Thursday, March 12, 2015

[Indie/EonAltar] Gender Diversity in our Workplace

Eon Altar is gearing up with a lot of social media updates. We've posted some art work over the past couple weeks, our studio has a blog post on what we've been up to for the past year--which isn't that much more info than I had mentioned in the Beyond Bossfights podcast I participated in a few months ago, just a different perspective--and now we have a staff photo up:

Click to embiggen.
The first thing folks noticed was all the photos on the tablets being held. No, those aren't the images of fallen developers; that's us remote folk. My photo is the second one from the upper left, as a remote contractor on the team.

The second thing folks noticed was, to quote someone on Facebook, "you work in a sausage fest... Hire more girls!" For those keeping track we have two lady employees: one of our QA, and our Lead Developer (the tablet to the left of mine).

So, on the bright side, one of the most influential and highest positions you can have outside of the management hierarchy is filled by a woman--and to be fair, we only have 3 developers, and of those three, one's a lady and one's gay (me), so we're doing all right on the diversity count there--but we are short on non-males overall.

One of our co-founders and creative director had this to say about it on Facebook:
Ed Douglas: 
When we did our Flying Helmet Games team photo this week one this [sic] was more obvious than ever. There sure are a lot of dudes at this studio! This is in no way intentional or premeditated, it's just the way it's happened. We have a few women on the team, including our brilliant Lead Programmer. We had quite a few more during our last round of production, but due to our hiatus we couldn't keep that team together. I like to think we're a welcoming and inclusive studio but the truth of the matter is that more guys than gals are applying for the jobs. I hope the reason is that all the women out there already have fantastic jobs, but I'm more inclined to believe that somewhere upstream, more women than men are being discouraged from joining the games and entertainment technology industries. 
There are so many groups working to change this, and I want to help too. If there's anyone out there who is interested in joining the games industry, and for whatever reason has been discouraged; "Find a real career," "Games are for kids," "Aren't videogames are for boys?" please reach out, talk to us, come visit the studio, let us help you learn about why this is one of the coolest industries out there with incredible growth potential and the need for new ideas and fresh perspectives! 
Please share this if this sounds like it speaks to anyone in your lives, message me or reach out on the Flying Helmet Games Facebook site. And of course, let me know what you think, and tell me what you're doing too and what else there is we can do to help change this for the better together!
Mind you, we're a small company, and one that hasn't been able to offer up much in the way of immediate monetary compensation given we haven't shipped anything yet, and that's not to say there might not be unconscious biases at play here, either. But I'm willing to take Ed at face value that folks just aren't applying. When I was involved in hiring our junior programmer, I can say that the candidates were pretty well entirely male.

This isn't a post to pat ourselves on the back on how diversity conscious we are. Far from it. I'm making this post to make a point: we have a disparity in the industry that's being felt all the way down to the indie developers, and we need to fix that.

Our lady employees are among our most skilled employees (and we have a lot of very skilled people at our studio), they kick ass and take names nearly every day, and the fact that we could be losing more employees like that before they even make it to our door is disheartening. At Microsoft, some of my smartest and most effective colleagues were women. As an industry, we're doing ourselves a disservice by not reaching out and welcoming more women, or in some cases even being actively hostile against women with misogynistic practices, comments, or the like.

While gaming in general is doing a pretty awful job of treating women as equal human beings as the past few months can attest to, the industry has been and is still complicit. This must stop. We're only hurting our own industry in the long term by perpetuating this gender imbalance.

I'll close with this quote from Nathan Vella from a speech at GDC 2015:
So let's all fight back...with the best way we know how: through our games, and through our teams, and through our collaborations
#IndieDev, #EonAltar, #Diversity


  1. That's an awesome looking office you have there! Its really disheartening when people make troll comments like that. Its possible that men and women just tick differently??? So someone saw that pic and thought it didn't fit their narrow world viewpoint, deciding in their head that the world should be changed to suit them instead. That is wrong in its own way. The social justice guilt callout is the sign of a narrow minded idiot. Your co-worker had a great response by the way. Just goes to show that social media is a double edged sword. It never tells the whole picture, yet gives just enough of one for people to immediately jump to conclusions AND post their thoughts for all to see. Scary and wonderful all at the same time. May cooler heads prevail.

