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Girls Who Code making women the future of warfare | This Week in Business

Non-profit organization's partnership with defense contractor Raytheon raises questions about who it takes money from and where it draws the line

Games have a love/hate relationship with war. While many of the most popular titles have long glorified war – or paid lip service to it being bad while trying to make it as awesome and fun as possible – many of the actual people making games have personal politics that run counter to it.

That can cause friction, as we saw this week when defense contractor Raytheon announced a new partnership with Girls Who Code for a program where college students grow their networks in STEM fields and receive guidance from GWC advisors and Raytheon "mentors."

QUOTE | "At Girls Who Code, we understand that to prepare our students for the workforce; we must not only equip them with the resources they need to build on their technical skills. To help them thrive, we also need hands-on engagement that will teach them the fundamentals of growing their networks through leadership." - Girls Who Code CEO Tarika Barrett celebrates the partnership in Raytheon's press release.

The press release was picked up by Vice with a skeptically raised eyebrow, and the response on Twitter was disapproving of the partnership, to put it mildly.

QUOTE | "'Girls Who Code' teams up with Tomahawk Missile Maker Raytheon because what we really need is more diversity in how we are bombed" – Rami Ismail was one of a number of people criticizing the partnership with a sadly relevant cartoon.

("HIRE 👏 MORE 👏 WOMEN 👏 GUARDS 👏" was another popular reference for commenters.)

We reached out to Girls Who Code for comment about the backlash and some of what we're going to talk about below on Monday, but the group did not respond.

There's often pushback of some kind when the games industry directly bolsters the military industrial complex, as we've seen with Unity and Microsoft ignoring their employees' concerns about taking on military contracts, or the US Army retreating from Twitch after getting too aggressive with its recruiting tactics. (The Navy remains active on the platform.)

But the Girls Who Code reaction was also driven by the group's purpose as a non-profit that sees diversity, equity, and inclusion as essential to its mission. And to that end, Raytheon's press release did tout the program as specifically aimed at helping people "from historically underrepresented groups" get into tech careers, with 90% of participants Black, Latina, Indigenous, or first-generation college students.

Buddying up with an arms dealer closely associated with the murder of non-white people in unjust wars is maybe not the representation win Girls Who Code hoped for

And sure, it's great to bring new people into tech and hopefully correct some of the long-running representation issues we've had here, but buddying up with an arms dealer closely associated with the murder of non-white people in unjust wars is maybe not the representation win Girls Who Code hoped for. So why do it?

STAT | $1 million or more – The amount Raytheon Technologies gave to Girls Who Code this year. According to Girls Who Code's annual reports, it also received at least $1 million from Raytheon in 2021 and 2020, and accepted the same level of support in 2019 and 2018 from United Technologies, the aircraft maker and defense contractor that merged with Raytheon in 2019.

So maybe to be ideologically consistent, Girls Who Code should say no to the money and deny assistance from Raytheon? Sure, but it's not like Raytheon is the only Girls Who Code supporter with baggage.

In this year's $1 million+ tier with Raytheon you've got Bank of America -- which settled government claims for discriminating against the disabled in 2020 and discriminating against a woman on maternity leave earlier this year -- and MetLife, which paid $32.5 million to settle a racial discrimination class action suit, and then was sued by its own chief administrative officer alleging gender discrimination and retaliatory firing after she raised the issue of a lack of diversity at the company.

Then there's 2021 top-tier supporter Walmart, which paid $20 million to settle a gender discrimination case brought by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2020 and is back in court with the agency this year for denying promotion to a Black woman with a newborn at home and giving her an unsanitary closet for breast milk pumping instead of the clean office space it gave a white employee.

They may want to cut ties with Fox and News Corp too. On the one hand, News Corp supported Girls Who Code from 2014 through 2021, and has given the organization at least $2.75 million over that span of time. Fox has been supporting since 2018 and has given over $1 million. But on the other hand, these Rupert Murdoch-led companies have a host of media outlets that have been aggressively pushing racist and misogynistic politics for decades. And that's to say nothing of the exhaustive series of sexual harassment and gender discrimination horror stories Fox News in particular continues to produce.

There are really a lot. Just so many. This can't be normal.

Ok, you get the point.

Sorry, real quick, just one more.

And let's not forget the racial discrimination suit.

Where were we? Oh right, wondering where Girls Who Code would draw the line.

As it turns out, they do have a line. Girls Who Code cut ties with Activision Blizzard last November after a Wall Street Journal report detailed a litany of abuses going all the way up to CEO Bobby Kotick. It's unclear why the previous summer's lawsuit detailing a litany of abuses was insufficient to cut ties, but Kotick is the unwanted gift that keeps on giving.

Girls Who Code cut ties with Activision Blizzard after months of scandal surrounding the publisher

QUOTE | "The news about Activision proves that our priorities are fundamentally misaligned. We cannot in good conscience continue to work with a company that is so antithetical to our own values." – Girls Who Code's statement severing ties to Activision Blizzard (and its $75,000 to $149,000 of support) last year.

Even so, Riot Games has been a partner of Girls Who Code since the year before its sexist work environment was made public, and Ubisoft was on last year's supporter list despite having its own scandal in 2020 and continued questions about its improvement since then.

Maybe Girls Who Code should refuse their money in an act of solidarity with the women who are no longer in STEM fields as a result of the harassment they endured there, or maybe they should take the money because they honestly believe the companies have fixed their issues, even if neither of the CEOs thought the scandals were worth resigning over. One could conceivably argue that by trying to sell Activision Blizzard to Microsoft in a face-saving exit strategy, Kotick is the one CEO responsible for these problems with the decency to go away.

