King executive producer Sabrina Carmona gave a notable talk at GDC Summer today about the need for more women leaders in games, why more diverse leadership teams are key to building a more successful and inclusive studio, and what we can do to get there.
“I’m not here to tell you to hire more women, or to hire diverse people; it’s 2020, we should have learned that by now,” she said. “I’m here to encourage you to have more diversity, and specifically women, in leadership positions.”
Carmona pointed out some relevant data, noting that women typically account for less than 5 percent of C-suite or leadership roles in companies across the U.S. and Europe. She also cited the 2020 UKIE Games Industry Census’ finding that women make up 28 percent of the U.K. video game industry, and just an estimated 20 percent of the global game industry.
Her core point was that women have been underrepresented in games leadership and the industry at large for decades, and that we’re well past the point at which companies should be thinking about just hiring more women. We need to be hiring a diverse array of people and proactively investing in them to raise the odds they move up to leadership roles, instead of staying at the lower rungs or departing completely due to neglect.
Carmona backed up her call for a more diverse game industry with a business case: companies with more diverse leadership teams are more broadly successful, and she herself has found having a more diverse team makes her a better leader.
Diverse teams perform better
“Companies that have diverse leadership are 15 percent more likely to outperform [the industry average],” Carmona said, citing results of a recent McKinsey & Company study. “If you add ethnic diversity, that number goes up to 35 percent.”
She went on to explain that she currently oversees about 40 people working on a game that has millions of daily active players. She has to make lots of decisions every week; she tries to get it right every time, “but the reality is that my job is to make the best decision possible.
“To make the best decision possible I need as much information and context as I can get,” she continued. “And to make sure I’ve covered that, I need diversity. I need different opinions. I need people that think differently than me.”
Carmona pointed to King as an example of how companies can meaningfully invest in diversifying their leadership teams, though she noted that King also still has a long way to go to reach gender parity among its own leaders.
She shared some data she’d gathered on her own, noting that 37 percent of King’s leadership (i.e. folks at director level or above) are women; roughly 61 women leaders to 164 men.
“It’s quite different [than most game companies] and of course there are ways to improve, but it’s a big step,” she said, noting King had hit its goal of 40 percent of 2019 hires being women and hoped to achieve 50 percent in 2020.
“If you are in a leadership role and you are responsible for building teams like me, you have to play your part in this,” Carmona continued. “Because you actually have the power to look at different places and strive to have more women in senior roles.”
You can make a significant difference below the senior level, too. Carmona recommends teams give women more opportunities to lead meetings if they have an interest. In addition to directly seeking out gender imbalances at senior levels and addressing them, she suggests game studios invest in industry meetups that encourage women to pursue their interest in game development and introduce them to women in senior roles.
You can also set up (or encourage your staff to set up) networking events like lunches for women in senior roles, where they can share their experiences with fellow attendees and field questions about how they got to where they are.
Invest in training and retaining diverse leaders
And of course, you can and should be investing in leadership training programs for women. Carmona specifically recommends training programs that don’t just focus on public speaking, but instead provide women with training and tutoring to help them learn strategies for solving problems at the senior level and achieving their own career goals.
Face time with leaders at your company is also a key resource. Carmona recounted how significant it was that King president Humam Sakhnini sat down (via video chat) with all the women in King’s London studio earlier this year for a freeform hour-long Q&A. Carmona said it took just two weeks and an email to organize, and the result was a team that felt they better understood what everyone was doing, where they were headed, and why.
“The fact that the president sat with them, it shows he’s serious about it,” said Carmona. “If you’re a leader, don’t forget to devote time to sit with everyone.”
Don't find a good culture fit; find a good culture add
Most importantly, focus on hiring people that don’t just fit in with your studio culture but actually add to it. Carmona says too often in the game industry we hire based on experience in games, when we should be prioritizing hiring based on competency. Look outside of the game industry when you're hiring, Carmona says; you'll likely discover a more diverse pool of candidates who have all the skills you're looking for and a fresh perspective on your business.
“You should look for someone to add to your team, to add to your culture; you shouldn’t look for someone that just fits,” said Carmona. “My advice is to look for someone that adds to your team as well. That brings something that no one has, or that has a different point of view, or a different background.”