More women needed in the gaming sector

Here at CareerMash, we’ve blogged before about efforts to get more young women interested in working in information and communications technology (ICT). Even the best estimates say only about 25% of the people who work in ICT are women. Not only is this bad for young women, who are missing out on amazing career opportunities, but it’s bad for business.

According to 2012 stats from the Entertainment Software Association, 47% of all game-players are women, and women over 18 are one of the industry’s fastest-growing demographics yet only 12% of game developers are women. Companies building games want to attract women to their design, build, and marketing teams to ensure that products and services appeal to the growing female market.

Many young women (and men) simply don’t know how interesting, fun, creative, and in demand these jobs actually are. Entering the field as a woman does, however, require a pioneering spirit and bravery in addition to great skills.

For those who want to get engaged here’s a spoiler alert - the Internet-based gaming world can be intimidating. Some social spaces (including some message boards and online gaming platforms) are not as welcoming to women as we’d all like. With few limits placed on how players express themselves, the language that dominates these spaces can be sexist and sometimes aggressive.

Women - especially young women who are still finding their confidence - may justifiably find these spaces.... scary. It would be wrong, however, to conclude the workplaces that produce them are scary places too. Gaming companies definitely want to hire women and are developing workplace cultures that support and respect their female employees.

The good news is that scary places, even on the Internet, can be made safer and more welcoming. I believe it, and am taking what steps I can to make it a reality. Here’s an example:

In May, a feminist media critic in California named Anita Sarkeesian launched a Kickstarter (crowd-funding initiative) to produce a video series critiquing how women are represented in video games. The project sparked an intense amount of hostile responses on her Kickstarter page, YouTube channel, and website. One person even made a Flash-based video game called Beat Up Anita Sarkeesian, where players click on a picture of Sarkeesian to watch realistic cuts and bruises appear on her face.

Expressing disagreement with someone in this way is not only harmful to women in general, but can also give gaming culture a bad name and discourage women from gaming in social spaces. It’s definitely no way to say to young women “Come work in this field. We welcome you and want you on the team!”
When I confronted the game’s creator publicly on Twitter, the 25-year-old man from Sault Ste Marie, who calls himself Bendilin Spurr, freely admitted to producing the game. His handful of supporters attacked me on the 140-character micro-blogging site as they had Sarkeesian. I still receive the occasional threat on Twitter nearly three weeks later (which, as we all know, is practically a year in Internet Time).

But you know what? I was happy to learn that the vast majority of the gaming community stands firmly against this kind of aggression against women. Even though speaking out was scary, I was amazed at the number of people who joined me in condemning the game. A lot of these people were men (and gamers of all genders and ages) who couldn’t believe there are still men out there who think this best way to get their point across to a woman. This let Bendilin and his supporters see that games like this don’t only hurt and offend women – they hurt and offend all of us. He might never have gotten this important message if I hadn’t started a conversation about why games like this are not okay.

If you talk to any employer in the gaming sector or the technology industry, they’ll tell you they want more women on their team. If you’re a woman, you are welcome there. It’s a small group that perpetuates sexism in gaming – but they’re loud. If technology and gaming interest you as a young woman and you’d like to work in those fields, you might need to be even louder. One way is to hold people to account publicly for things like sexual harassment and intimidation by starting a conversation – which is nerve-racking but worth it. In my experience, you’ll draw more support than backlash.

If you’re a young man who’s into technology and gaming, don’t sit on the sidelines if you see a fellow player (or maybe in the future, a coworker) being sexist. When women see their male friends and colleagues condemn sexist remarks, it helps to make the Internet a friendlier place for them to work, play and live their lives. We all have a role to play in getting more women working in technology and gaming, and we can start now by speaking out – together – against online sexism.

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