A survey of the UK industry's female workforce has revealed that, whilst most feel that good practices are in place to ensure gender equality, a significant proportion of women working in games still feel that they've been discriminated against.
The Gender Balance Workforce Survey, conducted by the Next Gen Skills Academy, had 311 respondees - a figure which it estimates is representative of around 40 per cent of the women working in games in the UK. Just 14 per cent of the UK games industry is comprised of women, and many of them are feeling the imbalance. Of the respondees, an alarming 45 per cent felt that their gender had been a limiting factor in their career progression, offering a significant barrier to their progress. A further 33 per cent said that they had experienced direct harassment or bullying because of their gender. That's one in three women who have felt intimidated, objectified, frightened or oppressed at their place of work.
There is evidence that the situation is improving, with 84 per cent believing that good practices are in place to ensure equal treatment of men and women, but there are also clear calls to action about what needs to change. A massive 94 per cent felt that more needed to be done to help women establish their personal brands and to find their voice within the industry. Too many feel that their contributions are belittled, undervalued or simply ignored.
To that end, the Next Gen Skills Academy is running a number of workshops aimed at cementing the progress which has been made and establish the best practice for the issues which remain. The first will discuss the barriers which remain for women and will run on February 2 in London, February 3 in Bristol, and February 4 in Manchester. Another, designed to help employers improve the working environment, will take place in London on the morning of February 19.
"We are looking forward to exploring the main issues further in our workshops in February and working with professionals in the games industry as well as trade, education and training bodies towards a more diverse and equal games industry in the years to come."
Gina Jackson, MD Next Gen Skills Academy
Helping the NGSA with their approach is Geraldine Cross, who has 20 years of experience in HR at companies like Blitz Games, Next and HSBC. She has identified two major problems which face recruiters, issues she believes they're unlikely to know that they're perpetuating, but which have a significant impact on the perspectives of women applying for jobs in games.
"The first challenge is ensuring job descriptions are gender inclusive," says Cross. "I have experienced a similar problem with age inclusion in other industries. Age discrimination regulations introduced back in 2006 highlighted that the wording of job adverts can easily be discriminatory. It was difficult at the time to get used to refraining from using adjectives in job adverts like 'dynamic' or 'mature', which may be perceived as age-related. Organisations also had to remove the requirement for a particular length of experience (for example two years), as this could be connected to age, and were instead asking for 'demonstrable experience in...', or something similar. This all seems natural now but at the time it was quite a breakthrough, and once employers realised the benefits of removing age discriminatory wording, it began to open up new pipelines often giving rise to new opportunities. Some companies such as B&Q gained a great deal from engaging in age diverse workforce activities and leading a network of employers in removing barriers to an age-balanced workforce. For B&Q it made them more reflective of their customer base and ideally placed to offer better in store support and great customer service.
"When it comes to games recruitment, we have come a long way from a game image and a 'we're hiring' banner, but I see a similar challenge to that which B&Q and others faced addressing age discrimination, but with gender. When I was browsing HR jobs just over a year ago, some adverts put me off straight away and I moved on to others. I realised afterwards that the tone and wording of the advert made me conjure up a psychological image of a recruiter who was looking for male applicants or that the environment was aggressive or hostile. I'm very focused on the wording of adverts now when I'm advising companies. We need to consider whether our job advertisements in games are putting off female applicants. Are job advertisements not only using gender-neutral words, but also gender-neutral imagery? Before the age discrimination act was put in place, employers weren't in most cases discriminating consciously - they weren't aware they were doing it. We're in a similar place with gender in games now."
By putting in place recruitment strategies that ensure we open up our opportunities to those outside of our networks, diversity imbalances in the workforce can be effectively addressed"
Secondly, Cross believes that the widespread practice of fueling recruitment with personal recommendations could be damaging diversity. Whilst it's an understandable and often very useful tool, there is a tendency for companies to 'stir the pot' rather than bringing new blood into the market.
"I remember many years ago when diversity became a prominent issue for the vast majority of UK employers, including the banking corporation I worked for at the time," Cross writes. "In a controversial move, the company's recruitment recommendation incentive scheme, which paid a nice bonus if the person you recommended was successfully recruited, was ceased. It was deemed to be discriminatory as it tended to result in recruiting a similar workforce to the existing workforce and not opening up opportunities for new kinds of applicants to come in. Whilst that felt very strange at the time, it soon became normal practice and the bank began to grow a diverse and inclusive workforce generating an abundance of new ideas, challenging existing norms and opening our minds to innovation more readily, creating a greater reach for the business. By putting in place recruitment strategies that ensure we open up our opportunities to those outside of our networks, diversity imbalances in the workforce can be effectively addressed."