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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  1. Interesting that is but not surprising that there aren’t many women up for hire. I don’t know many women that are hard core into video games as opposed to men. I can’t stand video games to be honest but that’s me. I think just like anything if we encourage the women who live for gaming to get a degree and help the sport of playing games out it might help. Like any dominated class of career we need to reach out to say, come join the team.

    • CF says:

      I like gaming a lot, but that may have been due to my childhood. My family had a video rental store, so I got to play with the Nintendo and Sega consoles right when they first came out.

  2. My longest job was at a video game company (that was since bought out by Activision, which is why I was laid off). It’s a very volatile industry! I loved my job there editing video game trailers, but had a hard time getting back into the industry after I was laid off. It seems there are a lot of females, but a lot work in marketing, legal, PR, etc. Most of the developers seemed to be men.

    • CF says:

      It’s definitely super volatile. In high school, I had the opportunity to do a week of work experience as a tester for a video game company in vancouver – they’ve since gone out of business.

  3. Jose says:

    I wonder if the fact that there is a lack of women in the Video game industry stems from the fact that most hard core gamers are male. I know a number of gamers and by and large, almost all of them are male. I’m sure there has to be a study somewhere on that aspect of gaming. I’m not a gamer myself so can’t relate to what drives a person to spend endless hours on games.

    • CF says:

      I love games haha. Not so much shooters, but story-driven action games are my favourite. I feel like a lot of girls just don’t think that software development is fun, and that even less think that game development is fun.

  4. I really have to question point one. I know quite a few women and I have to say I don’t think any of them play video games. I feel that gamers are mostly men. If you took a random sample of 10 guys and 10 girls i would guess that maybe 1/10 of the women played video games. This might be more if you consider mobile games.

    I’m not sure why this is. But this would relate to point 3. As you said women might be involved in the gaming industry but more on the corporate side then the actually dev side. This could be the way they were raised.

    As far as my work space, i work with mostly men (4) and 2 women, but we are such a small team where it doesn’t really matter. But a diverse workforce should never be a bad thing.

    • CF says:

      I think you do need to consider ALL games, not just big name console games. By market share, casual and mobile games are a much faster growing source of revenue than console and PC games. And I know A LOT of girls who may not consider themselves gamers, but definitely spend a lot of time playing online games. My mother included!

      I like PC and console games myself but that’s just me!

  5. I work in a male dominated industry/field that has noticeably changed since I started living here just a few years ago. There are so many different reasons it’s an issue. I’m glad to see some progress being made, but it’s so far from 2013 it’s crazy. I’m actually in a group that looks at this stuff.

    • CF says:

      It’s really interesting trying to look at the trends and puzzle out why it’s happening. I don’t think the answer is to just “hire more girls” though.

  6. I think I’ve always worked in environments with a good mix of genders, but at film school it was very male dominated. But even still none of us females in the program felt discriminated against (well at least not by our professors). And honestly it’s almost all of the females from my program that are still pursuing film, and lots of the men have chosen different paths entirely.

    • CF says:

      That sounds like an inclusive program then! I did not feel discriminated on by my profs either, but neither did I feel like they encouraged me to become a developer.

  7. Liquid says:

    There weren’t a lot of girls in the engineering program when I went to UBC. It’s probably a little more balanced now. I didn’t even know what I really wanted to do when I started university. My highschool councilor talked to me about taking math or applied sciences, but she never mentioned I could also go into nursing, or interior decorating, or telemarketing, or culinary photography, or fashion. Our educational system should be more open to the idea that anybody can become anything they want. Maybe it’s also a cultural thing. Guys get haircuts too, but most hairdressers and stylists I’ve seen are girls 😀

  8. I think you’re right, it’s not that women couldn’t do the job but more that I don’t think they want to. My wife is constantly playing games on her phone and used to play them on the Playstation. Whenever I try to show her how to run a website though she’s just not bothered. I think she’d enjoy having a say in the design aspect but that’s about as far as it would go.

