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10 Questions for Kylee Wall about Gender Issues in the Post Industry

Interview for Aotg.com by Gordon Burkell
Kylee's Site: kyleesportfolio.com/blog
Twitter: @kyl33t

Kylee Wall is an editor currently based out of Atlanta, GA. She has been working hard over the past few years to raise awareness of the issues of sexism that face many women working in post production today. She has written articles on her own blog, as well as, for Creative Cow about the issue (you can read them here and here). In the past, she has pointed out problems that NAB has with companies presenting women as objects and as part of the sales pitch and was invited to take part in this year's NAB panel titled: Working Together to Close the Gender Gap in Post Production.

Women originally dominated the post production industry and were the preferred employees (1800s-1920s). However, now the reverse is true. What happened? How did this shift occur?

The decrease in women seems to coincide with the introduction of sound -- in other words, when things started to get overly technical, men began to push women out. This is a trend in many areas of the industry, a bias against allowing women to participate in work that was deemed difficult or masculine. Obviously the women doing this work were perfectly qualified to continue doing it, and many did -- like Margaret Booth, for example. But combine the forced gender roles with situations like men returning from war to take jobs back, and women were just pushed back into traditional roles. Few women were actually documented as editors from this period because most were uncredited, like women in many areas of the arts before the 20th century.

As a woman in post, what are some of the challenges you have to face on a daily working basis?

In my day to day, I don't notice the challenges women face in post. People think that when women talk about sexism, it must be this continuous battle against men. In reality, you go about your day like most anyone else and get your work done. But you don't realize the ways you're on guard. For example, women have to be nice, or else they're seen as rude and abrasive. If they're too nice, they're a doormat. If you're assertive, you're aggressive. If you ask for what you want, you're shrill and demanding. The qualities that people want in a male employee are seen as a weakness and a huge negative in women. There's a tight rope that has to be walked all the time, not being too feminine or too masculine.

There is a lot of research conducted in the business world on the process of employee reviews. Data shows that men are more likely to get feedback about developing their skills, while women are more likely to be criticized about speaking up and being "abrasive". There have even been studies conducted that show women who speak *as much as* men are perceived as dominating the conversation. In fact, Glen Mazzara (the showrunner for The Shield) banned interruptions in his writer's room when he realized the female writers just stopped speaking up because they couldn't speak their mind without being talked over or seen as trying to dominate the process.

What are some steps that companies/employers could take to equal out the ground and to improve the representation of women in the industry?

One thing everyone can do is just be aware of the casual sexism in their daily lives. I think everyone is clear on overt sexism, and I would hope that you don't put up with any of that. But a subtle gender bias is really difficult to detect. It can even be something so simple as walking into a post house and assuming a woman is a producer or a PA or secretary, when really she's an editor. It seems harmless, but it's indicative of a major problem of assuming things about women in the industry.

If someone is in a position to hire or promote women, try to do it. If your applicant pool has very few women, you should be figuring out why. Go to universities and women in film groups and encourage women to apply for your jobs. Adjust the language of your postings. When a woman's resume crosses your desk, think about it twice. Are you dismissing it because it's not the best candidate, or is a gender bias making you judge it more harshly than the male candidates? Find qualified women in your organization and promote them. Don't assume they don't want it.

I'm not saying you should go and find women and hire them over men. I'm just saying go and find them and consider them. In a male-dominated field that is shaped by many years of sexism, nepotism, and traditional gender roles, your talent pool is always going to be mostly men. When you try to compensate for that by actively seeking qualified women, you'll undoubtedly find that many of them are the best candidate, and the balance will start to correct.

How do we encourage the development of a work environment that is conducive to not only the proper treatment of women, but a place where they are given the opportunity to excel and become leaders of the community?

I think having more women in the field is a good place to start. And by unlearning your own sexism, you'll be less likely to do the things that keep women out of the industry -- only recommending other men for a job, assuming a woman isn't a good fit for a management job because she has a family she's responsible for, things like that. Find outstanding women in your company you may have overlooked, give them a platform, all the resources needed, and the benefit of the doubt, and take a step back to see what happens. Ultimately we want an environment where not just the ONE very best woman can succeed in the sea of guys in the field.

