Women in Animation is urging the cartoon industry to take the pledge — to stamp out sexual harassment in the workplace. In a recent letter to her members, WIA co-president Margaret Dean wrote that the heads of many indie animation houses already have taken the pledge, and she’s asking the major studios to take it too.
“WIA has also been instrumental in bringing together the heads of the independent studios in LA to talk about what can be done on their end,” she wrote. “The result is a pledge that documents the position of the studio heads and the expectations for a code of behavior for their employees. Each new employee will need to agree to and sign the pledge. And when employees move to another indie studio, the same document will be waiting for them. We are creating a safety net that covers the indie studio community. We will be sharing the pledge with the larger studios as well in the hope that they will adopt it or some form of it; expanding the web of safety even further.”
Change, she wrote, already is coming, though women remain vastly outnumbered in the animation business. In October 2016 – a year before the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke – the Animation Guild reported that only about 23% of its members are women. But at least now, she wrote, “Women are being listened to.”
In the wake of the Weinstein scandal, followed quickly by Nickelodeon’s firing of The Loud House showrunner Chris Savino amid allegations of sexual harassment, Dean says “there isn’t an HR person or supervisor at any studio who will not stop and listen to a complaint about harassment and take it seriously. Not anymore.
“But we need to be careful about not getting too distracted by our outrage,” she cautioned. “We can’t get lost in drama and symbolic gestures and not do the work to make the structural changes that are needed.”
She wrote that WIA, founded in 1995 to advance women animators, “has been talking with many supervisors and heads of studios. Most are sincerely appalled to find out about the bad behavior happening under their watch. WIA has been presented with an opportunity to act as a conduit of information to these folks, helping them understand what and how harassment is happening while protecting the targets. These studios are realizing that the safety precautions they set up were not actually protecting their employees well enough. Their intention is to bolster these protections.
“If we want to continue to be heard, then we have to continue to speak up,” she wrote. “We have to show ourselves; we have to assume our entitlement to be heard and to be believed. We need to continue to encourage those around us to speak up for themselves and we must hold ourselves to the same requirement. As soon as we get lax or scared, the backlash has an opening to barge in. Every person who speaks up about safety and equality in the workplace puts another nail in the coffin of the archaic practice of bullying, harassment and discrimination.
“It’s been an exciting, challenging and confusing time for us all as we sort out the new ways to work together,” she wrote. “There is so much work still to do to solidify the cultural shift. There has been endless revelations of perpetrators and targets. One may wonder, ‘How could it have been this bad and so pervasive?’ We, who have lived with it, know that we’re still seeing just the tip of the iceberg. It’s important that the revelations continue lest anyone forget how serious the situation is.
“But concrete societal change is not going to happen only through a shock and awe approach. The shock of yet another trusted person turning out to be untrustworthy is not going to make the structural changes that we need permanent. Looking at and changing how we do business, hire people and protect our employees is the way to alter our work culture.”