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You're doing it wrong! How (not) to persuade women to enter game development.

This isn't about man bashing, unfairness and inequality, or catch-22 arguments.

This is about our campaign for increasing the number of women in video games. Frankly, it sucks, and it may actually be working against itself.

Genna Habibipour, Blogger

July 8, 2011

6 Min Read

Here's how an article about the "lack of women in gaming" typically unfolds.

"There aren't enough women in gaming.  This is because there are too many dudes, and women are terrified of dudes.  Besides that, there are also a million reasons why a reasonable woman would not want to get into games anyway.  If we had more women in gaming, developers would be more mature and corporations would be nicer to us.  I blame the education system, corporations, society, biology, sexism..."

 Etc, etc.

First off, yes, there aren't a lot of women in video game development.  (I believe the average figure is somewhere around 10%.)

However there are a lot of women in the fields of HR, PR, Marketing, and a good deal of women working in all kinds of positions that need to interact with the development team on a regular basis.

So please stop using the argument that there are no women in development because they are terrified of being exposed to the typical male developer and can't handle a fart joke.  That's just nonsense.

As for the countless reasons often named in these kinds of articles, lets say they seem a bit misleading.  Here are some of the points that get thrown out the most.

*QoL: The argument is that for some reason, women are less tolerant of working long hours.  Now imagine a job where you were on-call 24/7, with 16 active hour workdays-including weekends (if you're lucky enough for a break that allows a full night's worth of sleep).  This job doesn't offer vacation time, no medical/dental/vision plan and NO PAY.  Best of all, you're locked into it for the next 18 years!  Yes, it's the stay-at-home mom with a young child.  Now replace that pride and love that makes raising a child worth it, with developing a project from an idea, add a salary that's better than the national average, add vacation time, and add a team of people to help you out with making sure the project develops into something great.

Lets just say there are more stressful things that women regularly take on.

*Maturity:  Going along with the above caretaker point, dealing with the temper tantrum of a director probably isn't much worse than dealing with the public temper tantrum of a 3 year old that you can't just walk away from.  Plus, unlike dealing with small children, most developers restrain from crapping themselves to make a fart joke.

I'm also trying to figure out what point "maturity" is supposed to make.  Most of the other women I know in games will laugh at the fart jokes, geek out on nerd culture, and goof around with the guys without any issues.  Are we trying to recruit women that are incapable of having fun into the industry of fun?

*Pay:  If you look at a game developer salary survey, women earn about 10k less than their male coworkers.  Now, that's not a chunk of change to sneeze at, but I do wonder if those numbers wouldn't drastically change when factoring in seniority.  Say everyone starts out with the same entry-level salary, lets factor in retention...

*Regardless of the reason for quitting the industry!*  If 20% of men don't stay in the video game industry past 5 years, you still have a decent number of high-level salaries to pull up the average male salary.  If you get a 20% drop in an already sparse female workforce, the average salary is going to be dramatically reduced because you only have a handful of high-level salaries to offset the revolving entry-level income.  Now extend that out another 5 years and another 20%...  (And if a train leaves Chicago at 2pm...)  Eventually you just run out of women, and it's possible that the 10k salary gap is due to the lack of retention in a small population of the industry, and NOT based off of a pay conspiracy.

The other fact about developer salaries is this:  There are some people in video games that make more money than they're worth, and there are others that don't make as much money as they should.  Male or female, it comes down to negotiation, and a company in the U.S. can't legally set a policy of paying people based on their gender (or race, or age).  Ask for it, and if you're worth it, you might get it.  Otherwise, just like with any other employee or any other business transaction, employers are going to try to get you as cheaply as they can get away with.  A woman that is underpaid isn't necessarily underpaid specifically because she is a woman.

*General sexual discrimination:  Yes, as it is with the general population, some guys do not like the idea of working with women.  You will get this in ANY profession.  And pretty females are favored just as much as dominant males; up to the point where they fail to perform their job.  Everyone has two choices when confronted with this scenario; you can choose to allow one person's views to be your insurmountable roadblock, or you can choose to pay it no mind, and succeed by working around it.

And despite the few bad eggs, there are a great deal more that are glad (or even thrilled) to be working with you.

Now, if you're going to say that there is a need for more women in game development, don't give women completely ridiculous reasons to consider working in games.

"Women will balance the culture.  Women will force us to make mature games.  Women will open our eyes to new possibilities and bring video games to the next level.  Women will prove that games are an art form.  Corporations will only improve the quality of life if there are women asking for it."

...And on and on with the idealistic fantasies.

Women are not the saviors of video games.  Please stop saying that they will magically transform the whole industry by their biological presence alone.  Just about the worst way to pitch something is to complain about how terrible it is and follow it up with impossible expectations.  It comes across as too desperate, too demanding and too much pressure.

You also don't want the women that feel like it is their single-handed duty to force square pegs into round holes either.  They are completely bonkers and they will drive the rest of your team insane.

So what do we do to encourage (sane) women to join the ranks of development? 


Don't tell them that they need to change the tides to get into the industry.  Don't insist that they are going to be fighting an uphill battle their whole career.  Don't give them a million reasons why they don't really want to join anyway.  (Especially don't say that the industry needs them because they need to teach the boys how to have manners...)

Encourage their interest in creating stories, designing characters, solving puzzles... and investing those interests in one of the most creative (and financially viable) careers out there.  Inspire them the same way everyone else in the industry has been inspired, without attaching all of the meaningless drama and desperation to it.  We really need to change our campaign if this is a goal we really wish to achieve.

It'll happen if we welcome it to happen.

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