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How Ubisoft is using a mentorship program to diversify its development teams

Ubisoft is hoping its new mentorship program will diversify its previously male-dominated workforce.

Phillip Russell, Contributor

June 21, 2023

8 Min Read
A woman works at a desk in an Ubisoft office.

Ubisoft, the developer behind upcoming titles like Assassin’s Creed Mirage and Star Wars Outlaws is trying to diversify its workforce and find new talent through offering a mentorship program called Develop at Ubisoft.

Game Developer visited Ubisoft Toronto’s office and talked with Erin Roach, Director of Diversity and Inclusion for Ubisoft Canadian Studios to learn more about their mentorship program, how other studios could implement similar programs, and how Develop at Ubisoft (DAU) interfaces with the company’s big moves in addressing toxic workplace, and other misconduct allegations Ubisoft at large has faced across multiple studios.

Develop at Ubisoft is an annual mentorship program and competition designed specifically for helping people with underrepresented gender identities to gain experience in the games industry. Applicants can submit their own personal projects based on a challenge provided by Ubisoft and  receive feedback and mentorship from Ubisoft employees as they go through the application process.

Winners of the application process get to partake in a paid internship at the studio to further develop their skills. DAU currently offers three different disciplines for mentees to work in and develop their personal projects: Programming, Game Design, and Production Management.

While the requirements for who is encouraged to apply change depending on location, Ubisoft Toronto’s program is open to students and new graduates from marginalized backgrounds. Cisgender women, as well as transgender, nonbinary, or Two-spirit applicants are invited to apply.

Roach told us a bit more about the program’s ethos, “Mentees are supported to bring their project to life and they also have some other networking opportunities, like coffee chats with developers, and a big showcase at the end of the program to share their work. The purpose is really to break down some of the barriers of entry into the industry and focus specifically on underrepresented genders.”

She explained to us that the DAU program is more than just a way to provide professionalization for newcomers trying to break into the industry, as well as help Ubisoft to find new and diverse talent. In addition to those benefits, the mentorship program connects Ubisoft with many post-secondary institutions, an important bridge in connecting the industry with new talent that can be easily overlooked.

“Other studios should invest in these programs for a myriad of reasons, but one we specifically believe in is how it connects us with post-secondary institutions. We’ve had folks from 30 different schools across Ontatrio apply for the program. When we talk to the people who have gone through the program, a lot of them get support from their professors too, so there’s a lot of educational connections being built.”

While the program itself sounds like a good bridge to getting more underrepresented people into the games industry, especially at Ubisoft, it was important to us to learn more about how his program works in light of the serious allegations of toxic workplace culture that Ubisoft Toronto (and Ubisoft at large) have faced.

Roach says much has changed in the last two years

Roach talked at length about some of the major initiatives at the company, “In the past two years, we launched our whole diversity and inclusion team and our VP of Diversity and Inclusion, Raashi Sikka, established a north star around being the most inclusive entertainment and tech company. We created four areas to focus on which are our DNI pillars. A key pillar revolves around the diversity of our team and how that extends out into the games we make and the community around those games we foster.”

Two aspects we talked about were how these initiatives improve the culture of the company and address their toxicity issues.

“When it comes to the culture piece, we're really focused on improving the diversity of the team because seeing people who look like you advance in the company gives a much bigger sense of belonging. So it's important for us not to just have programs like Develop that create pathways into Ubisoft, but also to have in place initiatives that help build that culture of inclusion so that people can do their best work. One major program we’ve implemented in Project Rise.”

Project Rise, Roach explained, is a five-year strategy Ubisoft has implemented to not only recruit top-level talent from more diverse gender, racial, and ethnic backgrounds, but also to provide pathways for internal advancement of current employees into senior roles within the company.

A graphic showing data from Ubisoft Toronto's Next program.

