Ask Not ...

Ask Not ...
The Double-X Factor

Erin Hoffman | 7 Nov 2006 11:01
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On a local level, women in business of any kind face a complex social situation - in the United States, at least - fueled by hundreds of years of business history that tried to convince itself it was better off without women. The tendency to nurture, to support and not say "no," not make demands - all tendencies that incidentally lend quite well to teamwork - come from social stigmas that create a minefield in the workplace, and in the case of an industry as male-dominated as the game business, often even stops women from applying for jobs in the first place. And these are single women willing to bust tail; the problems faced by working mothers are even more severe.

The concept of "self-sabotage" in the psychology of professional women is heavily established but not easily conquered. The new ceiling isn't just glass; it's mirrored, and a woman's greatest enemy often becomes herself. Not only do women have to fight to retain their femininity - and then fight again to establish their own definitions thereof - once they're actually in the workplace, they find yet another political battle that must be fought before they can do their job. Do it well, perform assertively, and you run into the dreaded b-word; be hesitant and you "prove" why women "don't belong." I would encourage anyone who knows a woman who has worked in the industry for more than five years to ask her about her discrimination stories. What you hear may astonish you.

All Work and No Jane
"So what?" some say. Many people - gamers and developers alike - are "tired" of hearing about women in games. They "don't care" about diversity or, worse, feel personally threatened by its consideration. What they don't realize is that the individuals who manage to survive this horrendous gauntlet possess incredible strength of character. As with many situations throughout history, facing adversity tempers a person - any sex, any creed, any color - into fine steel. This doesn't make the adversity a good thing by any stretch, but it does make the survivors uniquely valuable in a world of dwindling daily challenge. And should we be celebrating them? Of course we should! But somehow, that celebration inevitably gets around to the "as a woman" question.

And it's still the wrong question. The right question is: If you were going to make a game, what kind of game would you make?

The reality, alongside the reality of the largely over-25, non-dyed, non-Jazzercised female population in the industry, is not glamorous. It involves a steady, patient, unflinching process of slowly coaxing more young women into game development through direct mentorship - the same challenges faced in the even slower process of getting more women into boardrooms. This does not mean hiring someone of inferior talent simply because they are of a diverse group, as some automatically assume diversity to imply, it just means getting them in the doorway to begin with, and that means reaching out through game content and human resources. What some (white, male, 20-50-year-old) developers need to fully comprehend is that a larger talent pool is not scary.

The importance of this effort is clear, even without taking into account that the best-selling PC game of all time was created by a 40-percent female staff. Ask around the investment groups and you'll find they're looking for broad audiences; ask around diverse dev houses and you'll find that their quality of life is often substantially better than it is elsewhere.

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