International Women's Day celebrates the social, cultural, and independent accomplishments of women around the world, and it is heartening to see efforts within the mobile games industry to welcome and support women, both as a player base and bringing their expertise and insight into the industry.
The games industry is also an extremely difficult, aggressively punitive, and, at times, undeniably abusive environment for women. There is so much more to do to.
PocketGamer.biz asked leading industry voices in the mobile and wider games industry for their views on the lack of women in the mobile games industry, especially in executive positions, and what we should be doing to better encourage and support women into leadership roles.
The glass ceiling exists, and gaming companies must show more commitment to developing talented women. Everyone has a stake in the value creation that results when women rise, but the mere fact that you have asked me to contribute to this series tells me womens' advancement is still constrained by hurdles, bias, and the "broken rung". Rather than focus on the obstacles to women's progression in the gaming industry, I want to highlight what women can do to empower each other.
Studios need to push gender parity. Now it's up to women who have found their place in gaming to accelerate this and boldly encourage strong young women to see their future opportunities. It means helping women over hurdles and fostering dialogue to ensure strong and diverse opinions at the table. It means using our platforms, speaking engagements, and social media to advance and inspire women, such as sharing this article, to amplify our voices and impact.
Women also have to be more tactical in networking. Unquestionably, women should connect for support and building circles of trust to achieve personal growth and overcome imposter syndrome. But women also need to focus efforts on developing business relationships and generating business opportunities for each other. This means advancing and mentoring women in our own communities through every opportunity and platform.
And it means staying positive, constructive, and focused. Because without fundamental changes early in the pipeline, our significant progress may stop in its tracks.
I would like to see more VCs being deliberate about investing in women-led businesses, proactively getting out of their networks and echo chambers. I think it is also important that we celebrate role models and give them visibility. Specifically at conferences, make an effort to find women speakers not just for the diversity or advocacy tracks, but for business tracks also.
And make six months parental leave the minimum for parents of any gender, otherwise we are forcing women to choose.
The first step towards promoting a woman into a leadership position is, of course, hiring a woman, so the recruitment process must be conscious of this. We all know the pattern: women are less likely to apply for a job they don't 100 per cent qualify for, so employers have to consider ways to resolve this.
In my opinion, the best strategy is to adjust job descriptions to list 'absolute requirements' and 'nice-to-have' skills distinctly, as well as run job ads through gender decoders to remove unconscious bias.
The second step is facilitating the growth of existing female colleagues. Lots of women suffer from impostor syndrome that can stop them from championing their performance and they shouldn’t be blamed for that!
To combat this, companies should try to facilitate acknowledgement, feedback loops, and recognition in the workplace. Furthermore, as knowledge is power, companies may want to look into proactively training for all employees about subtle bias, confidence, and presentation and communication, rather than waiting for their teams to request it.
It's incumbent on the strong and powerful women that have climbed the ladder successfully in the mobile games industry to give a helping hand in encouraging other women into the industry. Right now, from a young person's perspective looking in, the games industry does seem to be a male-dominated environment.
It's important that we mentor young women into the industry, speak out and set an example. There are amazing female trailblazers in our industry who are globally respected like Kelly Vero, Peggy Anne Salz, and Patty Toledo who really promote and support other women in the industry. We need more people like them doing the same.
It would be nice to see a few more female editors too ;-)
In evaluating what the mobile games industry could be doing to better encourage and support women into leadership roles, we first need to look back and question why they’re not more currently present. Unfortunately, there isn’t a simple answer: there is a long history of social and economic reasons behind this reality.
I propose a key differentiator requisite for change: one.
It simply takes one person, one organisation, one company, that actively chooses to bring a variety of voices and perspectives to the table. For me, early in my career, that one was Sony Pictures Digital Entertainment, which chose to hire a very newly pregnant, soon to be first time mom.
Now, that one is Rogue Games, which took the high risk of hiring a stay-at-home-mom that promised she was ready to return to work with the same commitment and drive upon which she had built her earlier career. This choice cannot be diminished and should be celebrated. When Rogue Games, and specifically, Matt Casamassina, CEO, chose to offer me the role, it came at a time when several companies identified my candidacy as too high-risk. It seems obvious, but deserves to be stated.
At this point, it’s no longer a question of whether there are female candidates sufficiently skilled and experienced to assume leadership roles. It’s a matter of choice. Companies and their leadership must make the choice to bring these voices to the table.
Nurturing young female talent is key, as this opens their minds to opportunities the games industry offers. There’s an ongoing challenge to encourage more women into STEM subjects, but the games industry can support this with more internships that create a positive environment for young women to consider if a gaming career is right for them. Alongside internships, hackathons for young girls in schools give them a taste of working in the games industry.
Networking continues to grow, from LinkedIn groups to initiatives such as Gamechangers Global, created by Miniclip’s own Jayvian Hong, through to the vast Women in Games community. However, creating internal networks and communities is vital, as this creates opportunities for women within the business to learn, grow and seek mentorship from their female leaders.
The sexualisation of female characters in games can have a damaging impact on women entering and thriving in the industry. Not everyone who works in games is a gamer, and this issue can put women off entering the industry altogether. By ensuring that female characters are not seen only through one prism of sexualisation, we can create a more positive environment for women to thrive in.
