiations altogether. Don’t be scared. DO BUSINESS.
    2. CONGRATULATE YOURSELF FOR BEING A TOTAL BADASS – You are, in many cases, working alongside men who have a stay at home counterpart who makes their dinner, does their laundry, raises their kids, etc etc etc. That’s awesome for them. Everyone deserves the chance to have both a good career and family life, and it’s not easy to attain. Be happy for those that do it, and don’t let the challenge of the seemingly impossible scare you away from going for it yourself. You are already tougher than the guys that have someone helping at home while you’re going it alone. GET IT!
    3. DON’T JUMP TO CONCLUSIONS – Is this person really treating you poorly because you’re a woman, or are they simply a total a**hole? Things might be less complicated on this front than they seem. Either way totally I agree with Lilian’s point of never losing your temper. Be professional, exhibit control and it will be clear that you know who you are and what you’re doing. It displays so much more character than what can be said of anyone who puts you in that position in the first place.

    • Excellent points all around, Rachel. Thank you so much for taking part in this discussion and sharing your tips! I love no. 3–it’s come up before in conversations–never attribute to malice that which can be attributed to stupidity–similar to what you’re saying. My wise friend Michelle Higa (who is also co-editor here), said that once. :)

  • Thank you SOOOO much Lilian & Motionographer!

    I wish I would have found more articles like this when I first started in the motion industry. There were a few years in my career where I truly felt alone. There was one job in particular that nearly broke me. I worked for 3 years with a team of roughly 10 people- the only other female on the team was “let go” because her personality didn’t fit with the team. For three years I was determined to not let that happen to me. But still- I was too bossy, too direct, too demanding, too emotional. If I wanted to fit in with the team, I had to change. I was told that I should be nicer, more positive. When I gave Art Direction, I was told that I should phrase it as a suggestion. “Guys-only” parties happened AT WORK. When I’d walk into the party- silence. I wasn’t supposed to be there. I was part of the team– but not really. For 3 years I let myself believe that I was the problem. But then something magical happened. I left that job. As it turns out- Art Director’s phrasing their direction as a suggestion is not helpful. Its better to be clear. And as it turns out I am not too direct. It is my job is to be direct.

    Soooo… With all that said, the advice I’d like to add to the list for women trying to survive in Motion Graphics: Don’t sell yourself short. Don’t stay where you aren’t respected. Don’t allow yourself to work in an environment that pushes you down. Don’t stay at a place that causes you to think more about the way you act/talk/look/smell/dress/whatever than the actual work you’re creating.
    There is a such thing a bad people, and bad studios and bad environments. Don’t sell yourself short by staying in those situations.

    If you feel you are not being treated with respect- it may be because you aren’t. Sure, you could try to stay and make it work. You could try to change the dynamic of a studio to be more inclusive and diverse.
    Or, you can leave your crummy job and move yourself to a studio (or build your own) who’s values are more in-line with yours. You can stop focusing on the fact that you don’t fit in, and you can start focusing on your work.

    My advice to the entire motion community – Sometimes the silence is more detrimental than you think. Even if you don’t feel gender imbalances (or race or whatever) that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. We’re still a pretty young industry. We have a lot of growing up to do and that involves talking about these things.

    Thanks again Lilian for writing this article!!

  • Love this. My wife is the hardest working person I know – she had a full-time teaching job & taught piano in the evenings. Her full-time job was fraught with a-hole men who treated her as less-than because she didn’t have a penis. Now we joke that she “finally did the housewife thing and got pregnant” – but she taught part-time while she was pregnant, and piano still carries through. She’s a strong, brave person, and she’s made me an ardent feminist.

    It’s interesting – when I look to hire freelancers (usually for production jobs, we rarely need editor/graphics freelancers), it seems there are more women than men – at least on places like ProductionHUB & StaffMeUp. I try to hire women when I can because I feel they’re probably passed over more. I know people vary, but it does seem that in general, women tend to be the harder workers.

    • You are definitely deserving of a big ‘He for She’ honour badge, Jordan. Does your wife have any tips to contribute? It’s great to hear you’re favouring women in an attempt to even out the scale. A lot of people don’t seem to understand that ‘gender equality’ is not about saying women are better than men. It’s about allowing each person to fulfil their potential REGARDLESS of their gender. Naysayers and haters have real trouble grasping this concept. Thanks for participating in the discussion!

      • She wanted to add: Don’t cry in front of the a-hole men, from sadness, embarrassment, or sheer anger.

        My words on that: Not every woman is a feisty one, and for even me it’s easy to get so angry about misogyny that you cry, especially when it’s blatant and against you or someone you love. When facing that oppression, you have to hold the tears back until you’re around the ones to whom you can vent (#3). Seeing your tears will only reinforce to these kinds of trash their view that you are weak & less-than.

        I just thought of this, but it’s really sad, it’s basically the same as emotional rape. “Don’t let him see you cry.”

        Now I’m depressed.

    • Cel

      Thanks for sharing your story, but note that there are women with penises. Don’t forget transgender women and nonbinary people!

      • True indeed – and the kind of people my wife worked for/with would be even worse in such cases!

