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An industry challenge: Women in Games

I'm going to admit up front that when I received an invitation to hear Schell Games' Sheri Graner Ray speak at a session at Develop - as part of a special Women in Games event - it wasn't something I was particularly excited by. Put simply, I didn't really know what it meant. UPDATED.

As somebody whose early career was in radio, mostly at the BBC, any gender divide in the workplace wasn't something that seemed to jump out at me. Now, working in the games industry media, I'm aware that most people that make games are male and recognise that as this changes (over time) the industry will benefit as a result - but I've never really taken the time to consider that there might be genuine boundaries for women looking to carve out a career, specifically.

"Not in the 21st century," I think. Naively?

For some people, there isn't a problem - and the difficulty in writing anything on this topic is that it's hard to find a majority consensus.

Clearly, if there's a problem, it's something that the industry should be ashamed of - and, frankly, an attitude that's inherently short-sighted as videogames permeate all quarters of mainstream culture on an increasing basis.

Not everybody would agree that there is a problem, however. Some point towards a general attitude that if you're good, you'll succeed - an attitude which, while it can also be naïve at the best of times, can't really be proven either way.

Presumably, because there are so many more men applying for (and getting) jobs in the industry, the chances of any one 'good' person being male is correspondingly higher. It might be true, but it might not - and there's no way to tell which it is.

There's also a cross-section of women working in the games industry who don't really want to draw attention to the Women in Games community, fearing that - incorrectly - it promotes an aggressive, embittered attitude that will in turn only cause more harm than good in the short term.

And finally, there's a group who - happily - haven't had any problems at all. They might be in the minority, they might lucky, they might be one of the 'good' ones - or they might just be normal in an industry that is actually experiencing a changing approach to diversity.

For my part, I've never heard anybody - male or female - be anything other than positive about the prospect of more diversity in the games industry workplace... and importantly that's not something that has changed on the basis of the content of Sheri's talk.

But something tells me there is, in some quarters at the very least, a general issue in the approach to diversity when it comes to hiring and retention of staff. That being the case, as I sat in a room full of women listening to Sheri's extremely well-delivered talk, I wished that the inspiration and positivity provided by that session was something that was also being heard by all of the (many more) men attending Develop as well.

On the one hand it would have been enlightening and interesting. Greater awareness of workplace sensitivities is generally a good thing, let's be honest.

On the other hand - and I suspect this may be the less naïve reality - a reasonable number of people might find themselves somewhat ashamed that this industry of the future is, in some ways, shockingly backwards.

UPDATE: The UK government's Minister for Equalities, Lynne Featherstone MP, has offered her support to Women in Games, and warned the games industry that a failure to address the gender divide could result in some companies becoming "uncompetitive" in time. The full story is available now.

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