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“We have a responsibility to think, at a leadership level, about how inclusive and welcoming our teams and games are.” – Debugging D&I with Rare

Amiqus’ Liz Prince speaks to Rare’s D&I Lead Veronica (Vee) Heath and Executive Producer Louise O’Connor about the importance that leadership teams play in diversity and inclusion strategies

How important is it that leadership teams drive D&I initiatives from the top?

Rare’s D&I Lead Veronica (Vee) Heath

Veronica Heath: It is vital for a leadership team to drive D&I initiatives from the top. It demonstrates commitment to the important work that is needed to go into areas of D&I, to help make choices that will impact real long-term change, as well as model examples to the rest of the team. 

Ultimately diversity and inclusion is an on-going journey rather than a destination, which means we all need to continue learning even when our jobs keep us busy on a day to day basis! It’s easy to get complacent and put it aside for a quieter time but it takes long term effort to see changes. One thing I know from working with our leaders is how open they are to learning, on-going D&I work and building up our inclusive culture – it really is inspiring!

Executive Producer Louise O’Connor

Louise O’Connor:  It’s important that leadership teams drive D&I to show a commitment to thinking differently about game development.  A commitment to diversifying is an opportunity for the business, for the team and for the games we make.  We have a responsibility to think, at a leadership level, about how inclusive and welcoming our teams and games are.  Rare have an incredible leadership team, who work very hard together to discuss all D&I around the studio.  

Rare’s mission is to create games the world doesn’t have, and to do that, we need to make Rare the most exciting and innovative place to work.  We firmly believe that diverse teams and having teammates with different experiences and stories, will help shape unique and interesting worlds for players everywhere.  

Do you think that some companies – inside and outside of games – struggle with diversity issues because management often believe it’s ‘just something for HR’ to manage?

Heath: D&I can feel like a huge area to approach, as there’s so many parts to it. 

When you look deeper, putting diversity measures in place not only help the few, but benefit everyone in the business through transforming the culture. Rare approached my role with the intention of devoting more resources and focus to D&I, which means the studio’s efforts can go further and won’t be short lived.

O’Connor: I think it is the job of everyone, across the studio, to embody D&I.  At Rare, we take the time to train our teams about D&I, we have specialists in the studio (like Vee) dedicated to thinking about our D&I strategy from a studio perspective. Vee works with everyone to help us focus on clear goals that support our mission to diversify across our teams.

There’s much talk of how ‘company culture’ is important when it comes to D&I initiatives within studios and companies – but some are confused about what that means. Can you give us your thoughts on what it means – and what Rare has done to ensure that its company culture is welcoming to all, and provides a place for everyone to flourish?

Heath: Company culture goes hand in hand with inclusivity. Each team member has a responsibility to nurture our inclusive culture and we treat it as such. After all, inclusivity happens when teams interact with one another, ideas are shared, and feedback listened to. We foster a culture where diverse perspectives are welcomed and respected, we see a change in how individuals feel at work. When folks feel they can contribute their best, they no doubt feel happier overall – win, win!

It’s been reported that D&I within businesses has been put on the back burner during the pandemic, due to other pressures on business owners and managers. What would you say to persuade them that it should stay top of the agenda?

Heath: Your current team – and potential talent – look at a studio’s commitment to D&I. They are asking is it somewhere they want to be and feel supported?

Keeping D&I at the top of the agenda means you are looking towards the future. Most of us are working from home, so being able to think about the experience of someone working remotely who has never seen the studio is new but very important. Outreach such as mentoring is also still important and can be done from the comfort of our desks rather than venturing out. 

Additionally, the pandemic has brought about new pressures on staff wellbeing. Having measures to help staff with their mental health now, while destigmatising that conversation, helps individuals through this troubling time but also builds a great culture of support for the future.

What benefits does a diverse workforce bring?

Heath: There are so many benefits! For Rare, a diverse workforce means our games represent the diversity we see in the world and any kind of player feels welcome in the worlds we create. It also means our team feel they can bring their authentic selves to work every day which, fundamentally, means a happier workforce overall.  

Has remote working helped or hindered D&I ambitions – both for Rare, and generally?

Heath: My role evolved through the pandemic into Diversity and Inclusion Lead so I firmly believe it has helped our ambitions! Our 2021 D&I strategy is built on areas and changes we can make despite the pandemic, through core areas of the business; so, whatever happens in these next few months, we continue to keep the topic on the table and adapt. Not only that, but our teams have continued to create incredible experiences for players – they really are superstars!

O’Connor As we work through a global pandemic, I think it’s fair to say, we’re learning how to evolve our games and manage our teams in a situation that looks very different to normal.  Working in this new way means we continue to strive to build out diverse teams.  We’re working through change at the moment, but our commitment in terms of leadership and training through our teams means D&I continues to be a priority for us.

I’ve personally been so inspired by everyone at Rare, and across other development studios, who have had to embrace working from home and still aim to deliver quality experiences and support for teams throughout this difficult time.  I also think that with new challenges, comes growth and learning, and as we learn to develop and work as a team remotely, it’s helped us to refresh our thinking on what we are used to.  We’ve learned a lot about remote communication and how to be inclusive while being away from each other and this has given us opportunities to engage in lots of new ways that I don’t think we had fully embraced before working from home.  

And finally, you launched Women of Xbox UK last year. How’s it going? And what are plans/goals for 2021 and beyond?

Heath: I’m really excited for the Women of Xbox UK group – we have so many incredible women working across Xbox in the UK and it is really a celebration of that talent. We want to shout about it and show how incredible the opportunities in gaming can be for women! 

O’Connor: We were very excited to launch the Women of Xbox UK last year.  At Xbox, there are incredible communities and groups that offer a place to network and connect with individuals like you.  As we saw the UK Xbox base of studios grow with the addition of Ninja Theory and Playground (Rare have been a part of Xbox since 2002!), we wanted to take the opportunity to extend our studio WIG group to connect to other UK based studios.  We work to introduce the many women across Rare, Playground, Ninja Theory and other Xbox teams to each other, to offer them a space to network, to learn, to mentor and be mentored.  We are committed to inspiring a new generation of developers into our studios and to continue to grow and mentor the incredible women who work across our teams.  We’re doing this because we believe it’s not only important to have diverse perspectives and thinking on our games and products, but it also creates a healthy and vibrant workplace, and a group of developers who represent our audiences around the world.

Chris Wallace

Chris is a freelancer writer and was MCV/DEVELOP's staff writer from November 2019 until May 2022. He joined the team after graduating from Cardiff University with a Master's degree in Magazine Journalism. He can 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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Chris Wallace