    • CF says:

      Maybe it’s just that women and men enjoy different aspects of the game? Even when I’m playing an action-oriented game, like Dead Space, it’s the storyline that draws me in, not the blasting-apart-zombies.

  9. One of my friends is actually a (female) game developer. She was an English major(!)

    Although gamers used to be majority male, that has been changing, beginning with the Sims and now things like Angry Birds. I think last I heard the numbers were pretty equal.

  10. Very interesting…I always thought the there were more and more women getting into the video game industry, but how you explained it it makes sense that the number of programmers is not increasing at as fast a rate as it could be. My field (finance) is starting to be much more diverse. I think the one area that is still male-dominated is at the top – the higher up you get on the totem pole, the more male dominated it is. Yes there are more and more women directors in finance, but they are still lacking at the VP, Controller, and Executive level.

    • CF says:

      I think that’s probably true for a lot of fields. Women just don’t seem to be getting to the top top positions. For myself, I have zero interest in ever having a top level management position, so I can’t blame other women for not doing it either.

  11. Cat says:

    Mine is about half and half – but before it was predominantly female. I love playing video games too – but have to admit I’d have no idea how to design one! 🙂

  12. I am an engineer and let me tell you – that’s an industry with a LOT of dudes …

    • CF says:

      Yes! Haha… Many of my friends in college were engineers and there were very… very… few women in that field. Especially the more challenging specialities, like Engineering Physics.

  13. I think that the video game industry is missing out on a lot of customers by not designing good content games for women. They’re are a lot of games geared toward women, but what I’ve noticed is a lack of graphics, story and depth that games which are geared toward men have. Some women may play Call of Duty and Halo, but for the most part it’s guys who play.

    • CF says:

      I think a lot of action-oriented games have a decent story. Mass Effect comes to mind as a really good, story driven action game. The most ardent Mass Effect fan I know is a girl actually!

  14. I posted a post on my blog earlier on in the week about how I work in a male dominated field and actually prefer working with males or having the majority of the workforce be male.

    My first professional job out of university was working in a project management department. There was only one male on the team. I found project management rather boring and preferred something more technical, thus moving on to a more technical position.

    I don’t play as many video games as I used to as a kid. My bf plays is the gamer in the relationship. I actually prefer the more action/adventure type games. Last weekend the bf and I were playing Street Fighter. I don’t really have any strategy to it. I just press all the buttons as fast as I can and hope for the best. lol.

    • CF says:

      I’m the same way. I love action and adventure games, even ones that have a lot of shooting/fighting. But I’m absolutely TERRIBLE at games that require button-mashing and I fail miserably at first person shooters.

  15. I really enjoyed this article, and was especially fascinated by your mention of female mentoring. So much so that I quoted you, here: http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-505125_162-57572294/is-another-woman-threatening-your-career/


    • CF says:

      Thanks so much for the mention 🙂

      Interesting take you have on female mentors/bosses as well – it’s terrible but true, in my experience. I’ve always fared better and enjoyed working with male bosses much more than my female bosses. Less drama!

  16. Shauna Jones says:

    I am currently studying Games Design and i’m in my second year at university.
    I am in fact the only girl that is on the course but i agree that it doesn’t make a difference and i feel more at home with everyone.
    In the first year we touched on programming in CSS using flash, but it was never really given to us as being such an importance.
    I work very hard and have tried to get other experiences to go alongside my degree.
    I think as a whole, personally, programming should be taught at high school in ICT, just the basics so that the students can have a basic understanding.
    From there i feel that girls should have that little push of encouragement to go on and work within the industry.
    I have a fair few female friends that love to play games, but because they are not confident enough to peruse a career in it, they decided to hold back.
    I really do hope to get into the gaming industry and i very much enjoyed reading your article, it was very true and heart felt.

    • CF says:

      It IS strange how software development and game development is seen as “too hard” by so many people. Difficulty is just a matter of experience and perspective, so it’s great that you are starting to pick up experience to go along with your degree.

      For me, it’s a great field and I hope you have success in it! I love my job, and I would never go back to my old, “easy”, female dominated job in the biomedical industry.

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