People have been asking me, for as long as I’ve been playing games and being a part of the games industry “what do we do? How do we fix this?”
That is – of course – a massive question with a complicated answer. I think the first question – and the hardest question to be honest about is – do you really want to fix the poor ratio of women to men in the company? Is this something you actually care about as a company? If it isn’t, then you should be open about it. We don’t care, we don’t want to care. Women can make their own decisions based on that. Do I think you shouldn’t care? Of course not.
I want the entire industry to invest in women, Black, Latin, Asian, Indigenous, mixed-race, non-binary and trans people.
Why? Because it’s the right thing to do. Because your company will increase profit and get a better work/ life balance because we can’t continue pretending that the white, western, cis-male experience is the default.
But if you’re not interested in fixing the gap, you should acknowledge that. It’s more honest.
If you are interested in changing the status quo there are additional questions you need to ask yourself as a company.
- What is the priority of the change you want to see?
- What change do you want to see? Be very specific.
- How do you measure that change? What are the data points you use?
- How do you know when your goal is reached?
- Have you set a realistic goal?
- Based on your priorities,do you believe you can achieve it?
- When is this going to be done? Create a roadmap.
Based on the answers to those questions, start with the changes you want to see. This has to happen on several levels.
- On a cultural level in the company.
- The company culture trickles down. Not just from company leadership but from the entire organization.
- Never put the onus of change primarily on the people who do not have power.
- On a practical level.
- These are the easy, numerical targets, such as number of X hired or Y promoted.
- On an educational level.
- Culture doesn’t just happen. Promotions and hiring practices don’t just change. Educate yourselves internally, often.
How do we fix the culture?
As human beings, we’re carrying around a ton of various unconscious and conscious biases Some of those biases relate to how we interact with people who are Black, Latin, Asian, indigenous, mixed race, non-binary and trans (or several of the above).
Depending on what aspect of a person comes into play, the biases are different and hit us differently. If you have a hard time associating positive words with Black people, for instance, and it can be used as a litmus test to get a quick understanding for if you are biased against Black people, or against women. I’ve done the test. I’m mildly racist and somewhat sexist. When I first did the test, I was wildly racist and very sexist, but not on a conscious level. Biases can change, and that’s comforting. But they’re not going to change unless we see more Black, Latin, Asian, mixed race, indigenous, women, non-binary and trans people in leadership positions, creative positions, all around us.
Short term solutions:
- How do we speak about employees? Are they a “he”?
- How do we speak about our players? As a “he”?
- When we address a large and mixed gathering, do we use the word “guys”? Guys is, despite what you might think, not gender neutral.
- The word gamer is not gender neutral. It implies a man, because women don’t identify as gamers.1
- What’s the jargon like in teams? In meetings? From leadership?
- Do employees use sexualized language? I had a CEO once that used “rape” as a description of what the publisher did to the company when negotiating a contract.
- Don’t expect Black, Latin, Asian, mixed race, indigenous, women, non-binary and trans people to take notes.
- Don’t expect Black, Latin, Asian, mixed race, indigenous, women, non-binary and trans people to be junior devs.
- Don’t expect Black, Latin, Asian, mixed race, indigenous, women, non-binary and trans people to know less than you. They may well be experts.
- Listen to Black, Latin, Asian, mixed race, indigenous, women, non-binary and trans people in meetings. Don’t interrupt.
- Give Black, Latin, Asian, mixed race, indigenous, women, non-binary and trans people the opportunity to speak.
- Make sure Black, Latin, Asian, mixed race, indigenous, women, non-binary and trans people are considered for promotions, not just based on performance, but potential. Normally men are promoted on potential, and women are promoted on performance, meaning women already have to be at the level that men are expected to grow into.
- Increase the amount of Black, Latin, Asian, mixed race, indigenous, women, non-binary and trans people in creative roles.
- Give specific feedback to Black, Latin, Asian, mixed race, indigenous, women, non-binary and trans people. Usually feedback to men is specific. Feedback to Black, Latin, Asian, mixed race, indigenous, women, non-binary and trans people is vague and non-specific, especially if it is in connection to not progressing in their career.
- Make sure that the teams are mixed and do not consist solely of white men.
HR and hiring professionals are not exempt from biases, but they should be educated around them and aware of them, because they’re the first hurdle for Black, Latin, Asian, mixed race, indigenous, women, non-binary and trans people to get around.
We suffer from affinity bias, which means we are likely to hire people that look like ourselves and who come from the same cultural background. Often we will probably try to justify this through “culture fit” or similar expressions. But hiring people just like you from the same cultural background is not beneficial from a creative, innovation or profit perspective. The wider the set of people in your company, the more profitable it becomes, and it also improves from a work/ life balance perspective.
Once you have a wide variety of people working at this company, you also have to make sure they stay. In a very homogeneous workplace, this can be difficult.
Short term, make sure they feel as if they have a place at your company. Long term, make sure there are ways they can develop their career, get promotions and that the work does not end after hiring that one Black person or that one woman.
Obviously there are a ton of additional things a company can do, primarily to develop a plan to handle inclusiveness, equity and diversity. If it’s too hard, there are consultants you can bring in. But the people in power are the only ones who can fix it.
- Don’t use masculine terms to address people who aren’t men, as it ultimately works to promote linguistic sexism. Women do not identify as gamers, because there’s a gate keeping attitude among many men who game around who is allowed to be a gamer, and who is not. Women are typically not allowed to be gamers.