Women are underrepresented in the sector, but what is turning more away from joining?
An investigation by Develop has found that the women represent just 15 per cent of employees at UK games development studios.
The survey received 85 respondents, studios that employ 2,806 staff in total. Of these, it was found that 433 were women. According to recent research by TIGA, the number of jobs directly supported by development studios stands at 18,093.
Our findings are similar to research conducted by Creative Skillset in 2012, which claimed that 14 per cent of the industry was made up of women. In 2009 women only represented six per cent of the sector, a drop from 11 per cent in 2006.
It would appear that the industry is now steadily improving diversity in games, a topic brought up at Develop Live last month, though numbers are still not reflective of a medium that has closer to a 50/50 split between men and women playing games every day, and progress is slow.
A boys’ club?
So why aren’t there more women entering the games industry and taking up development roles? And is it a problem that stems from the sector or elsewhere in society?
“The history of the games industry is boys making games for boys,” says David Smith, founder of Women in Games Jobs. “The success of games as a medium now means they are played almost equally by the young and old of both genders, but games creators have remained largely male.
“A natural reluctance to change what seems to have worked in the past has meant in certain areas the creation of a ‘boys’ club’, where women are thought not to be welcome. This has made it difficult for the number of games developers who do want to align their workforces more closely to their customers to attract diverse talent.”
It’s important for games developers and the press to speak out to make it clear that some of the behaviour we’ve seen recently is completely unacceptable
Eben Upton, Raspberry Pi
There are of course many notable women in the games industry, such as Media Molecule studio head Siobhan Reddy, ex-Ubisoft Toronto head Jade Raymond and numerous popular indies, to name just a small number.
King’s chief people officer Ciara Smyth says the issue lies with the industry’s reliance on technical talent, where unfortunately there are fewer women making careers for themselves in.
“The net result is that there are proportionally less women in the sector than in others, which is a shame as the games market is such a vibrant and growing industry, where companies like King can provide exceptionally rewarding and challenging careers for anyone with skills that fit the industry,” she says.
“In contrast to technical roles in gaming, when you look at the marketing of games and other functional areas within the industry, women are better represented. Until we can get more women thinking about and committing to careers in engineering, whether that be through opportunities presented through schools and colleges, or through companies like ours hosting mentoring sessions and open days to show the possibilities the industry holds for women, we will likely continue to see this under representation in the sector.”
Sexism in the games industry is also a hot topic, and the air of that ‘boys’ club’ Smith describes could be one factor turning women away from the industry.
Preloaded’s Katie Goode says during her career there have been a few cases where she has been treated differently compared to others, and she isn’t an isolated case.
“There were times where I could hear the loud misogynistic chat on the set of desks behind me, it used to get me so angry,” she said. “The leader of that pack went on not to respect anything I had to say, and made it rather public in one email to the studio. I discussed it a few times with the lead designer, and I had many friends in the studio that supported me. He left soon after that incident.”
Smith said a high proportion of women have felt discrimination on the grounds of gender at some stage of their career in games, and surveys conducted by Women in Games Jobs have presented hundreds of documented examples.
“It is widespread,” he said. “The fact that many examples are unintentional or result from ignorance does not detract from its seriousness. It is also damaging for individuals who had the good fortune not to experience sexism to presume that this must consequently be the case for other women. Those not wanting to accept the industry suffers from sexism seize on such individual examples and avoid action.”
Raspberry Pi CEO Eben Upton, whose non-profit foundation aims to get more children into games, said the industry suffers from a perception issue, and believes the Gamergate campaign makes the industry a less attractive career option for women.
“We need to find ways to convey to people that although it can attract some of these marginal idiots around the edges, life inside the games industry is very much like anywhere else,” said Upton.
“You’ll have good days and bad days, good bosses and bad bosses, good colleagues and bad colleagues, but ultimately you’ll be getting paid to do something which at its best can be incredibly rewarding.
“It’s important for games developers and the press to speak out to make it clear that some of the behaviour we’ve seen recently is completely unacceptable: silence looks an awful lot like acceptance.”
The industry suffers from some clear perception issues, but another problem facing the technology sectors in general is on a cultural level, and encouraging women to get into coding and get into the technical side from an early age.
A cultural problem
Upton said it’s important to keep girls engaged with maths through to at least the A-level stage, but said there appears to be a certain age during education where many girls are turned away from the subject.
Systematic change is needed to get young girls thinking more about future careers in tech.
Ciara Smyth, King
“Anecdotally, there seems to be a decision point at around the age of 11 where significant numbers of girls decide that maths isn’t for them, despite the fact that on average girls are outperforming boys at this age,” he said.
“We then see a far smaller percentage of girls with good GCSE grades choosing to continue to A-level.
“There are obviously cultural factors underpinning this in the UK: you see some other countries that have much better participation rates. I think we can get there too in the medium-term, but the waste of potential is staggering. It makes you want to find every parent or teacher who’s ever steered a girl away from maths and whack them with a stick.”
He added an important step in getting more women into tech stems from the introduction of computer science to the National Curriculum, but suggested other methods need to be implemented.
“We often talk about the danger of making patronising concessions to girls in designing teaching activities – ‘making it pink’, for example – but we do need to find ways to make programming more relevant to children, as they’re only going to stick with it they find it interesting,” he said.
“This isn’t just about attracting girls to programming: more generally it’s about breaking out from the five per cent of children, girls and boys, who find statements and variables interesting for their own sake.
King’s Smyth said raising awareness of the sector is one way to attract more women into games, and offered some examples of how King goes about recruiting staff.
“At King we have some very accomplished female leaders who I hope can be role models to those in other sectors and/or in gaming but perhaps considering King as a great place to work,” she said.
“Tapping into the network of our existing females is also a great way to encourage women to consider King. I do think systematic change is needed to get young girls thinking more about future careers in tech.
“At King we are partnering with organisations that focus on helping kids learn to code and to think about their career opportunities. Until we see changes to the system at that level it will be hard to see greater gender parity in the industry.”
She added: “Unfortunately if there is not adequate representation of women in job families like engineering, it will continue to be a barrier to attraction and entry of more women into the sector. It is a self fulfilling prophecy that if not addressed in a strategic manner, it will not be changed.”