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Men vs. Women in Game Production Roles

Gender disparity in business and the games industry has created a long-standing discussion. This article will discuss the virtues of male and female producers, and will include lessons for both.

Hannah Wood, Blogger

November 5, 2012

7 Min Read

Gender disparity in the games industry has created a long-standing discussion. But that’s not really what this article is about. Instead, let’s examine a much longer standing discussion on the disparity of gender in business roles. There seems to be a pervasive cultural assumption (whether consciously or not) that men are better suited to business than women. However, equally as long-standing is the joke that being a producer in the games industry is much like working at a daycare center, which is predominantly a female role.

This article will discuss the virtues of producers of both genders, and will include lessons for both.

Emotional Exhaustion or Depersonalization

In a survey of Marketing Professionals, women ranked themselves considerably higher in their levels of work-related emotional stress and exhaustion than men. Men ranked higher in levels of “depersonalization” or lack of emotional connection to their work and their peers. In short, women seemed to feel more emotionally attached to both their job and their coworkers than men did.

This conclusion prompts me to recall a bit of golden advice from Producer Bootcamp at GDC 2012. We producers were told to be a friend to every developer on our team, but not to require that they return our friendship. It is important for producers to understand the developers they work with on a personal and individual level, but simultaneously to stay detached enough to maintain their objectivity.

For Men: Allow yourself to become more empathetic. Be willing to account for your developers’ needs as people and as professionals.

For Women: Though the word sounds harsh, some level of depersonalization is okay – even healthy! Do not become so attached to developers that the relationship becomes stressful to you personally, or professionally.

The Main Lesson: Know the members of your team well, and treat them as you would your friends, but do not allow your personal feelings to interfere with your professional role, or your decision-making.


Acquiescence or Ego

Modern psychology suggests women are predisposed to submissive behavior in response to their hormones. Estrogen, studies have shown, promotes passivity. Men, on the other hand, have traditionally larger egos and are more assertive.

Egocentric assertiveness has no place in production roles. Acquiescence might. Again, I’m reminded of a harsh bit of truth for producers that was mentioned at a GDC talk: “When a project does well, it’s the team’s success. When a project fails, it’s your fault.” The ability to take blame without argument or complaint may as well be a super power.

To be clear, this is not to say that a producer who feels mistreated (or who sees others being mistreated) should be silent and allow abuses to continue.  Acquiescence in this sense is beneficial to no one.  Neither is passive silence helpful when a producer notices problems in pipeline or communication channels. On the contrary, a producer’s job requires finding and eliminating any problems as they arise - or better yet, before they begin.

For Men: Put aside your own ego, and give your developers credit where it’s due.

For Women: Be confident in your authority and professional ability. Do not be afraid to speak up when it is needed.

The Main Lesson: Never pass blame. Have enough confidence to evaluate problems and make decisions quickly, then stand firmly by them. But, understand that it’s not about you; it’s about the game you are making.


Multitasking or Task Mastery

Numerous studies have proved women to be more capable of multitasking, and men at task mastery (focusing on a single task and performing it efficiently).  This is why women are generally considered better at childcare and household responsibilities, and men at tasks such as driving.

Producers need the ability to do both. At any given time, producers can have a million things in their head and yet need to focus on current problem solving. Letting the mind wander to other upcoming tasks is severely distracting and will interrupt progress on the current pursuit. Even so, future tasks need to be recognized and remembered.

For Men: Focus is good, but do not let yourself get so caught up in a single task, that others get neglected or forgotten.

For Women: Multitasking is good, but do not become so distracted it prevents you from giving your current task the attention it needs.

The Main Lesson: Keep a living document for yourself that contains every actionable “to do” for the day, week, etc. Allow yourself to make mental note of all these during down periods. However, when acting on each task, do not allow “flow” to be interrupted.


Tend and Befriend vs. Fight or Flight

The “fight or flight” response is the term for a well-known cross-species mechanism for handling fear or stress. Less well known is the “tend and befriend” response that females are sometimes more likely to choose. This mechanism comes from a need to nurture. Females often become protective of those around them and then depend on protective social groupings in response to fear or stress.

During crunch time, or other stressful periods, human manifestations of fight or flight can be dangerous. Men may be more likely to become aggressive and quick to anger (fight) - or begin disregarding issues entirely (flight).  Both responses are extremely detrimental to morale and workflow for the team.

Women’s instinctive urge to “tend and befriend” can be more beneficial during stressful moments when members of the team probably need more support than usual. But such a response can become destructive if manifested too strongly.  For instance, becoming too lenient on developers helps neither them nor the project. Social groupings that stimulate bickering can be even more dangerous to the morale of the team.

For Men: Calm down. Try to adopt a soft temperament and a soothing voice.  Address problems as they come to you, and guide your developers with empathy and calm.

For Women: Calm down. Allow your instinctive need to nurture support your developers, but remember your professional duty to push the project forward. Hold all your developers to a consistent standard.

The Main Lesson: Remember that a producer must be a rock for the team. Especially in times of stress and panic, your developers need a calm and stable anchor. Even if you are feeling the stress (as well you probably should be) your job is to support your team, to break up growing tensions, and to ease the strain without adding personal stresses to the general tension.


Indirect or Verbal Aggressions

Thanks to perpetuated social norms, both men and women have adopted different means of expressing their anger, stress, and animosity. It goes without saying that aggression has no place anywhere in a healthy work environment. However, because men and women differ in the ways they cope with anger and stress, they must use different ways to keep themselves calm.

Men tend to be more direct and verbal in their aggressiveness, which in a studio can translate to raised voices and blameful accusations. Women tend to be more indirect, which translates to passive aggressive maneuvers such as spreading rumors.

For Men: Keep your tone in check. A raised voice will always create more problems than it solves.

For Women: Keep confidences confident. Your developers must be able to trust you.

The Main Lesson: Think of how your words and voice affect those to whom you are speaking. Remember that is first of all up to you, the producer, to stay positive, keeping morale and efficiency high. Always put aside your own negative emotions.

A producer’s talent lies in having skill at social interaction.  Neither women nor men are inherently better at managing or leading people, but each have lessons to learn from the other. A good producer is nurturing but firm, friendly but not emotionally attached, confidant but not egotistical. A good producer is a blend of the ideals of masculinity and femininity. Above all, a good producer is devoted to helping good teams make great games. 

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