It's hard to change these things when they're really ingrained in our society, but I think it's possible for individuals in management positions to be aware of the bias and try to fix it within their own bubble. I've talked to a number of people about how they've changed their own hiring practices, training staff to be sensitive to these issues and taking their time during hiring to make sure they've explored their options. Some even blank out the names on resumes so there can't be any gender-related assumptions. Staffing is always a time-based challenge in post production, but the effort is worthwhile.

What is it about the industry that deters women from entering?

There are a number of issues. It's male-dominated, and people tend to try to hire people that look like them, whether they realize it or not -- and they usually don't because you don't realize what's missing when you're in the majority. I've been told male managers don't believe women are interested in technical work, so they don't bother looking for them. Younger women may not realize it's an opportunity that's open to them. But mostly I think it's the work environment itself. Both men and women assume that other women don't want to get into jobs that may have a difficult life balance. Women have to compete very closely with one another to get that one coveted spot as "the woman" in the company, which turns them against each other. Women have to prove themselves at least twice as hard to show they really are qualified. And women also feel like they have to become someone they're not to fit into these male-dominated areas. For someone that is equally as qualified as the next person, these extra barriers are frustrating. It's time and energy spent, even subconsciously, on things besides becoming a better editor.

How have men reacted to your stance on gender issues in post production?

Overall, the reaction from all genders has been very positive and welcoming the conversation. There's obviously push back on some of the ideas and hiring practices I talk about, but it's been very encouraging to see how many people are willing to accept womens' experiences and talk about how to change the work environments for the better. Everyone knows that sexist behaviour keeps everyone down, and keeping women out of technology fields including post production is really a detriment to the field.

Would you call your efforts to raise the gender issues in post an act of Feminism, or something else?

I wouldn't really call it an "Act of Feminism" exactly because it seems like I'm declaring war. And also a bit singular. Of course any efforts to raise gender issues in post, including mine, are rooted in feminism -- the advocacy of women's rights on the grounds of political, social and economic equality to men by it's most simple definition. I think of it as an overall mindset instead of certain specific acts. I think when you consciously unlearn casual sexism, it's not so much a feminist act as just being a feminist.

I mean, it all gets kind of funny-sounding, but it really comes down to this: do you want men and women to be equal? Yes? Then you are a feminist.

Do you feel like there are any resources missing/unavailable to women in the industry at the moment?

I think there are a lot of women in film or post groups with great leaders that do great things for the industry. I think what is missing most is a direct line for women into the industry, with mentorship from people high in the ranks that leads to job placement. I've read that mentorship for women in different industries isn't all that successful because the gender bias involved ends up making the mentorship pretty watered down compared to how aggressively men are trained to get ahead. I've also come to realize that women need other women as mentors for the shared experience, but women in general aren't as connected in the industry. So having a female mentor means a woman is more likely to get into a closed ecosystem of connections -- maybe less so in post production, but I can still see the point. Having a direct line to jobs in some way would help prevent this from stalling, and would mean women could be as direct about their needs as anyone else without fear of penalty.

Obviously people have attempted this, but it comes back around to being mostly about the ONE most talented woman. We need to be able to put women in jobs that aren't the single most talent woman in all the land, but a variety of qualified women. For example, HBO had a writing fellowship program recently that sounded really promising and focused on women and minorities. But their application process became a nightmare, and their applicant cap was considerably lower than most fellowships that are open to (and dominated by) men.

What have you found to be the most effective way to address gender issues in a workplace?

One way is to just state the obvious. There are so many talented people in post production, and you're missing out on a lot of them. Studies have shown that teams with women do better, and companies with significant female leadership are more profitable. Gender bias affects everyone. It keeps men and women in explicit gender roles that don't work for everyone in our world today.

Another way is to find ways to interrupt the gender bias without ever bringing it up at all. For example, you work in a post house and the male editor always cuts certain kinds of programming -- all the action or sports or whatever stereotype you can think of. Instead of assigning it all to him all the time, tag team it (if your business allows). I always hear editors say they're not specific to one genre. Make that part of your culture -- as much as possible, everyone works on everything.

What do you recommend for women and men who want to support this issue?

Speak up about it. Let your managers know it's important to you. Share research with people and start a conversation. Just talking about it really does make a difference in how others start to pick up on the gender bias in their daily life. But most of all, listen.

(Also come to our NAB panel, give us a positive session survey, and write to NAB and our great supporting organizations to say 'yes thank you, more things like that!')

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