Research has shown that female leadership can impact business performance and overall growth in a positive way and, in fact, increases innovation, collaboration, and retention. Games companies, and in fact all companies, that want to have more gender diversity in their leadership roles and consequently appeal to the growing audience of players need to proactively reflect on how they are recruiting and promoting people within their organisation.
Are they evaluating equal amounts of female and male candidates when interviewing? A male friend of mine who used to receive three candidates noted that 90 per cent of the time, all three were men. This is not because there are not talented female candidates, but they were not being sought away. Now they require four candidates to be present: two female and two male.
My small tip for women in gaming is to apply for that job before you are ready, take the big project, and ask for the promotion! When you are outside of your comfort zone, it means you are growing!
The lack of women into leadership roles is an overall issue and a reality present in multiple industries. In the collective consciousness, games are still associated primarily with men, but at the same time I can see a shift in perspective over the last few years. Studies are already showing us that women are increasingly present in the gaming world (both as players and developers). However, there’s still a disproportion between female gamers/game creator ratio compared to that of men.
Acknowledging it and actively raising awareness are the first important steps that we should all consider in order to better encourage and support women into leadership positions. Explaining the benefits of leadership diversity, making sure we interview qualified women for every leadership position, being open minded and letting go of old misconceptions, plus ensuring relevant training programmes are just a couple of action points that could be leveraged in the gaming industry to support women. It’s important to mention that these kind of actions should be in place to support the general concept of diversity and inclusion within the workplace.
It all starts with access. We need to encourage girls from a younger age to enter the industry in the first place. There’s a lack of representation in leadership roles among women and it’s because there aren’t enough women in the industry – yet. Gaming-specific careers workshops with schools would help here, delivered by both women and men.
Once you’re in the industry, networks are very important – I’ve had the support of Women in Gaming groups before but I’m also lucky to have the support and understanding of my company behind me too. Mentorship from senior women, at any level, is paramount. In a way, you need to see yourself mirrored among leadership somewhere in the industry, otherwise it will feel like an impossibility.
I’ve learnt so much in my career from being a sponge – taking it all in and constantly learning. But this is only possible if you have the confidence to occupy that space. And once again, this comes down to the cultures we create. Diversity training is so important but also a recognition that women make up half of the population (and a lot of gamers!) so having the ideas, creativity, and input of women will only enhance the commercial output and understanding of consumers you seek to reach.
This is the unfortunate reality in almost all businesses, but it upsets me even more to see it in our own industry. I recently had the opportunity to spend time with my nine-year old niece and her friends playing mobile games. The fun they have together, the excitement and the creativity brought through these experiences is priceless. She even designed her own game with a subaquatic theme, and thinks I am a "super cool” aunt working at gaming.
As "super cool" women in gaming, we can drive the change by leading by example and showing that there is a welcoming community for other women to join. I think we should extensively share our experiences within the sector, be more vocal within the community, and not be afraid to be vulnerable.
On a more practical note, the least we can do as women in leadership positions is to offer mentorship to the women in our company, talk to them about career progress and share our stories. Finally, creating an active dialogue within the leadership team to increase their visibility on this topic and to encourage them to take action within and beyond the company is vital in my opinion.
Very few women attended industry events when I first started working in mobile games. That’s changed significantly over the last 10 years, with women representing a much larger proportion of attendees, thanks to overall growth and the continued boom in M&A attracting them to a thriving industry.
The challenge of securing and retaining talent remains and is a key priority to ensure the future of the industry is influenced by the unique leadership qualities that women bring, such as empathy, humility, and resilience. This is something that we strongly support at Outplay Entertainment, as one of the first corporate ambassadors for Women in Games.
Forums and networks, created by women for women, have been a positive catalyst for change, encouraging more leadership role applications. However, we still need more leading women and men to mentor and nurture female talent within. They must support and encourage women at the point where they weigh up potential barriers to progression, including the belief that they’re not experienced enough, often brought on by impostor syndrome, or the need for flexible working based on their personal circumstances. These mentors can shape company policies to build a truly level playing field for all genders.
The first step is to actively hire more women. But this isn’t that straightforward: hiring women simply for their gender can have a negative impact. All hires should be based on merit, and we should focus on equal opportunities.
The development of solid career plans is also hugely important. You typically see these plans in legal and HR, but it can be rarer to see them in product, IT, and data engineering. A conscious effort needs to be made by leaders to support women in these teams with proper career plans, to celebrate their successes and encourage them to become mentors and role models for their peers.
Gender bias continues to be a huge issue that games companies must continue actively addressing, alongside making conscious efforts to tackle race, age, and disability bias. The issue of gender bias can be exacerbated by the sexualisation of female games characters, and whilst this doesn’t seem to have a direct impact on women in leadership, it agitates the gender bias conversation. Miniclip created a diversity and inclusion taskforce last year and has rolled out workshops and training sessions to tackle unconscious bias and other issues.
As far as I can see, studios with female game designers have higher success rates. Increasingly, it makes much more commercial sense to have more women working in these roles, creating products for other women alongside men, just as we need to take diversity into account to reflect the best interests of all the gamers you’re creating products for.
We’re seeing lots of new companies that are doing things differently to old-school companies in the mobile games industry. They have great working environments that are inclusive and are attracting diverse talent for that reason, and it will only ever benefit their sales output. If these companies are anything to go by, the future seems bright for women in the games industry.