Lucy CooperWith a background in marketing and over 20 years’ experience in VFX, Lucy is at the forefront of promoting diversity across the creative industry.

After gaining a law degree from the University of Aberdeen and an MSc in Marketing at University of Stathclyde, Lucy is now managing director of the VFX house and is an active non-executive director of ACCESS:VFX, a non-profit coalition encouraging diversity and inclusion.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role?

I initially wanted to do marketing but got offered a sales job at Scottish Television and was seduced by the excitement of the creative industries. Back then, VFX didn’t even exist in anything like the form it takes today. My first role was not what I wanted to be doing, but it instigated my move to London (I’m originally from Scotland), which was an eye-opening experience that introduced me to a whole new world of work possibilities. I quickly started a marketing role in a post-production company, which was the real start of my career.

Today, I’m the managing director at Union Visual Effects, where I’m responsible for executing the company’s strategic vision and business operations at our Soho studio which houses nearly 100 VFX and creative professionals. Passionate about encouraging inclusion and diversity, I’m also a non-executive director on the boards of both Animated Women UK and ACCESS:VFX.

Do you believe there are still barriers for success for women working in tech, if so, how can these barriers be overcome?

Females are still sorely underrepresented in senior creative and tech roles, as well as senior management. While they currently make up 28.7% of the VFX industry, which is up from 27% last year, the gender pay gap in this sector has risen from 24% in 2018 to 29% in 2019. So there is still plenty of work to do! At Union, we cover 40% of the workforce compared to the general population of 51% – things are slowly but surely moving forward.

The benefits of looking to address the diversity are wide ranging, but hard to monitor. Our workplace should reflect the world we live in and the audiences we are creating for. Diversity offers a new perspective and boosts creativity! And this is the message we need to spread across the industry by getting out there and trying to make a difference. People are always shocked that at ACCESS:VFX competitors are working together so collaboratively, but it’s in all of our best interests to attract diverse talent to join our workforce.

What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology? 

My advice would be, don’t be scared or too narrow in your focus. It can feel like the decisions you make early on are irreversible, but just about everyone I know has followed a very windy road to where they are now. It’s important to try different things, build and maintain your network, approach everything as an opportunity and do it to the best of your ability – that’s when people notice you. Say yes to helping on short films and passion projects as this will help you build a strong network of like-minded people. Along your journey you’ll pick up a lot of experience and ideas about where your skills might naturally fit best while building your portfolio. Finally, remember to cut yourself some slack when things don’t go to plan – we learn the most from our mistakes.

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?

I’m a part of the ACCESS:VFX e-mentoring scheme that connects aspiring talent with creative professionals. Mentors from across the industry support people as young as 13, to help choose the right school subjects, find university courses, apprenticeships and even find work experience. We want to inspire the talent, educate, mentor and recruit!

I have two mentees through ACCESS:VFX and it’s a real pleasure working with them. One is now at Bournemouth studying animation and the other is currently applying for a foundation art course, before deciding the direction of her career. I have assisted my mentees with building portfolios, showreels, CVs and applications as well as just encouraging and supporting them. I’m able to share my career story with all its twists and turns and work collaboratively with them.

Mentoring through SLACK is really low-touch and easy to fit around a working day. You can add value by encouraging your mentees to think about what they like and what they can do to test that out. Small steps that will help them decide things like subject choices and potential future career paths.

In addition I really enjoy working with my volunteers at Animated Women UK and have a few other young women that I mentor informally.

What do you think companies can do to support and progress the careers of women working in technology?

Companies should focus on action rather than advocacy. Joining initiatives like ACCESS:VFX can be the first step towards achieving this goal. The organisation comprises of many inspirational men and women who want to support others. Women can face unique challenges and sometimes feel more comfortable in same sex peer groups. Animated Women UK (a member of ACCESS:VFX) runs their annual Helen North Achieve Programme, which takes women from all career stages and helps them develop a much greater understanding of how to steer their careers in the right direction within a supportive network of like-minded, female professionals. They also have lots of networking events and an active Facebook group. We need opportunities like this to get together and really make a difference!