    1. Thank you. It is a nice office! Wish I could see it more often, as a remote I don't get that opportunity much.

      I'm curious, however. I certainly didn't take the Facebook comment as a troll at all. There is measurable value in diversity, as different viewpoints bring different opinions, ideas, and merits. Even if men and women do "tick differently", that's a benefit, not a detriment. As a game developer and a software engineer, I *want* people with different opinions, ideas, backgrounds, and viewpoints than myself. It helps me expand my own skills and toolset. At the end of the day, having those differing viewpoints available will make me a better developer.

      As far as I'm concerned, it's not a "social justice guilt callout", it's a statement of fact: we're currently deficient in terms of that diversity. Can we still make a great game despite that? Sure. Could we make an even better game if we had a more diverse crew? Quite possibly.

      And more to my point, if we don't have more women applying to be game developers, we're potentially missing out on more awesome recruits. By primarily targeting men as an industry, it means we're only recruiting potential employees from half the populace. Why would any employer want to restrict their hiring options like that? The more people apply to work for you, the greater the chances you have for an excellent employee, regardless of gender.

      It's to our economic and creative benefit to reach out and hire more ladies.

    2. " it's a statement of fact: we're currently deficient in terms of that diversity"

      Maybe so, and I'm sure your recruiting does not exclude based on race or sex. I would wager though that even if that picture had exactly a 50% male/female ratio, no one would congratulate your company on its diversity. Instead someone would say "why are you all white? Are you a racist company?". The feminism card was dropped, and it's just as easy for trolls to throw the racist card, all based on a picture which says absolutely nothing about the qualities that your company is trying to recruit. Don't fall into the trap of having to have one of every race and sex just to appease trolls.

    3. (Just noticed the black employee lol - anyways my point is the same and I mean nothing by it, just hate to see people try and shame a quality company based on one pic)

    4. If one is advocating for diversity in their workplace for "congratulations" I'd argue you're doing it for the wrong reasons.

      You've invoked the slippery slope fallacy, and while yes, it is plausible, I wouldn't say it's any less laudable a goal. The idea isn't some Utopian paradise of precisely equal representation of every minority that exists. The idea is that if we're all the same (male, Caucasian, similar economic backgrounds, etc.), we'll have fewer viewpoints available to us to apply to our work.

      Also, we're talking about 50% of the population at large for women. If one were to assume perfectly random distribution, one would expect approximately 50% of our company to be ladies. Now, you'll have some bounds for sampling error, especially for smaller companies, but that's not the case for large or small companies today.

      As you mention, we have some racial diversity. Yes, the majority are Caucasian, but we have far more diversity in race than we do in gender, so I think that accusation is less likely than the gender disparity.

    5. well put there talarian. diversity isn't something you should endeavour towards to fill some kind of social justice meter, it is to bring new ideas, concepts and ways of thinking into the mix. To encourage potential talent. To maybe create better more interesting games.

  2. Man, if you weren't a remote I could try to make a joke about you only hiring people YOU want around you (analogous to a straight guy in an office with 90% females or something).

    It is a problem, though, and it has roots in the educational system. Even in the intro Computer Science classes in college you're lucky to see more than 20% females. And that number drops as you advance -- I remember a graduate class on A.I. that consisted of...

    18 Asian guys
    3 White guys
    1 Asian girl

    Is it any wonder that most job applicants are male? I am hopeful that over time more women in the intro classes will "trickle" up into the higher level ones and thus into the job market, but it will take some time.

    1. Hah! Except coworkers are generally verboten for me, that never ends well. Still, funny :P

      As to roots in the Education system, it wasn't always that way (, up until the mid 80s, women in Computer Science was a thing. Heck, when you look at historical figures in computer science, many of them are women! Ada Lovelace, Grace Hopper, Ida Rhodes, to name a few.

