“Businesses need to change their thinking on what leadership roles look like” – The State of Play for Women in Games

We are delighted to once again host the Women in Games Awards, with this year’s event taking place TOMORROW in the heart of London.

And while it is always a delight and an honour to celebrate the amazing talent in the games industry, we also want to acknowledge why we host these awards in the first place

In these pages, we want to provide women a space to, in their own words, describe their experiences working in the games industry – an industry that, despite progress, still has a long way to go in terms of treating women fairly when compared to their male counterparts.

The topic of sexism in the industry is, unfortunately, constantly relevant. However, ongoing abuse scandals at a number of companies – such as the recently acquired Activision Blizzard – have thrown a spotlight on a pernicious problem that exists across the games industry. These stories are not new, and indeed are all too familiar to many.

HOW FAR WE’VE COME

Keza MacDonald, video games editor at the Guardian

These problems are not exclusive to any one company, and will require the industry as a whole to address.

And so we asked some of our judging panel to share how their experiences as a woman working in the industry have changed over the years. Not to congratulate ourselves on how far we’ve come, but to remind ourselves that this is an ongoing journey.

“I joined the games industry in 1992, so as you can imagine, have seen dramatic changes over the years,” said Kim Parker Adcock, owner of OPM Jobs. “It was incredibly rare that I’d have another lady to talk to in a meeting, networking and other events.  I often felt like an anomaly, not necessarily uneasy, but the odd one out who was not part of ‘The Club.’  There were certainly some men who made that obvious.  But I’m still here!  The industry is completely different now and I must pinch myself sometimes when I see just how many brilliant women are thriving in games. I’m in excellent company now.”

“There’s been significant change in the 25 years I’ve been in the industry,” adds Cat Channon, head of international communications at EA. “There are numerous practices and approaches that were engaged in during my early tenure that thankfully aren’t acceptable now. With companies like EA setting a high bar on ensuring that our cultures and practices are both inclusive and diverse there is less and less room for the bro culture that’s plagued the industry for so long. That said, you still hear of patriarchal pockets and leadership for whom an industry convention or a night out doesn’t seem complete without a trip to a strip joint or laddish banter. It’s disappointing and short sighted. The tone that leadership sets can permeate every aspect of a company and in a world where our players are ever more diverse, cultivating an employee base that reflects that diversity and ensuring your culture is inclusive just makes good business sense.

“In addition to these thankfully rare instances, the majority of issues are more subtle now, so while headline offenses like strip clubs might be an obvious ‘no’ for most, more subtle elements of bro culture are much more hard to dislodge – but potentially are even more damaging in making women feel unwelcome and excluded on a daily basis.

“The progression of women in our industry remains a challenge. We have more young female talent entering the sector but as primary caregivers the careers of highly capable and talented women can still stall because of maternity leave. Then there are recent figures suggesting that more than one million women in the UK could be forced to leave their jobs due to symptoms of the menopause. While policies remain light or entirely absent, factors like these will continue to perpetuate the gender imbalance in the most senior positions in the industry.”

While the industry may be diversifying (if perhaps slower than we’d like), there certainly still seems to be a gender gap when it comes to positions of power. What does our panel make of this imbalance, and how can we remedy it?

“Although we as an industry have diversified, we are committed to improving our support for women in games and ensure new, unique and different ideas and approaches are represented in our teams and games,” says Louise O’Connor executive producer at Rare.

“Businesses need to change their thinking on what leadership roles look like, leaders can be and should be empathetic, caring, decisive and inspiring. If companies consider fast-tracking processes to move individuals into positions quicker, they should be aware of the support they need to provide those individuals throughout.

“Give up-and-coming leaders space to grow into the role in their way.  I would also suggest that a great leader shapes a role around them and what they are good at, rather than vice versa.”

“I think it’s down to studios to actively search for female leaders when hiring to create a gender balance at ALL levels within the business,” adds Adcock. “Whether that means interviewing women who show entrepreneurial experience on their CVs, or those who led teams at University, or in sport etc.  Women have different assets when it comes to leadership style and the benefits of this must be recognised. I’ve long been a fan of personality profiling at the interview stage; these can help you pick out the natural leaders.”

“It’s a number of things,” notes Channon, “inclusive hiring, mentorship, training, recognising and tackling unconscious bias, supportive maternity and paternity rights, ensuring women are not side-lined if they have children, or grow old! Creating a culture that recognises that diversity in leadership is not just good for your business, it’s essential.”

A DIFFICULT YEAR

Kim Parker Adcock, owner of OPM

As mentioned, this has been a difficult year for women working in our industry. The headlines of abuse and unequal treatment coming out of industry giants like Activision Blizzard and Ubisoft have been a bleak reminder of how the games industry continues to treat women.