When it comes to addressing toxicity, Roach detailed some of their initiatives as well. “We’ve developed a whole process for reporting, either anonymously, or non-anonymously. So if a situation of harassment or incivility occurs, there are anonymous channels externally to go to. And internally, we have a whole new employee relations team that is focused on creating safe inclusive spaces. So they are there for prevention, but also for addressing quickly if there are situations of concern,” Roach explained.

In addition to reporting initiatives, Ubisoft has established seven global ERGs (Employee Resource Groups) that are led by employees representing a variety of different communities including the Black, LGBTQ, Latinx, and Neurodiversity communities, to name a few. These groups can put forward initiatives that help improve Ubisoft culture, including annual training on a variety of topics to gender inclusive bathrooms.

Roach explained that these various initiatives and groups are helping move Ubisoft into a more inclusive, and healthy workplace environment, while acknowledging that some of the benefits of these changes will take time to become apparent.

Ubisoft’s mentoring program has deliberate safeguards

Despite all of these new initiatives, it was important to learn more about the processes in place for how Ubisoft ensures the well-being of the mentees in Develop at Ubisoft from overwork, exploitation, or being put in situations with potential abusers.

Caroline Stelmach, PR Manager at Ubisoft Toronto, told us more about the processes in places for protecting mentees in the program. Every Mentee goes through a month-long, “Basecamp,” onboarding that connects them with a community of other newcomers at Ubisoft including other mentees and new employees to learn the ropes about the studio.

After Basecamp, mentees proceed into the direct teams they’ll be working under. “We have an engaging learning and development environment for interns, which includes soft-skills training, technical training, and mentorship from senior experts at our studio.There’s also a community for interns, new graduates and junior team members to connect more informally, find support from their peers and share what they’ve learned,” Stelmach told us.

In addition to these onboardings, mentees participating in internships have access to all of the other resources for reporting abuse that employees have, in addition to having a buddy-system so every newcomer has a go-to person to help them with any questions or concerns they may have.

All of these changes line up with the Develop at Ubisoft mentorship programs goals of providing a gateway for people from underrepresented backgrounds to have the resources they need to enter the industry and learn from industry veterans.

For other studios interested in implementing similar programs, Roach made sure to point out that the results of these programs aren’t immediately visible, and they must be long term company-wide investments. Over the three cohorts Ubisoft Toronto’s had, there are multiple winners who now work at the company, while others have released their own games and created their own studios.

Stelmach expanded on a key lesson Ubisoft Toronto has learned through continuing to iterate on the program multiple years in, “When it came to improving the program, feedback from participants and mentors has been incredibly important. We have past DAU winners who are now fully employed at Ubisoft Toronto, and they’ve been very eager to come back to the program as mentors and shape the experience.”

A photo of Ubisoft Develop game design winner Darian Schumacer

Originally, Develop at Ubisoft was much more oriented around the competition aspect, and less on mentorship. What they found, Stelmach told us, is that previous DAU winners were enthusiastic about the mentoring they received and viewed it as a key benefit of the program. “This led us to lean into the mentorship component, building in networking opportunities and ensuring feedback is provided to everyone throughout the competition,” Stelmach explained.

Flexibility and willingness to take feedback from past mentees was an integral part for Ubisoft Toronto to make the program into what it is today. Stelmach and Roach emphasized that studios thinking of cultivating their own programs like Develop should be willing to lean into this kind of emergent feedback and continue to evolve their offerings as more perspective from folks who’ve been through the program comes in.

When it comes to successes and surprises, Stelmach told us, “We’ve been really pleased that the number of participants in 2022 has tripled from the previous years. This year, 178 applicants registered across the 3 disciplines in the competition. We are very excited to see so much interest in the program. We look forward to helping these individuals build a solid foundation for their career in gaming, and for them to bring more diversity to our industry.”

Currently, Develop at Ubisoft is offered at Ubisoft’s Toronto, Paris, Annecy, and Bucharest studios with plans to expand it further in the future.

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