This post is mainly about knowing yourself and knowing when to stay and when to leave a bad situation.
One of the things I’ve learned in my 20 years in game development is that having convictions and a strong sense of justice will cost you. Pair that with expertise and an unwillingness to sugarcoat and you have a recipe for disaster. Here’s what I’ve learned, though.
If you belong to a marginalized group, people will always underestimate you.
What that means is that you’ll always have to struggle harder to be heard and to be taken seriously. For the most part, although not all the way true, the industry operates on a fake meritocracy basis. Skill is supposedly the only important trait, but underneath that statement, there’s a bunch of biases.
Again, this is not true for all studios, but for many.
If you belong to a marginalized group, be prepared for astronomical expectations.
The expectations on you will be so much higher than the expectations on random white gay in the same company with the same title and on the same level.
You might think this contradicts the underestimation, but no, it goes hand in hand. Because people underestimate you, they also expect more from you to put you on the same level as random white you with the same title as you.
With those two things in mind, start thinking about what you’re willing to sacrifice for your career, which position you’re in and what standards you have, but always keep the following in mind:
Can I afford it?
Can you afford to walk away? Do you have enough money put away that, when the time comes – if the time comes – you can leave without repercussions?
Whatever else, safety comes first. That goes for both economical and personal safety.
Can I handle harassment?
Okay, so this is not a fair question, because that should never be a part of a working situation. Unfortunately, in dysfunctional companies, it is.
I’ve been bullied out of a job, bullied on the job and just generally treated badly. Sometimes it’s better to keep your opinions to yourself and ignore issues and wrongdoings. It is difficult to fight against injustice. It has a price. Don’t start a process or resist the status quo unless you can pay the price. That said, if you DO choose to start something, record everything. Make sure that the state or province or country you are in allows for it, though. Make sure you have everything in writing. Evidence is important.
You will feel abandoned and betrayed.
Be prepared of having people that previously “cared” about you stab you in the back. Be prepared to have people you thought were friends abandon you. Don’t judge them too harshly. They have the same concerns as you do, they also need to consider their livelihood.
It’s okay to feel betrayed and sad and horrible. When someone stabs you in the back you kind of have to grieve and it’s okay to do that.
What would make it worth staying?
Make sure you know what you’re worth. Not in a monetary sense, but in the sense that you know what would need to change if you decide to stay. Make a timeline. Change takes time, so be at least moderately generous. But once you have reached that limit, cut ties and leave if things have not improved.
Don’t fall for the sunk cost fallacy.
Your mental health is worth more than staying on a project that most likely doesn’t appreciate you or the work you do. Sometimes sticking around won’t be the answer.
Finally: Most of the time, it’s not your fault.
Unless you’re a very toxic individual, it’s probably not your fault. Marginalized people are rarely toxic.
If you get vague feedback in your performance reviews, that’s usually a very good tell. “She says no too much” without quantifying when and in which situations that happens.
“She never smiles”. First off, give me something to smile about. Secondly, women who do their job to the best of their ability and still get the Sexists-R-Us treatment usually don’t have much to smile about. Thirdly, where in my contract is it regulated how much I smile? “She doesn’t know how to manage upwards”. In what way? What’s the issue? Am I being unprofessional? Oh, no, it’s because I don’t sugarcoat issues on the project and project leadership decides that not sugarcoating is a problem.
If you’re marginalized and your performance reviews are stellar apart from insinuations on project leadership’s part, I would argue it’s not you, it’s them.
Just figure out what your limits are, what you’re prepared to sacrifice.