INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY: TIME TO LOOK BEYOND THE TOKEN GESTURES

Liz Prince our consultant managing the role
Author: Liz Prince
Posting date: 05/03/2024


It’s Hashtag International Women’s Day! A time to acknowledge the achievements of women, as well as to reflect on the injustices and persecution facing women and girls in many parts of the world.

In games, it’s an opportunity to champion the brilliant women working here – still an under-represented group, but I’m honoured and gladdened to work alongside them. 

It should also be a day for the games industry to congratulate itself on the strides forward it has taken in gender diversity and inclusion over the past few years…. But the sad truth is, the games industry just hasn’t made enough meaningful progress in this space. In fact, in some instances, it’s getting worse.

I had a call recently with someone who works in a UK studio – one of the biggest here – and she told me that she wasn’t really looking forward to International Women’s Day because the bosses were laying on an afternoon tea for the women in the studio and giving them all branded mugs. That, she said, was all well and good – but what many of the women there ACTUALLY want is genuinely flexible working options.  That would be a tangible benefit – as it would be for many women with caring responsibilities – making their lives easier, reducing childcare costs (which we all know are astronomical) and potentially keeping them employed at the studio for longer.

If the industry is serious about closing the gender gap, why are so many studios insisting staff go back to the office full-time? Why do I hear so often that women asking their leadership teams for flexible, hybrid or remote working are being labelled ‘difficult’, or that they’re asking for ‘special treatment’? That they’re not a ‘team player’…

Another recent conversation has also played on my mind … the woman in question is fighting for more support, opportunities, the chance to hire more women into the studio. “But what can I do, what difference can I make, if I’m the only woman there currently? They don’t want to hear me, and they don’t understand what the problem is…”

The reason I keep thinking about that conversation is because it must be the situation for so many women in the industry. While we make up just 23-30% (depending on what data you read), there are going to be hundreds of small studios with a lone woman working there. Many studios, of course, will actually be all-male environments.

So, what do you do if you’re a woman in that situation? Turn up the volume? Get labelled – again – as ‘difficult’?

If the industry is serious about change, the heavy lifting can’t just be left to the women. We need action, board level understanding of what matters to women, we need leaders to listen with empathy and take the actions required. We need meaningful changes that make the workplace truly inclusive – equal pay, clear and unbiased paths to promotion, and yes, flexible working conditions that acknowledge people have lives outside of the studio. We need men to realise that it’s NOT okay for a studio to be all male, to understand why that’s a problem, and to proactively find ways to change.  It’s time to look beyond the token gestures. 

The games industry can either keep pretending that a sprinkle of gender diversity here and there is enough, or it can truly embrace change for the good of all. Some studios are already showing us how it's done, but it's time for everyone else to catch up.

The battle for gender diversity in games isn't just about getting more women in the door. It's about changing the landscape from the inside out, making sure everyone has a fair shot at success. It’s about who’s leading the teams, and whose voices are being heard in the boardrooms where decisions are made. It’s also, of course, about addressing the ongoing issues of harassment and abuse.

It’s not enough to lean on diversity and inclusion as buzzwords; they need to be woven into the fabric of the company’s culture. It’s time for action, not just awareness, it’s time for change… not cake…

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