  • I feel a lot of this applies to Minorities in the industry too in a way. Calling people out part I’d say is the hardest from personal experience. There is a casualness at times culturally, towards sexism and racism in the biz, and sometimes bringing it up can and will cause tensions some people aren’t willing to deal with, and it can ostracize you. Which in theory might be good cause who wants to work like that, but same time it can be a slippery slope.
    I like that you mention the awards thing too, because measuring by awards is also a bit skewed isn’t it since a lot of awards tend to favor white males.
    Thanks for writing this up. Love it. I will say lately it seems people are becoming more aware of these issues, and talking about it more, I def feel a wave of change happening. Exciting stuff.

    • Thank you Kris! Yes, you’re right it’s difficult to call out discrimination / inappropriate behaviour. I admit I don’t always have the strength to do it. Sometimes it’s easier to walk away, goodness knows there’s plenty of awful shit we have to deal with outside of being a social justice warrior :). The Awards thing is an interesting one. I was discussing this with some friends recently and someone said ‘is the work just not good enough (to win an award), or is it just not to THEIR liking?’ (“They” here refers to the jury or whoever is curating an award show / design showcase). We all have taste and preferences, and it’s important to always remember that popularity isn’t a measurement of quality. Thanks for participating in the discussion!

      • Yea the mysterious and interesting THEY. Sometimes I feel the diversity thing applies there too. I think like a lot of these issues it’s easy to say “if the work isn’t good enough” to avoid tackling the bigger issue in that there is a lack of diversity in creative at times and few people to bring it up as an issue to try to actively change it.
        It’s ignoring that some of these issues are systemic, that if the person judging is of a certain race and sex, there is an inherent difficulty in diversifying the pool from that.
        It’s a complex thing for sure, cause it borderline gets into the politics of creative and awards. Awards come with it’s own set of politics and issues, but like you said it’s a bit of a way people measure things…so diversifying and tackling issues in creative kind of eventually do have to collide with awards and they issues tied into that system at large. Since it’s all interconnected.

  • Reader

    Thanks for sharing. Perhaps more than ever, there also are men out there in the animation field who also follow the spherical model that puts work/life balance above chasing awards or higher status. Another sign of our times.

  • Daniel

    Im fresh out of school and I’ve noticed the opposite. In school, men were outnumbered by women in number and also received most of the accolades. I also perceived women to be winning all the top internships and jobs in motion graphics. Do things change as men and women advance in the industry? And if so, whats going on? Is this condition specific to the creative industry or does it speak to something more inherent in male/female relationships?

  • Everyone, can I please just say THANK YOU for this thread of comments. I’ve been running Motionographer for 9 years, and this thread makes me believe more than ever that you all are the best readers I could hope for.

    Thanks for keeping it civil and thoughtful!

  • Vanessa Marzaroli

    Thank you for your post.
    Great conversation you have going on here.

    I really think it comes down to how hard you work and how talented you are. I don’t see it as a man or woman thing. Perhaps maybe from the clients side or clients’ clients, but not so much in design shops. To me, it comes down to who is right for the job, who has the right voice and who will help inspire the team to a better place. I see a lot of respect for women at least in the places I’ve worked before and the place I’m working now. Generally a great design shop will recognize talent no matter who it is. I’m very thankful for all that trusted me and let me blossomed to who I am today as an artist. If you have a strong voice you will be known. I do think not everyone is born a great leader. It doesn’t matter if you are a man or a woman, leadership doesn’t always come naturally. A lot of it has to do with people skills and how you steer your ship. You are absolutely right that as a leader you have to project confidence. Some leaders have special talent and some get better over time.
    I don’t usually write on posts, but I’m compelled to share since I am a minority, a female with children, mad I am a director/creative director. I’m probably one of a very very few creative female director with kids. It really all depends on what’s your passion and what makes you happy. I enjoy working.

    • Thanks for participating in the conversation, Vanessa. In conversation with friends, we often complain of the lack of women role models in our industry who juggle both kids and career. Can you share some insight into what it was like when you decided to have children? Did you continue to volunteer yourself for big projects at your studio up to the last minute when you had to give birth? After the baby was born, how long did it take you to come back to work? And how did you juggle motherhood and career now? Is your workplace flexible enough to allow you to have shorter days or to work from home? Do share! Thanks again for jumping in!

  • Cel

    On a scale of one to ten, how sexist would you rate the field of motion design? I am not in college yet, but as a fiery intersectional feminist, it really frustrates me to see how much women (particularly women of color like me) have to struggle in this cool industry that I aspire to possibly be in.

    • I don’t think it’s as sexist as the film industry. If I were to give it a score, it’d be a 4.5/10, somewhere in the middle, slightly better than ‘average’. But that’s not good enough IMHO. It needs to be 0/10. And women need to keep joining the industry, we need to stay strong and support one another, and recognise that with every passing year, the feminists will outnumber the sexists among our male counterparts. I hope you continue to pursue your dream and know that by joining the industry, you will be making it a better place for us all.

  • Michael Kusinich

    Wemon are only good to help men they not good at anythin else