In the past few weeks, stories of harassment and discrimination at games companies have emerged once again.
On July 20, the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing filed a lawsuit against Activision Blizzard for "violations of the state's civil rights and equal pay laws" regarding its treatment of women.
Toxic workplace culture of course does not only happen at AAA companies, with reports about indie studio Fullbright surfacing in recent weeks.
Last week, we talked to Games and Online Harassment Hotline director Jae Lin about ways companies can stamp out toxicity in the workplace and on how games professionals on any level can help stop discrimination and harassment.
In an episode of the GamesIndustry.biz podcast, Cinzia Musio, diversity and inclusion advisor at Splash Damage, and Anisa Sanusi, D&I committee at Roll7 and founder of mentorship programme Limit Break, also discussed how the industry can stop toxicity behind the scenes.
This article is an adaptation of this podcast. Here we'll be focusing on the guidance they provided for victims, but you can listen to the full episode on this page (or via the video embedded below) for a much wider view on the topic and what companies and HR can do to tackle harassment and discrimination issues.
Put yourself first
"The most important thing when you're a victim is to put yourself and your mental wellbeing first, because speaking out about these things is incredibly difficult, and it is something that will impact you," said Musio when asked about what victims of harassment or discrimination can do.
Deciding to report the abuse to authorities, whether at your company or to law enforcement, can be a very difficult moment as you're having to "relive that trauma," Musio explained.
"So, first and foremost, put yourself in a position where you're safe, where you can speak about these things in a way that is not going to harm you," she continued. "That should be the priority. You don't have to be brave. You don't have to be the person that's putting themselves on the line. That's okay if you don't have the mental energy to do that."
Musio noted the importance of first establishing a support circle in order to be able to speak up about what happened, when and if you do so.
"Make sure that you've got mental health support around you, that you've got a circle of friends and family, if at all possible, that are really there for you," she continued.
Sanusi pointed out that every situation is different, and of course any reaction will be contextual to what happened. But finding mental health support is often a priority.
"Meaning you have to find a safe space with a bunch of people that you can talk to," she added. "Get a little bit of clarity of the situation, and get some feedback from people that you trust."
Consider talking to your D&I committee, or HR if it's a safe space
Talking to HR is always a possibility, but not all companies are equipped to deal with harassment and discrimination complaints -- or are willing to be. If your company has a Diversity & Inclusion committee, it can also be a good structure to turn to.
"I know the advice that people tend to get is, 'Don't talk to HR because they're protecting the company and not protecting you'," Sanusi said. "Some companies are like that, and it's really terrible. I know some companies have external HR, and external HR is a lot more unbiased. They're quite neutral. They're just trying to find out what's happened.
"It's extremely important that you jot down everything. Names, locations, what happened"
"In my experience, external HR companies have been the better experience I've had, in comparison to internal HR. If you do have a D&I committee, or a D&I person working with you, they're also there to help you out, because the D&I committee is made up of the workers themselves, a bunch of people who care to have these systems in place. If you are HR, just make sure that you are investigating properly, and that this message gets passed on to CEOs or COOs, so you can avoid the whole, 'I didn't know this'. No, no, we've been telling you. Make sure there's an official way of keeping track of things, keeping receipts, and keeping incidents, and it's written down, and it's not lost. Because if somebody keeps complaining multiple times, and that information isn't there, the track record isn't there, then that's just wasted air. Why were we talking to you in the first place?"
She added that when you do go up to your HR, make sure you are writing everything down yourself.
"This is what we mean by keeping receipts," she continued. "It's extremely important that you jot down everything. Names, locations, what happened. Even with your meeting with HR, every time you meet with them, jot that down. Have a record of when you spoke to them and if there are any follow-ups after that."
Look for external support
If your company has not been on your side, you can look into reporting, or seeking further support, via a third party.
We recently published a list of resources for victims of sexual harassment in the workplace, which includes contacts that can be useful in that regard.
