Consumers and game makers alike are becoming increasingly aware of the need to address issues such as diversity and equity. As a result, companies throughout the industry are implementing new policies to not only offer a platform for groups that have historically been underrepresented, but to help diverse voices gain a foothold.
Following the Spelman Game Jam, we spoke to Zynga’s Mary Plaisted [third from the right in a pic from the event] about what Zynga is doing to address these issues, and the important role marginalised groups have to play within the company.
Tell us a bit about your role and time at Zynga.
I’m Mary Plaisted, Senior Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DE&I), Talent and Social Impact at Zynga. In this role, I provide strategic guidance and oversight for our commitments to help shape and cultivate an inclusive culture, which allows our team members to grow and thrive in their careers.
I’ve been in the gaming industry and at Zynga for three years. My first two years were spent leading and delivering upon HR and talent priorities within the HR Business partner space where I worked closely with many business areas, including our General & Administration functions as well as game studios. I was fortunate to be given the opportunity to step into my current role last year. Prior to joining Zynga, I spent 16 years in the retail industry in a variety of strategic Human Resources roles working with employees and leaders to assess talent needs and design meaningful solutions that build employee engagement, foster inclusivity, and nurture careers.
What kind of things could large companies - such as Zynga - put in place to help foster an equitable environment? What would you like to see more of from other companies?
We have many programs available to employees that help foster equity at Zynga. One is our incredibly active network of Employee Resource Groups, which we call ZERGs. Our ZERGs provide a space for employees to build community, discuss issues important to them, and advocate for the needs or unique attributes of their members. Our longest standing, largest, and very active ZERG is Women At Zynga (WAZ). Almost daily, my team and leaders across our organisation look to this group for perspectives and to bring to light any blindspots we may have when building an inclusive and equitable workplace for our female identifying employees. I’m so grateful for the strong and mutually beneficial partnership we have with WAZ.
We also know that growing professionally means different things to each person, so in the spirit of equity we provide access for employees to many individualised career development offerings from our 1:1 coaching with Torch and Mariposa to various professional development workshops and eLearning solutions aimed at helping women and other underrepresented groups have access to equitable support to grow their careers.
Additionally, we have many practices in place that help us to ensure equitable recognition to employees for their hard work and contributions. We also have various ways in which employees can voice concerns, thoughts, and perspectives. The goal here is to make sure we can provide a safe and trusted environment for our teams to help us understand where we can do better. We really strive to ensure Zynga is a place where everyone has the opportunity to thrive and belong.
The most important thing other companies can do is create genuine open channels of communication with their employees and really listen – especially to those from underrepresented groups. When someone is not perceived as the biggest or loudest voice, they may not know when or how to find a space for sharing their unique perspective. When companies really listen to what their teams are telling them, especially the voices of those who bring alternative perspectives, that’s when you really begin on the path to creating equity.
Tell us about your work sponsoring the HBCU Game Jam at Spelman College. What can we do to achieve further equity?
When you look at the number of people of colour working in the gaming industry, you see there is still a lot of progress to be made and we recognize that. And so, we’ve positioned our social impact strategy and fund to invest in equity for underserved communities globally, contributing to diversifying the gaming industry and also shaping the future of our company. Our partnerships with HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities)is just one of the ways we nurture this commitment. There are barriers that often exist for students of underrepresented groups to access post-secondary education and recruitment into the tech industry so we partner with two HBCUs, offering student scholarships, access to internships, and full time career opportunities. We also have helped fund the Innovation Lab at Spelman College, which is an incredible space for learning and creation in their competitive computer science and engineering department.
How has Zynga’s stance on the equity of groups underrepresented in gaming affected the work culture? What kind of programs or events do you have coming up at Zynga?
It’s been really positive. We frequently hear from our employees that they’re proud to work for a company that really invests in an equitable and inclusive culture. The month of March is Women’s History Month and we have so many incredible events that are open to everyone, such as a month-long speaker series, panel events with Women from Zynga and Take-Two, and many more. I want to give a huge shout out to our Women at Zynga ZERG for organising a really great month of celebrating the incredible contributions of our female identifying colleagues. Our ZERGs and employees across the company deeply embrace these heritage months as a way to celebrate the many different backgrounds our teams are built from and to gain new perspectives about each other.
You're famous for building communities and creating games that have players coming back not just for weeks, but months and years. What's the secret to creating games that keep players coming back for more?
We are dedicated to providing the best possible entertainment experiences for our community of players worldwide. That means designing Zynga games to be socially interactive, fun, and entertaining to players everywhere.
What can we expect next from Zynga?
Zynga remains focused on evolving games and technology to help drive innovation, social gaming, and entertainment with the goal of connecting the world through games.