Vancouver GM Tara Kemes Q&A – The importance of Diversity and Inclusion at Cinesite

Tell us about your background.
I started out studying Asian Studies and Japanese, then briefly became a make-up artist before an opportunity as a production assistant at an animation studio arose. That turned out to be a great fit for me, and what was initially a Summer job led to a permanent role in Human Resources and 16 years in recruitment and talent development in animation and video games. I reached a point where I needed to push myself out of my comfort zone and take on the broader challenge of a studio operational, leadership role. That’s what got me to where I am now, General Manager of Cinesite’s Vancouver studio.

Why does having an inclusive culture matter in the workplace?
For us it’s pretty simple. When people feel they can be their true selves they are more confident, more creative and more productive. A diverse talent group generally brings a broader range of ideas and approaches to solving problems; when we’re challenged to seek to understand each other it makes us better as a team.

Does diversity at Cinesite focus solely on race and gender?
Absolutely not. We strive to create an environment where you can be your authentic self every day; that means something different to every person and we recognise that it’s more than race or gender. Everyone is welcome. Respect is a house rule here. No jerks allowed!

We’re committed to having more equal gender representation and that’s something I’m very loud about. Our industry is still predominantly male and we’re working hard to improve our balance in Vancouver. As of today, we’re at 43% female-identifying crew. That’s pretty good but it’s not good enough, so we’re going to keep working at it. We really strive to create a space that is welcoming to the whole LGBTQ2S+ community, as well as to people who live with mental health issues, having varying degrees of physical ability, people who are introverts, extroverts…all are welcome here.

A population that is very underrepresented in our industry and at Cinesite is the Indigenous community. We have a lot of learning to do to support reconciliation – to understand our diverse histories and experiences including the legacy and inter-generational impacts of the Indian Residential School system and colonisation and how to make Cinesite a better workplace for Indigenous and non-Indigenous people alike.

How have you encouraged diversity and inclusion at Cinesite?
I think it’s important that we talk about issues openly and not shy away from what might be considered hard or charged topics. We take action and put programs in place to support diversity and inclusion. This includes a robust respect in the workplace policy and a training program which supports it. And if people aren’t being respectful here, we call them out on it and try to make it a better place. It’s not always easy and we are a work-in-progress!

Recently, we made pronoun desk identifier cards so everyone who wants to can have one sitting on their desk. People also now have the option to include the pronouns they use in their email signatures.

We also have roundtable and panel-style discussions about mental health. We’ve started to offer paid parking for expecting or new parents, with a parking spot close to the door so they’re losing less time commuting.

In what ways do you encourage education and provide support around these issues in the wider community?
I’m involved in several organisations and committees. I’m on the Women in Animation Vancouver board and am co-chair of the student outreach committee within that group. I’m also on the governance committee for HR Tech Group’s D&I Tech Project, a provincial BC resource for HR professionals in the tech space. That project is about creating programs and ways for tech industry companies to have better diversity and inclusion practices.

Cinesite is a steering member for the Animation & Visual Effects Alliance of BC and I co-chair the new industry outreach diversity and inclusion committee. I’m on the advisory board for the new Centre for Entertainment Arts, a school that is opening on the first two floors of our building on Great Northern Way. Although not specific to the entertainment industry, I’m also on the board for QMUNITY, BC’s Queer, Trans and Two-Spirit Resource Centre.

I’m known in Vancouver for being vocal about D&I, and I’m happy to be called upon to give my loud opinions! In addition, I recognize that I am a cisgender, queer, white woman and there is a lot I do not know about facing challenges simply trying to exist in this world.

Do you have any advice for LGBTQ artists and producers getting into the industry?
I would say, “Please apply!” When I was younger and working in this industry, I was less comfortable being a queer woman, but I was lucky to work with people who were welcoming and made it easy for me to be myself. I think that’s really what pushes me to try and create that space for others, because I know the only reason I have succeeded to where I am now in my life is because somebody opened a door and called me in. So, apply. And if somebody calls you in, stand up and say, “I’m here!”

Could you tell us about your podcast, “Don’t Be A Jerk at Work”?
I started the podcast with a couple of friends who are both in the HR space. We’ve known each other for several years and we wanted to do a project together at some point but didn’t know what it might be. A couple of us were discussing another podcast we had been listening to, then got onto discussing work topics. Over a few glasses of wine, we asked ourselves, “Why aren’t we doing a podcast about this?”

Season 2 released in September 2019. We cover a really broad range of topics in an effort to get people to be better workplace humans. It ties in with everything I’ve been talking about; if you can create a space where people can be their best selves, it’s better for everybody.

Is there anything you’d like to add?
Cinesite’s philosophy on diversity and inclusion is reflected in our wider approach of encouraging everyone on the team. Everyone counts.

I’ve always felt strongly about creating a space where people are encouraged to take smart risks. Where people aren’t nervous about suggesting ideas or alternative ways of solving problems. Everyone should be allowed to explore different approaches and perspectives. Creating a space where people feel they can take risks ties in with that. It’s okay to make mistakes. Pivot, and try again.