“The headlines we’ve all seen over the last twelve months were incredibly challenging,” says Channon. “For many, myself included, they were triggering and brought back difficult memories but they were so very important in shining a light on what has long been lurking in the shadows of our industry.

“Being candid I think there will be more of these moments to come and with them news cycles that call into question the values of our entire industry, not just those at the heart of the stories. There is more action needed at both a company and an industry level to support those who find themselves in difficult situations and each time the debate enters the public eye it pushes us towards positive change.

“Increasingly it’s becoming apparent that culture and reputation can be as influential as revenue on a company or individual’s success, but where the net result of poor conduct can be an exit and a pay out there’s still work to be done.”

“For me personally – partly due to the nature of my job – the majority of the misogyny I’ve encountered in the games industry has been online, on social media, and through the websites operated by my various employers,” says Keza MacDonald, video games editor at The Guardian.

“When I would bring my concerns to my bosses over, eg, being sexually objectified in the comments thread of my own website, or show long exchanges of sexist abuse on our YouTube channel, the attitude was always: well, that’s horrible, but there’s nothing to be done. I massively object to this.

“These are our own channels. Sure, you can’t control what some dweeb writes on Reddit or what happens on Twitter, but you absolutely CAN moderate your own Facebook pages and comments threads and Discord servers – it’s just that that requires resources that some companies are/were simply not willing to dedicate.

“If you don’t care about protecting female employees from this kind of harassment or supporting them meaningfully when it happens, then you are not doing right by them. (Thankfully The Guardian, my current employer, is very good at this.)

“I was dully unimpressed to see the shock and surprise expressed over the recent run of revelations about abusers and mistreatment of women at game studios.

“This should not have been news to anyone who listens to women. For most of my career we have had to protect ourselves privately, through whisper networks and private warnings, because when women DID speak out they were rarely supported at their companies or more broadly. It does at least feel now that speaking out is more likely to result in something other than the woman in question being subjected to even further unpleasantness.

“The media is doing fairly well on this reporting, I feel, but it is important to be careful with sources. Do not use people. They’re vulnerable. When it comes to stories about sexual harassment especially, a person’s pain is not your scoop.”

THE WORK CONTINUES

Cat Channon, head of international communications at Electronic Arts

Among that work is the need to truly weed out the abusers and the enablers who continue to work in our industry, often in positions of power over those they abuse. In the wake of the latest spate of headlines, are we doing enough to purge our ranks of toxic employees?

“My own experience is that there is significant inconsistency across the industry,” says Channon. “I work for a large organisation that is incredibly forward thinking in its approach, that has processes, systems and structures to ensure there is no space for inappropriate conduct. It would be easy to think that’s the approach of all big businesses but as we’ve seen, it’s not. It’s also easy to assume that solutions are easier at scale and that in smaller companies it’s harder to implement supportive policies but I don’t believe that’s true.

The values and the priorities that leadership exhibit will permeate through any and every organisation no matter what its size. Scale should not be a factor in how safe women do or do not feel in the workplace.”

THE FUTURE’S BRIGHT

With all the challenges our industry faces, there’s still a diverse range of people hoping to join our ranks. What advice does our panel have for the female game professionals of tomorrow?

“Come on in!” says Adcock. “There is a strong community of women who can support you, whether this is within your company, or one of the many women in games groups that have formed over the years.

“The Women in Games Awards was a groundbreaking experience for me when it first launched and completely rocked my world.  I wish it was monthly!”

“For those seeking to have a career in this great industry: find a mentor – either a teacher, a friend, someone in the business or even someone who isn’t, who can dedicate some time, behaves in a way you admire and is direct and honest with you,” adds O’Connor.

“The most important thing as a new starter in the industry is to never be afraid to ask questions and take your time!  Don’t compare yourself to others and where they are, each of us has our own path to forge and we each move at a different pace. 

“Being ambitious is fantastic, but also, be curious and be eager to learn. This represents a desire to grow and gives you an opportunity to learn from the amazing people around you. Above all, be yourself.  Don’t worry about ticking boxes, I urge you to create new boxes.”

Industry awards, however much we may enjoy them, will of course not end the industry’s mistreatment of women. There is broader, more important work to be done.

However, we feel it is important to, every now and then, appreciate that we are at the very least heading in the right direction – and to thank the women around us who are making that possible, and working to make the industry a better and more welcoming place.

While there is much to be done, we should at least be able to take the time to thank women from across the industry, and thank them for making the games industry a better place to work.

About Chris Wallace

Chris is MCV/DEVELOP's staff writer, joining the team after graduating from Cardiff University with a Master's degree in Magazine Journalism. He can regrettably be found on Twitter at @wallacec42, where he mostly explores his obsession with the Life is Strange series, for which he refuses to apologise.

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