Opinion: ‘Homegrown has to be the future’ says Women in Games CEO Marie-Claire Isaaman

Brexit means Brexit. That’s the mantra endlessly repeated by Government. And whatever your opinion, barring an electoral upset of unimaginable proportions next month, the UK will be exiting the EU in 2019. How we leave is uncertain but the fact we’re leaving is not. As this becomes clearer, how UK game companies access talent post-Brexit is now a major concern. Freedom of movement has enabled the friction-free employment of skilled European workers in the game sector for decades. Its impending expiration makes such concern understandable. 

But it’s not all doom and gloom. There is a solution: grow our own talent. There are thousands of smart, creative young people across the United Kingdom who would love to work in our games industry. The problem is, we’re not always effective at helping them do so. Particularly if they are female. The games sector is the most gender imbalanced of all our creative media industries. And that means we’re squandering female talent with alarming profligacy – just when we need it most. 

So, what can we do? Well, it’s not all about industry. Clearly we need to ensure the games industry becomes somewhere talented girls want to be, then do more to retain them once they arrive. Game companies must eliminate conscious and unconscious bias in hiring, address workplace discrimination, gendered pay gaps and a lack of women in senior positions. As CEO of Women in Games, I work with companies to address these issues and things are (slowly) getting better. But there’s another problem. 

"Companies must eliminate conscious and unconscious bias in hiring."

Marie-Claire Isaaman, Women in Games

The talent pipeline is leaking. The leaks start in school then continue through to college and university. At school, girls are not sufficiently encouraged to follow careers in games or wider technology. Indeed, the number of girls learning technology subjects fell by 12 per cent in 2015. Visiting schools, I’ve found many girls are not even aware games is a viable career path. This is less the fault of teachers than of the schools themselves. But it has a knock-on effect to colleges and universities, where the number of girls applying to technology subjects is much fewer than boys. 

At college and university, problems continue. Courses are often extremely male – both in staff and students – and the curricula reflect this. Consequently, girls can find it difficult to express themselves fully. Also, college or university management doesn’t usually prioritise or support achieving gender balance in cohorts or departments. Obviously there are great people throughout education working to create exceptions, but such exceptions must become the norm. 

So far, research into the pipeline has been limited, superficial, fractured and flawed. To implement meaningful change we need a better understanding of the problems. That’s why I’m working on new research that investigates the effects gender inequality in the pipeline has on the competitiveness of the UK games industry. Research has consistently found that a lack of diversity negatively affects competitiveness in the wider creative sector. And that rings true to me. If we’re not harnessing the talent of 50 per cent of the population, we’re missing a trick. And with so much uncertainty on the horizon, we can’t afford to do that. We need to stop squandering female talent and entrepreneurial spirit. We need to nurture all the creativity that resides within our shores to help our games sector be as competitive and resilient as possible. We need to start growing our own talent, better. It’s in all our interests. 

Marie-Claire Isaaman is CEO of Women in Games (WIGJ), an NPO that works to address gender imbalance, inequality and lack of diversity in the games industry. She also works as a games educational consultant and researcher

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