Are we there yet? M/H VCCP production crew weigh in

(L to R): Alison Beck, Tanya LeSieur, Dee Dee, Nicole VanDawark, Ben Evangelista, Lexi Alaga
(L to R): Alison Beck, Tanya LeSieur, Dee Dee, Nicole VanDawark, Ben Evangelista, Lexi Alaga

Every week, we ask industry insiders across all job levels and titles to share personal stories about equality, diversity and inclusion in adland. We know we're not there yet, but we want to document the highs and lows as the industry slowly transforms for the better.

Tanya LeSieur, Head of Production/Associate Partner (20+ years in the industry)
Nicole Van Dawark, Senior Integrated Producer (10 years in the industry)
Lexi Alaga, Integrated Associate Producer (3.5 years in the industry)
Ben Evangelista, Integrated Associate Producer (4.5 years in the industry)
Alison Beck, Integrated Producer (3.5 years in the industry)
Cara Orlowski, Director of Business Affairs (20 years in the industry)

Tell us about one thing that’s happened recently that leads you to believe that there is still a problem.

Alison: For most people, all they know about advertising is "Mad Men." There hasn’t been any new branding of what we do. It is the epitome of the thing we're trying to fight. If you know nothing about advertising, as a woman, you wouldn’t be interested in it unless someone were to tell you there’s so much more to it than that.

Nicole: We're so traditional in how we recruit people in this industry. Hiring managers need to look outside the current pipelines. Ad school certainly has its merits, but many of the graduates still need a lot of on-the-job training, especially when they get into production. As producers, we are training entry-level folks in every department how to move through the creative process. Why aren’t we giving that training and opportunity to a less traditional student prospect or an adult looking to change career paths or a parent looking to re-enter the workforce?

Alison: Companies can have diversity programs but if people don't buy into it, it doesn’t matter. If we are showing creative teams diverse choices, for instance, but those choices are not who they had in mind because they only ever think about white men, then we are just gathering options they're going to discard. This has to trickle up until people at the top care.

Lexi: On set, we tend to see women in roles like wardrobe stylist, HMU, and producers. It’s rare to see a female director or a female DP, and it’s even more rare to see a crew made up of female grips, gaffers, and ADs. For the most part, the crew and the heads of department tend to be men. We should think about ways we can spread the word to schools and career coaches about how young women can explore these important roles. They’re a great way to learn firsthand and make connections if you’re interested in production."

How about something that proves we’re making progress?

Cara: We move so quickly in our industry that it can be tempting to go to the vendors we're comfortable working with because we know they will do a good job. We have to break those habits and add new people to the mix.

Tanya: We are creating content at a speed that can make it seem like we need to rely on our old standbys for the sake of saving time. Half the projects I've worked on in the past six months had only a week and a half to bid the job out. That's the new norm and we need to make diversity fit into that new time frame. We CAN move quickly and still choose new directors from any pool. We have a responsibility to develop new kinds of partnerships in preparation for future opportunities across all kinds of talent.

Nicole: Free the Bid has changed my perspective in terms of how I was producing. I thought I was being inclusive, but when I actually forced myself to track it, I saw I could be doing much better. Free the Bid helped me break some subconscious habits. And we’re seeing the effect at agencies, brands, and vendors. Rosters are getting slightly more diverse every year and it’s because the demand is finally there. We’re making progress and change will come if we continue to hold ourselves accountable.

Ben: Since moving to San Francisco and getting into the advertising space, I’ve interacted with a ton of female producers and female heads of production. Some of the most badass producers in this city are women. I’ve been overwhelmed with that amount of really strong female leaders in this space and I really hope that can trickle into other departments globally.

Tanya: There are amazing training programs out there designed to develop talent both for agencies and production industry/craft and we need to be tapping into them. On the agency side we have ADCOLOR, APOLLO 51,  BAYCAT   On the production side Streetlights and  Manifest Works are doing great things in the production community. We need to work with them and talk to our clients and our HR departments and production partners about them. We need to make diversity of all kinds a priority with our production partners and clients to make sure we’re helping to develop talent from the ground up.  

What else needs to be done to get there?

Nicole: I would love to see the old boys’ club humor go away, which I’ve experienced everywhere -- vendors, clients, and agencies.  The underhanded jokes about what you "used to get away with" are the first, small steps in creating a hostile workplace. If we are going to get more inclusive, we need to build workplaces that are open and comfortable for everyone in the room.

Tanya: Unconscious bias has legs and consequences. If people won’t bid female and diverse talent, then those makers won’t get the experience of doing treatments. If they don't get into the bidding pool, then they don't get to win the project and make the work. If they don’t make the work, they don’t get considered. This isn’t new thought.  Everyday we need to try and break the cycle.

As a way to combat gender stereotypes early on in careers, those in leadership positions can create moments in which they acknowledge the need for systemic change. One exercise I’d love to pose to the industry is a blind talent challenge. What if we expose our emerging talent to a selection of books and reels, without sharing the producers details, and ask for their opinions on the work? It would give us an opportunity to openly discuss unconscious bias and reiterate the importance of working with new partners to keep our work creative and fresh.

Ben: When we're looking for photographers, a lot of our creatives break the mold of only working with white, straight male car photographers. Our teams upstairs are really good at hammering that home that we can't keep working with the same people. Let's find more women, let's find diverse people. Let’s get out there and meet new talent!

Alison: An impactful way of making progress in our world today is when men in positions of power speak up and say something. If you are in a man in a position of power, you have the best opportunity to say something and actually have it be heard. Especially when the statement is peer to peer.

Lexi: Since starting my career, I’ve seen more women move into executive leadership positions, which in my experience makes for more open and collaborative work environments. I’ve noticed people seem to feel more comfortable speaking out and standing up for themselves when women are steering the conversation. It’s really important for leaders to be cognizant of all members of a project. Introverts or extroverts, diversity of thought is important and everyone has a contribution to make  


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