Crushing On: Dynamic Girls
Interview by Meg Wachter
At risk youth and particularly girls are over-mentored, and under-pipelined into job opportunities—especially into the creative industry. We have to take ownership of not just inviting underserved girls to observe the industry, we need to provide a seat in the conference room and give their voice a chance to be heard. We cannot accomplish that change until we replace field trip tours and observation days with real internships, and job training programs.
Dynamic Girls program is piloted through the LA Charter High School, New Village Girls Academy and we are partnered with Smashbox Studios, Industrial Color, 7 For All Mankind, Milk Studios, Oui Productions and further brand partnerships are being set up for the summer and fall semester with fashion, beauty and media companies.
Dynamic Girls is a Non Profit youth development program, focused on connecting girls from socioeconomically underserved communities with brands and leaders in the Creative Industries. They offer opportunities through internships, classroom learning, job placement and college admissions services.
We spoke with founder Ruby Birns:
Hey Ruby! Can you introduce yourself and your background?
My name is Ruby Birns, I'm the Founder of Dynamic Girls; a Los Angeles based youth development Non Profit that connects girls from the most challenged backgrounds with leaders and brands in the Creative Industry. When I'm not running Dynamic Girls, I'm a Mom to an amazing 7 year old girl, and a consulting Creative Services Director. My experience in the industry spans about 20 years between Atlanta, NYC and Los Angeles; from working in fine art, to being a booker at Ford Models, to a photographer's agent; running large scale photo departments for brands like Ann Taylor and Nordstrom; producing for brands in fashion and beauty such as Opening Ceremony, W Magazine, Proenza Schouler, Fenty Beauty, Estee Lauder, etc. For the past 4 years I have had my own consulting company where I work with production companies, brands and artist agencies to develop strategy and create new programs.
What has been your experience in the creative field that lead you to create Dynamic Girls?
My personal experience getting into the industry was a big part of my drive in creating Dynamic Girls. I grew up in extreme poverty in the South (we didn't have running water or heat until I was 6 years old) and unfortunately I wasn't able to graduate from High School or go to College, because I had to start working right away. After moving to NYC, it was so hard to get into the photo industry without the social capital of college connections, or parent leveraged internship opportunities. I had to work twice as hard to prove myself, sometimes working 2 jobs at night cleaning hotel rooms, or as a nail salon receptionist so I could intern for free during the day and build a network of contacts. I was incredibly lucky to have had a few strong female mentors throughout my career that took me seriously, gave me opportunities and encouraged entrepreneurial thinking.
The actual moment when I realized that a program urgently needed to be created; was on set for a campaign for a major British fashion brand that I was producing. The photographer challenged me on why there weren't more people of color on my set.
She asked if I thought the client would have hired her (she was a woman of color) or the hair stylist (a man of color) if the talent had been white. I agreed that they probably wouldn't have, and that I truly hadn't thought about it from that perspective until that moment. I was disappointed in myself, that I had been solely focused on my own socioeconomic issues but had been blinded by the white privilege I carry; from seeing how critical the need is for more inclusion in this industry at every level. I made an internal goal to increase diversity on all of my sets going forward, but it never felt like it was impactful enough.
I got the opportunity to develop this program when I started mentoring at an all girls school New Village Girls Academy in Los Angeles, that works specifically with the most challenged juvenile populations in Los Angeles. These are girls who have come from extreme poverty, gang violence, some have had children by age 13, many have been through the justice system and about a quarter are Dreamers or are not native English speakers. I was so incredibly moved by the resilience of the girls, by how bright, creative and full of hope they were—especially in spite of the narrative this country has told them that they would only ever fail because of where they came from. So many girls were excited about what we do in this industry, and they had tons of questions about how to get into all the areas of the Creative Industry. It became clear that the way I could increase socioeconomic diversity and inclusion, was by creating a job training pipeline for at-risk girls nationwide; where I could leverage the industry connections I had made over these 20 years to create opportunities on both sides. I had absolutely no experience in the Non Profit world, but I just dove in head first and asked everyone I knew for advice. People came together to introduce me to other people that could help with structure, and with my daughter's support—I threw myself into it, 110%.
What has been general industry response to calling-out lack of diversity and inclusion in media?
It has been interesting for sure. The heartening news is that about 70% of brands I speak to are starting to recognize that inclusivity and diversity are critical, if the industry is going to be able to move forward in a more diverse demographic landscape. However, many of them are still working under the assumption that simply hosting a "tour day" showcasing jobs in the industry, or putting a person of color on the cover of a magazine will move the needle. While representation and exposure are certainly important, what is critical for true inclusivity and diversity is for the people making creative decisions to be historically disenfranchised people. Executives in creative leadership need to acknowledge their discomfort and guilt, move through it and then pledge to create more opportunities for inclusivity in their training and hiring practices. We need more diverse voices in every single position, from the Board of Directors (still predominately male and white) through to leadership and all the way down to those starting out as interns.
How have the girls responded to the program? What do you see for the future of the DG?
The response from the girls during our first pilot semester has been incredible. It was their enthusiasm and interest that inspired the four initiatives that we currently offer and it's what drives us to keep expanding and opening this up to being a national program. The girls love going on set with brands and artists, learning first hand how to shoot, to style, produce, art direct. digital tech, etc.
We have two Senior girls graduating from New Village this year that were actually our very first mentees, and both have been accepted to great Universities for art programs and will be continuing their industry internships throughout their schooling. We are excited to continue working with more girls over the summer, and starting back up with a full program in the Fall semester with new exciting brand partnerships, as well as classroom projects.
Next year we will be bringing the program into other high schools in Los Angeles; with plans for expansion into NYC and San Francisco schools by the third quarter of 2020. We are currently writing the curriculum and building out a program to launch a Podcast initiative in the classroom, where the girls research a leader in the creative industry whom they will then interview, as well as learning to produce and edit the show. We are really excited about building out that initiative this year.
How can others get involved?
There are several ways to get involved; you can mentor a student, host an internship program, connect us to any brands or studios that you know who might be interested and of course, donate to our program! Our best and most meaningful partnerships have come from people simply realizing they know someone in a creative field that would be interested in taking a meeting to talk about what we are doing, or by donating to the program.
The most important thing that everyone can do, and it doesn't cost you a thing—is to start making room at the table for everyone's voice to be heard. Be an advocate; support those who need your leadership to make change.