Only men allowed; helping to break glass ceilings in gaming for female creatives

Only men allowed; helping to break glass ceilings in gaming for female creatives
Published: 2 June 2021

Diversity & Inclusion agendas have received huge attention over the course of the last year. Finally, it feels that across multiple industries, we have learnt that it is not just gender diversity that needs tackling at the top table.

However, it is still a facet of diversity that needs to be tackled, championed, and rectified as it continues to be a very real problem, most notably at leadership level and especially in certain industries and functions. Unfortunately, Gaming is one of those industries - and Design is one of those functions.

Given my focus is on appointing emerging leaders - tomorrow’s next board members – within the Gaming industry, it is a topic that rears its head to me frequently. And whilst there is no quick fix, I am keen to explore the problems that contribute to such disparity and the potential solutions and small steps exec teams can take to address it.

In 2020, UKIE informed us that men tend to sit in 80% of the most senior positions within the industry and this increased for core game production leadership roles. In addition, just 17% of all design roles are held by females – these roles shape the vision, the game play, the narrative and the cinematics of a game.

When you compare this to the fact that 50% of people who play video games on most days are female, it just does not stack up commercially. Granted, some games are designed with a clear target demographic in mind but for global studios and AAA Games, why stunt the potential appeal and commercial success through bias blind spots?

Exploring why…

Unconscious bias

HBR studies have shown that within the workplace, people associate creativity with ‘agentic’ masculine qualities such as boldness, risk taking, independence. And because of this, people believe that men are generally more creative than women. The repercussions are that women are less likely to have their creative thinking recognised and therefore remain largely absent from elite circles within creative industries.

Lack of grassroot talent

Given that just 17% of designers at all levels are women, forging a succession pipeline for leadership roles is difficult, but not impossible. The old adage of ‘it’s just the way it is’ is no longer an excuse.

There are two challenges to address:

  1. Those females that embark on a role in design often move into other functions. We spoke to several senior females in the industry who started in design roles but swiftly felt out of place, given there were no female role models in the function, and transitioned to move into production or other functions.
  2. Females not identifying design careers as a viable option. According to the Higher Education Statistics Agency data, 88% of students on video games design courses were male in 2018. Arguably, this stems from the fact that teenage girls are less likely to see themselves represented in games or games advertising. This perpetuates a feedback loop of under-representation.

Potential solutions

  • Encourage the broadening of skillsets early in your employees’ careers, as well as throughout. Provide rotation programmes that allow people to spend time in creative and design roles.
  • Reframe role-models. All creatives and innovators credit their success to inspiration and or support from role models or mentors, but for now, this does not have to be found within your business. Allow for external collaborations and cross-mentoring programmes with other studios or even other industries. Think about advertising and the gender struggle the industry has faced since the 1950s, so ensure that you are connected to, and promote, communities such as Women in Games, Creative Equals and She Says.
  • Advocate for allyship. It is a buzzword and a first step, but games studios need to encourage their male executives to be part of the solution. Why is it that lack of female talent is a female issue, that spurs inspiring and interesting conversations and events that are only attended by women? That ripple can only travel so far.

Gender diversity may seem like an ‘old’ conversation, but the way the industry has that conversation needs to be new and actions needs to be taken. The unfortunate truth is that it is often viewed as something that is almost impossible to resolve – a grassroots problem that an executive team cannot fix. However, that is just not true, so start reframing those conversations and begin the ripple effect.

Sources:  UKIE Diversity Census and https://hbr.org/2015/12/even-women-think-men-are-more-creative

For more information, please contact Kathryn Gill, Consultant within the Gaming & Gambling practice.

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