Working both in the TV and tech world I was delighted last week to attend the launch of a new networking group set up by WFTV called 'Women In Tech'. The aim of the initiative, lead by Natalie Samson, is to bring together women who are working in a wide range of TV technical jobs including sound, editing, grading, VFX and engineering. The group's ambition is to act as a springboard for women to network, try out new equipment and champion those who are pioneering the way.
Natalie, who works for Women In Film And TV and previous TV credits include 3D producer on David Attenborough's The Penguin, explained that the demand is there now for this specific group: "Although tech has traditionally been the most male-dominated part of the industry, we are now finding an increasing number of women in technical roles joining our organisation, and we want to set up a specialist group to support and promote them, and shout out about their achievements."
While I wasn't their prime target audience to enlist, I did tick a number of their "women", "tech" & "TV" boxes. Despite inhabiting these worlds in one form or another, I found myself still surprised when guest speaker Emma Boswell talked about her business The Helicopter Girls. Founded with business partner Katya Nelhams-Wright, the two fly drones with mounted cameras for documentaries, dramas and more recently feature films. Up until that moment I had only ever envisaged drones being flown by male pilots and I wasn't alone in jumping to this stereotype. "It's sort of been a bit of battle, we had no experience before and found the industry to be quite isolating", stated Emma.
The lack of female drone pilots is partly due to how many professional flyers start their careers: "It's a hobby sport", Emma explained, "and there's virtually no women deciding to do it for fun". Despite having to commandeer the male dominated drone world, Emma & Katya have benefitted from being ahead of the curve. Their business went from strength to strength as drones became more commonplace in TV production. "Trial and error has got us to where we are today, we would love to see more women flying. It's creative, we pride ourselves on the shots that we are able to create".
It is this blurring of the lines between technology being seen as a creative form instead of purely a technical one, that rang true throughout the evening. Cristina Aragon, MD of 5A Studios, suggested that: "Women may be interested in technology in a different way than men are. We are sometimes more about the creative part, as men can be more interested in the technology itself. Play with pieces of equipment to help you achieve what you want to achieve."
In many ways technology should be rethought of us a tool to enable expression, something that compliments the overall creative vision. Indeed, Double Negative's VFX Producer Louise Hussey said that it took her a long time to recognize that this was the profession for her: "Having never been a geek at school, it took me a while to realise that I did actually have an interest in Visual FX. I love that mix of art and technology". With only 12% of her company currently being female this imbalance is something she's keenly aware she needs to address: "My mission is try and encourage everyone to look at Visual FX as something that you can do and engage with as a role".
It seems that it's not so much about downplaying the technical aspect of these jobs, but rather raising awareness about how multi-facetted they are. As Cristina Aragon summed up: "Don't be scared of technology. Don't get lost in the detail. Instead just play and see what you can create!"
Click here for more information on WFTV's "Women in Tech" group here.