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Diversity Drives Success

Diversity helps contribute to the success of our games and to the success of our studios. It helps build more creative teams, able to more efficiently solve more complex and varied problems. This isn't speculation: it's backed by research.

I’ve spoken on Twitter about diversity a lot over the past few years, specifically about ways we can hire more women to work alongside us on our development teams. I also wrote a blog post here on Gamasutra about one framework for that discussion: She’s Not Playing It Wrong, which examines women’s reports of issues they face in the game development workplace as a usability problem.

She’s Not Playing It Wrong prompted a lot of comments--in fact, I’m assured it’s at least in the top five blog posts ever on Gamasutra in terms of the sheer number of comments. That continues to bewilder me: there have been many more sensational, provocative posts, and yet somehow the topic of hiring women in game development always provokes a firestorm.

Many of the negative responses suggested that I had an agenda in writing the article. I confess that I actually have not just one agenda, but two. First, I want to make great, interesting games and work for successful studios. Second, I want to play a wider variety of great, interesting games. I suspect most people reading this post share in those agenda items.

Diversity helps achieve both of those goals. I’m always surprised at the number of people who are unaware of the large amount of research available behind that claim. I’m including some of that research here in this article, and many, many more resources are available. Whatever your personal feelings about diversity, you’re burying your head in the sand if you think it doesn’t affect you, your games, and your company.

Diversity Drives Profit

Diversity helps contribute to the success of our games and to the success of our studios. I’ve seen this in action personally, but there are significant studies to back it up.

One study covered in the Harvard Business Review found that “Employees of firms with 2-D diversity are 45% likelier to report a growth in market share over the previous year and 70% likelier to report that the firm captured a new market.” Their definition of 2-D diversity: “Inherent diversity involves traits you are born with, such as gender, ethnicity, and sexual orientation. Acquired diversity involves traits you gain from experience: Working in another country can help you appreciate cultural differences, for example, while selling to female consumers can give you gender smarts. We refer to companies whose leaders exhibit at least three inherent and three acquired diversity traits as having two-dimensional diversity.”

Many studies demonstrated that companies with more women in senior management roles simply make more money. As summarized by TechRepublic in 2009, this includes:

  • Ernst & Young rounded up studies that show that women can make the difference between economic success and failure in the developing world, between good and bad decision-making in the industrialized world, and between profit and loss in the corporate world. Their conclusion: American companies would do well with more senior women.

  • Organizations such as Columbia University, McKinsey & Co., Goldman Sachs, and Pepperdine University, have done research that document a clear relationship between women in senior management and corporate financial success.

  • Pepperdine found that the Fortune 500 firms with the best records of putting women at the top were 18 to 69 percent more profitable than the median companies in their industries.

  • Catalyst, a research firm focused on women and business, found that Fortune 500 companies with three or more women in senior management positions score higher on top measures of organizational excellence. In addition, companies with three or more women on their boards outperformed the competition on all measures by at least 40 percent.

2009 too far in the past for you? In 2014, the National Center for Women & Information Technology presented a research summary of the impact of gender diversity on technical business performance. Among the proven benefits: “ Gender-diverse management teams showed superior return on equity, debt/equity ratios, price/equity ratios, and average growth.”

Think this only applies to big, established companies? “A field experiment asked 12-person teams of student entrepreneurs to start up, sell stock for, and actually run 43 real companies with the goal of maximizing profit and shareholders’ value. Statistical analysis showed that gender-balanced teams outperformed both male-dominated and female-dominated teams.”

Diversity Drives Invention

Studies have shown that diversity increases team creativity. This recent article from Scientific American makes that point quite clearly: “For groups that value innovation and new ideas, diversity helps.” They include this insightful summary of why that’s the case.

“Members of a homogeneous group rest somewhat assured that they will agree with one another; that they will understand one another's perspectives and beliefs; that they will be able to easily come to a consensus. But when members of a group notice that they are socially different from one another, they change their expectations. They anticipate differences of opinion and perspective. They assume they will need to work harder to come to a consensus. This logic helps to explain both the upside and the downside of social diversity: people work harder in diverse environments both cognitively and socially. They might not like it, but the hard work can lead to better outcomes.”

