Women In Games: Attracting and Recruiting in a Male-Dominated Industry

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As part of a very helpful LinkedIn group for women in games, I ran across Rebekah, who was working on her dissertation: “Women in Games: Attracting and Recruiting in a Male Dominated Industry.” I let her know that I was interested in a copy when it was completed, and, ultimately, I decided to share her findings in the form of an interview, as her full dissertation is around sixty pages.

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Rebekah.

Her dissertation was conducted in the UK, so currently cannot be called all-encompassing, but it is clear that many of the reasons women do not work in the industry are the same even across the pond. I especially found the reasons why women did choose to work in the gaming industry to be interesting.

The full interview is below, and includes a summary of key findings, as well as some information about how the study was conducted and why.

1.) What is your name, where are you from and what do you do?

I’m Rebekah, I’m 28 and I live in Warwickshire with my boyfriend and two cats. I’m currently working as a Project Co-ordinator for an Automotive consultancy. However, from March 2009 to March 2012, I was the Office Manager for Bigbig Studios, one of Sony Computer Entertainment’s specialist handheld console developers. In a perfect world, I would love to return to the games industry, and it is purely down to Bigbig being closed down that I left back in 2012.

2.) What inspired you to do your dissertation on women in games?

I was inspired to write my dissertation on “Women in Games: Attracting and Recruiting in a Male Dominated Industry” because during my time at Bigbig, I was the only female in a studio of forty for two of the three years I worked there. We were an equal opportunities employer, but we barely got any applications from women for the core content vacancies we advertised.

Whilst at Bigbig, I had the opportunity to attend the first Women In Games conference held in London. At the conference, I listened to talks from successful women who are well respected in the industry and I met a wide range of female professionals, their expertise ranging from Programming to Game Design to Talent Acquisition. It was at this conference that it struck me that there could be two issues with the concept of getting more women into the industry. The first being that games developers are perhaps not doing enough to encourage female applicants to apply, and the second being that the industry is missing out on potential female talent because school-age girls do not see the games industry as a viable career choice. These two factors formed the basis of my dissertation.

3.) How did you conduct your research?

I used existing contacts I had within the industry and the Women in Games Group on LinkedIn to recruit participants for my research. Gina Jackson, CEO of WIG, was a huge help and provided a lot of useful information and contacts. Luckily, the majority of the women and games developers I contacted were happy to participate.

Rather than taking the usual approach of conducting one piece of primary data collection (so, one questionnaire that everyone answers), I decided that in order to address the two issues I highlighted earlier, answer my research objectives, and, ultimately, do the topic justice, I would need to speak with both games developers and women working in the UK games industry. This resulted in developing two separate questionnaires – one for each group of participants.

The questionnaire for HR/Recruitment Managers within the participating games developers was designed to gain insight into how many women work within their organisations, what jobs they do, and how they undertake their recruitment – e.g. do they positively discriminate?

The questionnaire aimed at women working in the industry was designed to establish what role they are doing, the type of organisation they work for, and how they came to work in the UK games industry. Each questionnaire consisted of ten questions, and the majority of questions were designed to generate qualitative data. The data being of a qualitative nature was particularly important for the women in games section, because I needed their personal opinions rather than statistics and numbers.

I developed the research questions in line with my research objectives, and once they were finalised and approved by the University, I started sending the questionnaires out to participants. I sent them out during early December of 2012 and asked that responses were in by mid to late January 2013.

4.) What were some key findings?

Some key findings were:

  • Significantly fewer girls/young ladies are choosing STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) subjects at school, college, and university, which seems to be because the games industry isn’t a visible career option to them. (For those who don’t know, STEM subjects are particularly important for the technical discipline of computer programming.)
  • The literature review found that women who are aware of the games industry, and those that work within it, find the use of booth babes by games developers off-putting, and as such, this gives the perception that the industry is sexist.
  • The unsociable hours that are the industry norm, particularly during the later stages of games development, are very off-putting to women who have, or are considering raising, a family.
  • Being female in the industry can be an advantage. The research found that participants considered being able to give a different perspective to be extremely useful in meetings and discussions, and that in some instances their opinions were actively sought because a female perspective was needed.

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The lack of women choosing STEM subjects appears to be the major contributing factor towards fewer women working in the industry. I believe this to be the case, because the lack of women choosing these subjects reinforces the perception that the industry is more suited to men. If more women choose these subjects and the games industry becomes more visible to them as a result, more women will join the industry and the perception of it will gradually change.

The research also found that of the games developers that took part in the research, only one of them was actively involved in or had developed its own company initiatives to attract more women.