(I would not argue that, for the record; I am just saying it is conceivable someone would.)

If Girls Who Code said no to Activision Blizzard and it says no to Raytheon, there are probably some number of other supporters who it should cut ties to as well, enough to put a dent in the bank account and curtail what it can do to further its mission.

But maybe not as big a dent as you might expect.

STAT | $23.2 million - Girls Who Code's revenue in 2020, according to the group's latest Form 990 filing with the IRS.

STAT | $13.2 million - Girls Who Code's functional expenses for 2020, according to the same filing.

The non-profit brought in so much more money than it needed in 2020 that it had almost $10 million to spare. This wasn't a pandemic-driven fluke, either. In nine years of filings, it has posted surpluses of more than $9 million three times, and just one year in the red: 2016.

Girls Who Code has brought in $41 million more than it has spent on its operations

All told, Girls Who Code has brought in $41 million more than it has spent on its operations. I think it has some cushion here to turn down donors it finds objectionable.

There's an argument to be made that the good work Girls Who Code can do to further its goal outweighs whatever bad comes from partnering with organizations whose actions run counter to its stated values, and I get that. That argument would be more convincing if the group was actually spending anywhere close to the amount of money it brought in.

I also get where these companies are coming from. I get that supporting non-profit organizations like Girls Who Code can be a useful smokescreen, something to show token support for a cause even if the company's core business disregards or actively undermines it. I get that such support has use as a tax write-off and a bullet point on a corporate social responsibility page. I get that companies funding potential opponents and critics might buy their silence, or even their support.

I also get that Girls Who Code is focused on new generations of marginalized developers. These are kids with still-forming personal politics who may adopt positive associations with the companies and brands that help them on their way, kids who may internalize the same rationalizations and justifications of their established and successful mentors. And I get those same kids aren't just prospective applicants, but are potentially useful defenders whose marginalized identities can muddy the waters when companies are justly criticized on issues of equality in the future.

On top of all that, I get that these are for-profit companies first and foremost, and they would stop cutting checks if they felt they weren't getting their money's worth.

The rest of the week in review

QUOTE | "We are fortunate to have already received approvals from a couple of countries, and the process with all of the regulators is generally moving along as we expected." – Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick told shareholders not to worry as the UK Competition and Markets Authority announces that it will take a closer look at Microsoft's planned acquisition of the Call of Duty company.

QUOTE | "Everyone familiar with Quantic Dream, its management and our team perfectly knows what to think of these allegations. As a shareholder who had already audited our studio in late 2018, who had assessed all material elements and had followed all litigation outcomes, NetEase had a very clear view and could easily assess the absence of any material basis of these claims." – As NetEase acquired Quantic Dream this week, studio co-CEO Guillaume de Fondaumière suggests that the studio has learned nothing and made no changes as a result of the three investigative pieces published about it by three separate outlets.

Yes, the studio won a libel suit against one of those outlets, but it lost its suit against another and didn't contest the third one in court. Even if you take the one report out of the mix entirely, the other two paint a picture of a studio with significant problems. I can't recall another company that was the subject of such a scandal that has so steadfastly denied ever having a problem.

QUOTE | "As we assured you before with our plans to bring select titles to PC, our efforts beyond console in no way diminish our commitment to the PlayStation community, nor our passion to keep making amazing single-player, narrative-driven experiences." - PlayStation Studios head Herman Hulst attempted to pre-empt a gamer freakout when he announced that the company acquired mobile developer Savage Game Studios and established a new PlayStation Studios Mobile Division.

STAT | 30% - The amount of FromSoftware that parent company Kadokawa sold off to Sony Interactive Entertainment and Tencent-owned Sixjoy Hong Kong this week.

QUOTE | "We have been trying to resolve this issue with PQube but were unable to reach a solution, leading us to terminate the publishing agreement around September 2020. However, PQube has refused to return the publishing control on the console platforms back to us and continues to sell and take all revenues from AeternoBlade 2." – AternoBlade 2 developer Corecell is the second studio speaking up about problems with PQube, following last week's allegations from Toge Productions and Mojiken that the company exploited their heritage to land a diversity-based funding grant, then tacked on that amount to PQube's recoupable investment in their publishing deal.

QUOTE | "At this time, we're a tiny studio of around 17 or 18 people, and we need to find a way to make a first- person shooter as a small team. I used Superhot as an example – if you come up with something novel that doesn't require a great deal of production resources, then you can achieve quite a lot." – FuturLab's James Marsden told us the origin story behind the studio's surprise hit PowerWash Simulator.

STAT | 265,000 – Number of attendees at Gamescom 2022 last week. That was down 29% from the last pre-pandemic show in 2019.

STAT | 3,500 – Number of attendees at the developer-focused Gamescom satellite show Devcom last week. That was a new record and up 10% over 2019.

QUOTE | "It's not a very good game system." - Jeffrey Janssen explains the appeal of developing games exclusively for the long-defunct Phillips CD-I multimedia player.

QUOTE | "It's not in the plans yet. But obviously we're still open in the future, let's see how it goes! The strategy right now at Don't Nod is to create our own IPs and own them and continue to build new worlds and stories that we know our players will care for, so we're definitely still working towards that." – Don't Nod chief marketing officer Sophie Filip leaves the door open for the studio to return to the Life is Strange series at some point.

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Brendan Sinclair avatar
Brendan Sinclair: Brendan joined in 2012. Based in Toronto, Ontario, he was previously senior news editor at GameSpot.
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