Richard Branson agrees, stating in an interview, “Over more than 40 years of building our businesses at the Virgin Group, my colleagues and I have seen time and time again that employing people from different backgrounds and who have various skills, viewpoints and personalities will help you to spot opportunities, anticipate problems and come up with original solutions before your competitors do.”

Advice from such a successful businessman and entrepreneur not convincing? The research summary from NCWIT also reports on a study that “surveyed 1,400 team members from 100 teams at 21 companies in 17 countries. The study found that gender-balanced teams were the most likely to experiment, be creative, share knowledge, and fulfill tasks.”

Another important factor from the Harvard Business Review study of 2-D diversity clearly shows a link with creative thinking in more diverse groups: “Leaders who give diverse voices equal airtime are nearly twice as likely as others to unleash value-driving insights, and employees in a ‘speak up’ culture are 3.5 times as likely to contribute their full innovative potential.”

It’s Sensible, Practical and Possible

Actively working to increase the diversity of our development teams isn’t just about “doing the right thing.” It’s about increasing our bottom lines. It’s about improving our collaborative efforts and making better games. Even with clear benefits, the topic always meets (sometimes aggressive) resistance. Here are some of the complaints that come up.

“If you hire for diversity, you’re not hiring the most qualified” or “you’re not getting the best person for the job.” Once you absorb the research available about the benefits of diversity, perhaps you’ll agree with me that our definitions of “most qualified” and “best person” are often too narrow. We focus on very specific hard skills rather than on the mix of skills that we know foster productive and creative collaborative teams. In fact, reflecting the importance of collaboration and communication in our job descriptions can increase the number of women who apply to jobs--the link is that strong.

“By focusing on diversity, you’re being biased” is another common complaint. Since a more diverse group provides better and more creative business results, striving for diversity is no more biased than striving for expertise in a game genre or for experience with a specific programming language. We’re always biased when we evaluate candidates: biased toward the factors we think will make the candidate a positive addition to a successful team that makes a great game. Again, we need to be more holistic when we think about the factors that create those positive team additions--they aren’t all summed up as “5+ years of experience with C#.”

Here’s one I hear a lot: “The candidates just aren’t out there.” Yes, part of the problem is at the top of the funnel but focusing on that as the only problem conveniently delays us from taking immediate action. There definitely are diverse candidates in the pool right now, today--but if you aren’t getting their resumes, perhaps there are reasons they don’t apply to your studio.

A study by Glassdoor showed that two-thirds of the workforce believes diversity is important in their choice of workplace. More specifically, “Seventy-two percent of women surveyed say that a diverse workforce is important when evaluating companies and job offers, along with 89 percent of black respondents, 80 percent of Asians, and 70 percent of Latinos.” By not focusing on diversity as a core hiring challenge, we’re creating our own self-fulfilling prophecy of diversity failure.

Another complaint is that “we’ve hired diverse team members and they always end up leaving.” Again, perhaps this is an opportunity to examine your company culture. The NCWIT research summary neatly summarizes a key problem in game development diversity: “Organizations benefit most from gender diversity initiatives when they create a supportive infrastructure.” It’s not enough just to hire diverse candidates and toss them into the pool to sink or swim. We need to provide a support structure to help them succeed.

We All Stand To Benefit

Just like there are many studies and journals available that make clear the benefits of workplace diversity, there are many blogs and articles that talk about concrete, actionable ways you can help encourage more diverse candidates to apply to your company, and to stay once they join. They’re beyond the scope of this (already lengthy) blog post, but they’re as close as one Google search.

That search is just the beginning of the conversation, though. It reveals many problems and some solutions. From my perspective, the first step is acknowledging that we all stand to benefit from greater diversity in our colleagues and teammates. The second step is deciding we’re going to start that change, right now, right here, with these three simple sentences:

We want to make great, interesting games and work for successful studios.

We want to play a wider variety of great, interesting games.

Diversity helps achieve both of those goals.

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