Of the women in industry who took part in the research, the main reason for their career/industry choice was:

  • Creativity
  • The opportunity to work with technology
  • The people within the industry
  • Their love of games

A number of participants were also keen to point out that the industry is tough and individuals working within it, or considering a career in it, must be highly skilled in their chosen field. The games developers confirmed this finding, and added that an individual is recruited solely based on their skills and experience and that sex did not come into play.

Based on this, I’m certain that a man getting the job in the games industry (particularly in the core content roles) over a woman is simply down to odds. If ten people are interviewed for a job and only one of them is female, it’s more likely that a man will be offered the job.

If the games industry can find a way to reach girls before they select their GCSE (or A Level) options at school, this will also increase the skill level of women entering the industry and those opting for STEM subjects. At the moment, it could be the case that young men have an advantage in that they might decide when they are ten or eleven that they want to make games – this focuses their attention and studies to the relevant subjects at an earlier age than a young lady who doesn’t realise it is an potential career option until she is picking her degree course.

It will be interesting to see if the increase in popularity of mobile and social gaming will have an impact on the number of women in industry over the coming five years…that’s for another dissertation though!

5.) Were any of those findings surprising or especially interesting to you?

The finding I was perhaps most surprised about was that, of the games developers that took part, only one of them is actively developing their own initiatives to increase the number of females working in their organisation. Given how much media attention the topic has been given over recent years, I had expected more of the developers to have their own initiatives in place. However, it is important to note that many of the organisations are aware of and participate in the annual Women In Games conference.

I also found it interesting that some of the women who took part in the research would not recommend the industry to other women. Perhaps unsurprisingly, these were the participants who have experienced varying degrees of sexism and the notorious “glass ceiling” in either the company they currently work for or during their previous employment. Many of the women who would recommend the industry to other women did so with caveats. They felt that a career in the games industry was only suitable for those who have a desire to work extremely hard and put in the time and effort the industry demands. It is by no means an easy career choice.

6.) What was your favorite part of doing this dissertation?

My favourite part of doing this research was gaining an understanding of the topic from other perspectives. While I have three years experience in the games industry and am in the minority, I didn’t experience sexism first-hand, nor did I witness it. The research enabled me to gain an understanding from the perspective of women who have both struggled and thrived while being in the minority, and gave me an understanding of what different-sized games developers are – or aren’t – doing to increase the number of women in their organisations.

7.) So what’s next for you?

I have received the grade for my dissertation and got First class honours for it, which means someone, somewhere thinks it was a pretty good piece of work!

The current research only considered the topic in the context of the UK games industry and only used a relatively small sample size of games developers – this was due to the word limit constraints.

I will be expanding the study to include games developers and women working in the USA and Canada when I undertake my Masters degree.

My Thoughts

Although the study is limited, I think there are still valuable insights to be gained. Catching young women’s interest in games as a viable career in the early years is certainly essential, as is making sure the work environment has a reputation of being fair and non-exclusive. In a personal anecdote, I did not believe that a job in gaming was a viable career path. No one ever told me it was something I could actually do. It wasn’t until my senior year of college that I realized (through the creation of my blog) that the gaming industry wasn’t as unattainable as I thought it was. Of course, by then I was solidly in the communications field, and yes, I’m terrible at most STEM core skills, with the exception of science.

Using studies like this to pinpoint ways to attract and recruit women into the games industry is a great start, and I hope to see more studies (as well as actual changes by companies based on these studies) in the future.

4 thoughts on “Women In Games: Attracting and Recruiting in a Male-Dominated Industry

  1. Reblogged this on Day-to-Day and commented:
    I love how the reaction on a guys’ faces when you put in your ten cents about a game (e.g. 0.o). I once got a reaction that went something like this:
    Me: (comment about game)
    Guy: You play games?
    Me: Yes, I like games, my favorites are role-playing games though. I’m not a fan of shooters but give me blades anytime of the day.
    Guy: . . . But you’re a girl. . .
    Me: Last time I checked; yes I’m a girl.
    Guy: . . . And you play games. . .
    Me: Yes. . . I work at GameStop too.
    Guy: (mind = blown)

    So yea, it’s always fun but since I’ve stopped working at GameStop I’ve been out of the gaming loop; probably for the best thought otherwise I would never get any lesson plans done 😦
    (only one more year of grad school!! not that I’m counting. . .)

    • Thanks for sharing! And yeah, it gets really annoying when people ask dumb questions. “Oh no, I don’t game, I just have an opinion of it that I made up out of the blue.” Like… these guys obviously didn’t have sisters growing up, that’s all I can think.

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