As the new CEO of Women in Games, Marie-Claire Isaaman hopes to be part of the movement leading to gender equality in the games industry.
But actually she has already done her fair share of work to improve diversity, as a researcher and education consultant in games at the Norwich University of the Arts, where she worked for eight years.
“During my time at Norwich, I worked incredibly hard to get the gender balance as equal as possible,” she tells MCV. “When I started, there were no female staff and only two female students. By the time I left, which was in February of this year, there were 40 per cent female staff and students across the course.”
This impressive result highlights why Isaaman was picked for her new role: in 2012, a study by Creative Skillset showed that 14 per cent of the games industry workforce were women. Today, that number is 19 per cent.
So things are getting better - but slowly. And Isaaman, who keeps telling us how ‘excited’ she is about her new job, certainly appears to be passionate enough to step up the pace a little.
It’s also during her time at Norwich that she became a member of the Women in Games executive team. Then, in 2014, she was the first person from education to receive a European Women in Games Hall of Fame award.
“I’ve been involved in initiatives and conferences, working in education and supporting many young women into the sector, but this job gives me the opportunity to do something on a larger scale,” Isaaman says about her new position as CEO. “The work that I did for the course that I taught at the Norwich University of the Arts was one step, this is another step, because this represents something that I can do on national and international levels.”
Women in Games’ ambition is to double the percentage of women working in the industry by 2025, “making the UK a global exemplar for gender equality,” Isaaman explains. Her first priority to achieve this goal will be to increase the number of women actually making games, she says.
“My goals are based on my experience and on research that I have undertaken. One of my findings was, although there are women working in the games industry, they tend to be in marketing or HR. There is a very small percentage of women involved in making games - in art, design, programming.”
Isaaman believes that the industry needs to design and market games specifically to engage the huge number of female players. And more women making these games would definitely have an impact on how appealing gaming is to women. Having creators from different backgrounds would also lead to more diverse content.
“More women making and designing would definitely have an impact on creating engaging content,” Isaaman argues.
Isaaman also wants to further increase the number of women in management. “One of the other findings of my report was that there aren’t many women at Board room level. I think that that’s really important because it has an impact on the kind of strategies that companies make: if you have more women, you have a more balanced perspective.”
As a scholar herself, Isaaman’s third priority will be to work hand in hand with schools and universities. There’s a tremendous job to be done in order to get rid of the idea that gaming is a ‘boys club’ – and that job begins in schools.
“I want to engage fully with the games industry and educators. I want to reimagine education and revitalise the talent pipeline because lots of companies want to employ women but they’re not coming through,” she explains. “In the survey that I did as part of my research, one company said that, over the course of the year, they had thousands of applications, and only nine of them were from women. So you can see that it tends to be very difficult: it’s hard to employ women if there are not enough coming through the education pipeline.”
"I want to reimagine education and revitalise the talent pipeline. Without women coming through that pipeline, we won't have women to employ"
Marie-Claire Isaaman, Women in Games
But Isaaman’s ambitions don’t stop here. As well as working on increasing the number of women within the industry, she wishes to shake things a little inside her own organisation.
“I think it’s less change and more to do with advancing the organisation,” she says. “My predecessors have done some amazing work. Women in Games is seven years old, it started really small and it’s now grown, it has a big reach. But I’d like to further engage with the members and increase the membership.
“One way to do that is to set up regional chapters throughout the UK, so that more women can be involved and the organisation can get more communication.”
Isaaman also wants to make the most of her background as a researcher and engage in more studies to identify the key issues.
“I think it’s in the field of research that you can really try to understand where the granular issue is. Everybody knows the big issues, but you have to dig deeper if you want to find out things in more detail. For this report that I’ve just written, I was able to dig down enough to see that there is a discrepancy in the types of jobs that women do in the games industry. If you know that, you can understand what more you can do about it. Women in Games is really hoping to engage in some new research moving forward, that will obviously form new strategies for the organisation, and this will support more women into the sector.”
The new CEO also thinks we can learn a lot from other industries: Creative Skillset found that out of all the creative industries, games have the lowest percentage of women. So ‘what are they doing that we don’t?’ is the question she wants to answer.
“There’s a lot of things that can be shared,” she says. “Obviously the games industry is not the only place with inequality. I’d like to reach out to other organisations because together we can be very strong.”
Although Isaaman is full of ideas, ambitions and expectations, she’s aware that the journey will be long. But once the first step – awareness – is achieved, the circle can only be virtuous, she believes.
“There is a lot of work to be done. There is an increasing awareness of the fact that it would be very positive for the industry to be more diverse because then the products would be more diverse, and of a higher level and, if they were of a higher level, then globally it’s going to bring success to the games industry and the economy.
“But, as I said, I think we need to focus on education because, without women coming through that pipeline, we won’t have women to employ. It’s a bigger journey.”