"You can look into reporting things to externals, whether that is looking at a union, for example, which are going to be there to support you with these kinds of things," Musio said. "In the US, there's the Games Harassment Hotline that is really great for that. There are ways that you can start raising things, and start moving the needle a little bit. If it comes to the worst kinds of things, you can look into reporting it to the police. Again, [make] sure that you put yourself first, and that you consider how that's going to impact your mental wellbeing as you do it."
Sanusi agreed with unions being a good choice. There are a few options on the UK side, whether that's Bectu or Game Workers Unite. The US is currently less organised, but Game Workers Unite and Communication Workers of America partnered last year to call for video games employees to unionise with the Campaign to Organize Digital Employees.
"You can have a union [representative] with you in the company to be present in these meetings," Sanusi added. "So, let's say it's just you and somebody else, and you feel extremely uncomfortable to be alone, you can definitely have somebody else in that meeting room with you, be it somebody else from the same company, like a fellow colleague that you trust [and] could be there for you, or a union rep."
Know your rights
Sanusi and Musio both highlighted that you can escalate the incident to law enforcement if it's a serious enough offence.
"But it's really important for you to know what your rights are, and if there is a system or a process available to you," Sanusi continued. "So, if your company has an employee handbook, [it's] a good time to just flick through that again, to see if there's a formal process that you can follow properly. Keep receipts.
"You need to know your rights, and you need to have somebody there with you. You don't need to do this by yourself"
"Each company is different, indie, AAA, it doesn't matter the size. Each one of them will handle it differently. But you need to know your rights, and you need to have somebody there with you. You don't need to do this by yourself."
Musio added that reading up on employment law can be an important step.
"The best defence you've got as an employee is just understanding what your local employment law is, where you're going to be protected, what's going to be on your side, etc," she said. "It's really important to understand what your rights are. Those are fairly easily accessible in terms of finding things, and you'll find a lot of places that will have dumbed things down so that it's quite easy to understand where your rights are, and what to do with it, and where you're going to be protected. That's going to be key."
Don't hesitate to get legal counsel if you can. In the UK, LawWorks is a charity providing free legal advice, for instance. In the US, you can find help on the American Bar Association Free Legal Answers website.
"The thing [is] if you don't know what your rights are, if you don't know what you legally can or cannot do, then you're at a disadvantage," Sanusi said. "So, a bit of homework, a bit of reaching out to anyone who could give legal advice -- or again, union reps are great for this -- with employment laws.
"Consent, like with everything, can be withdrawn at any time"
"I think the Activision Blizzard thing is literally the worst-case scenario that could ever happen, where the state sues the company on behalf of a bunch of people, and that took two years. That is two whole years of them dredging up past traumas and interviews, and this really big news piece hitting the media. All of this is traumatising, and you're dredging up old trauma again, so it is hard.
"And obviously, we don't want that to happen, if possible, because you'd want to settle it as quickly as possible. But again, whatever you see in the news is literally the worst-case scenario ever. Hopefully, if you are going through this, it's not that bad, and you do have people. There are so many organisations out there that would like to help. You've just got to look for them."
Musio concluded this segment of the podcast with a very important aspect of the discussion.
"Consent, like with everything, can be withdrawn at any time," she reminded. "If you're going through this and you cannot keep talking about it, you cannot keep seeing it, just remove yourself from the situation. It is completely up to you when you're ready to talk about things, and you can remove yourself from the situation at any point. That's not something that you should ever get mistreated for. That's really important. You're the person in charge of that consent, and you can remove yourself from it."
During the podcast, Musio and Sanusi mentioned a wealth of resources and support networks, which we're presenting here in alphabetical order:
- ACAS (a UK public body that offers advice on workplace rights)
- Citizens Advice (a UK-based network of independent charities providing confidential advice on a wide variety of topics)
- Code Coven (an online bootcamp to support developers of marginalised genders further their career)
- Limit Break (a mentorship programme for people from underrepresented backgrounds)
- Out Making Games (an industry network for the LGBTQ+ community)
- Pixall (a collection of resources around inclusivity)
- POC In Play (an advocacy group aiming at increasing the visibility and representation of People of Colour in the games industry)
- Safe in our World (a charity aiming to both raise awareness and offer support for anyone with mental health issues in games)
- Take This (a mental health advocacy organisation which provides support and resources)
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