      Not sure what happened in the 80s, but Comp Sci took a harder hit than any other science, including physical sciences. To me, that suggests a cultural problem, and the Educational one is yet another symptom.

      Low numbers of applicants are a symptom of low numbers in education. Low numbers in education are a symptom of what? That's the billion dollar question. And you're correct in that until we solve that, we're probably not going to solve the computer science/programmer numbers.

      But that's not everything. What about level design? QA? Art? Game designers? There's a tonne of places in games that don't require programming knowledge, so the Comp Sci numbers don't explain the entire issue, only a small part of it.

    2. Well, according to the wikipedia article...

      "Diminished participation by women relative to men in computer science dates from about 1984 following mass marketing of personal computers to boys as toys to play games. Fiddling with computers by boys resulted in increased interest and readiness for computer science classes by young men.

      Research has shown that some aspects about computing may discourage women. One of the biggest turn-offs is the "geek factor". High school girls often envisage a career in computing as a lifetime in an isolated cubicle writing code. The "geek factor" affects both male and female high school students, but it seems to have more of a negative effect on the female students. In addition, computer programmers depicted in popular media are overwhelmingly male, contributing to an absence of role models for would-be female computer programmers."

      As computers became more mainstream, computer science also became more "nerdy," I suppose *and* we had things like the GameBOY. No girls allowed! They can play with their dolls!

      Regarding the last bit, I led a "Game Development" club for a few years in college that was specifically marketed as being for anyone interested in the field -- that you didn't have to know how to code and there was a lot of other stuff that needed to be done (listing some of the stuff you mentioned). Weekly meetings usually had about a dozen people but we never had more than one female that I can recall on any given week. Maybe it was seen by women as anyone who went to the club meetings was a social loser or something, I don't know. I think for many people they don't separate out those aspects of game design from "Computer Stuff" in general.

      I mean, take a look at the child in this photo (warning: don't look at the URL unless you want it spoiled):

      Society has completely changed since that time period.

      And take a look at this -- apparently the left half is from 1976 and the right half is within the past few years:

      Any wonder we have less girls interested in computers?

    3. Yup, definitely sad, and most probably a large part of the issue. It hearkens back to my point about it being a cultural issue at heart.

      I agree that perhaps the same social issues present for computer science could be extrapolated for video games in general, I don't think that's a terribly large leap to make.

      It's all pretty depressing, but the fact that my friends' children are generally being exposed to toys that are gender-neutral or for both genders (like a pair of girl twins, who play superheroes and house) makes me feel like perhaps we can change the culture over the (very) long term.

      In the meantime, we need to stop driving out the few ladies we have in our industry. I don't mean coddle them, one can apply a meritocratic viewpoint to them, however, things like men being aggressive in meetings is okay, but women? Oh no, then she's being "bossy" or "bitchy". Or letting our lady staff be attacked by random jerkwads from the internet and being silent. Rather, we developers should stand with them. It's not white-knighting, it's letting them know they don't stand alone.

    4. "I agree that perhaps the same social issues present for computer science could be extrapolated for video games in general, I don't think that's a terribly large leap to make."

      If anything it's probably worse -- at least computer science is generally seen as "respectable" and "trendy" or whatever, even if it's a bit nerdy. Video games are socially stigmatized in general, though.

      "makes me feel like perhaps we can change the culture over the (very) long term."

      Of course it's possible. I mean, it changed in completely the wrong direction over the last 20 years, so it's possible to change it :P

      "It's not white-knighting, it's letting them know they don't stand alone."

      Confirmed that Talarian is a white knight who hates men.

  3. ADDENDUM to my previous post... just liek I said on twitter I think it's also important to create a culture that can keep the female developers that do make it into the indutsry. I've heard too many stories, especially of late regarding great and talented developers leaving the industry.

    I think this has kind of a knock on effect too. students see this and opt out of the study, aspiring developers move to other fields instead. Less role models for people to look up towards.

    not something you probably have to worry about with your work, sounds like a cool group... just something to think about