Where are all the girls in the game industry?

A recent article in Forbes, written by Gabrielle Toledano, executive vice president and chief talent officer of Electronic Arts, examined the age old question – Where are all the girls in computer science?  In particular, why are there not more girls in the video game industry?  As a software developer and the only full time female developer on my team, it’s an interesting question to me.

Photo Credit: DijutalTim via Flickr

Photo Credit: DijutalTim via Flickr

Coming from a female-dominated field (biomedical research), I cannot express how much I LOVE my job.  I love working with the guys, I love have deadlines and goals, and I love the creative aspects of software development.  It pays well and it is rewarding – after my three year slog in biomedical research, I never thought I would be passionate about a job again.

Ms.Toledano suggests three “dirty little secrets” of the video game industry:

1. Women play games – a lot of them.

2. The video game industry wants to hire more women

3. There aren’t enough to hire…yet.

The English nerd in me disagrees with the lack of symmetry in her points, but she makes some good observations.

#1 – I play games.  I’m currently making my way through Dead Space 3 and I enjoy many casual mobile games.  I would certainly agree that women make up a large percentage of gamers.

#2 – Of course large companies want to hire a diversity of people.  There are many documented benefits to having a diverse workforce and that includes hiring women.

#3 – Now this is… interesting.  Why would there not be enough women to hire?  Well, there must not be enough women getting degrees in computational and engineering sciences. There might not even be enough women attending game design colleges like Academy of Art.  And why would that be?  Either women are incapable of excelling in these fields or women are choosing to not enter these fields.  In terms of human intelligence as a whole, there is not a difference between the sexes.  Therefore, the question boils down to – Why are women choosing to NOT enter software development and in particular, video game development, as a career?

In my own experience, I have been actively discouraged from pursuing a software development as a career.  Not in a negative way, mind you, but in much subtler ways.  In computer science, there is a lot of support for girls, especially at my university.  But the support tends to run towards academic careers and project management, rather than hardcore coding.

For example, I signed up to be part of the mentorship program at my university.  As a student, I was paired up with an industry mentor each year.  Despite my repeated requests for a mentor with similar interests, regardless of sex, I was ALWAYS paired up with a female mentor who spent her career in project management and never touched a line of code. You can’t tell me there just happened to be a lack of mentors – all of my male peers were given mentors from tech companies such as Amazon.  Yet I finished at the top in my class for java development.  HMM… !

So I would say that (1) women are choosing to NOT enter development as a career because they are not encouraged to pursue it during their education.  As a result, they are not studying the ‘harder’ topics that tend to speak to software developers.

At the same time, being a girl in a guy’s field is an interesting experience.   There’s much less of the clique-iness of women dominated fields and less talk of babies and weddings.  But, there’s a lot more sports talk, tech talk and a near constant slew of barbs, insults and teasing.  I don’t mind it and a lot of the time, it’s much more relaxing when you don’t have to worry about passive aggressive comments or getting the cold shoulder from this clique or that clique.  (Though when I was in school, the abundant penis jokes that guys seem to accumulate got old pretty fast.) In any case, I can understand that (2) many women would rather have other women to bond with instead spending a coffee break talking sports and fielding insults.

And finally, sad to say – I think a lot of women just prefer the corporate aspects of software development to the dirty, daily grind that is coding. Managing a team, setting goals, and producing designs seems to appeal to many women more than hacking away at code for 8+ hours a day.  I’m not sure if this is due to (1) and (2) or to other factors like wanting regular hours to accommodate family life.

So what should be done?

I’m not sure that encouraging women to work in a field purely for the sake of diversity is a good thing. Companies should hire the *right* people for the job. The benefits that you gain with a diverse workplace are not enough to justify hiring someone who is not qualified or not a good cultural fit.  Instead, I think that if colleges and universities do their part to present a whole and accurate picture of what careers are available to computer science graduates, the female developers and game enthusiasts will come.  Eventually!

Do you work in a field that is male or female dominated? How do you like it?

Anyone else playing Dead Space 3?

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