Diversity, and particularly gender diversity, seems to be a constant struggle for most areas of technology and science.
“I always joke that being a woman in technology is ‘+2’ to opening doors but ‘-2’ to being taken seriously,” said Renee Gittins, founder and CEO of Stumbling Cat, an indie game studio based in Seattle.
Game development, like other areas of tech, also struggles to draw a diverse crowd. But Gittins and other women in the field say it can be a much more inclusive place than other areas of tech, something that other fields can learn from.
Speaking at the 2016 GeekGirlCon, a conference dedicated to celebrating diversity in tech, science, and the rest of geekdom, Gittins said game developers tend to be much more open-minded than those she had met in other technology fields, including her time as an engineer and in biotechnology.
Sonja Marcus, who founded the video game blog Soultamer Gaming when she was 11 years old, said she has also seen more gamers and game developers begin discussions about how to be inclusive in the past few years.
“I’m seeing more people talk about misogyny, talk about inclusion, and that’s been really, really nice lately,” Marcus said.
Gittins, Marcus, and their fellow panelists all agreed that starting discussions and helping women feel comfortable are high priorities to diversifying the gaming industry. An important part of that discussion is talking about unintentional bias: underlying assumptions that influence how we think about others, often without us realizing it.
“People make assumptions a lot based on your gender,” Gittins said. “I’m almost always asked if I am an artist before anything else. I’m not an artist at all.”
Assuming women don’t program, or that girls don’t like math, can make a huge impact on the inclusiveness of a field, the panelists said. One way to tackle those assumptions is to bring them out in the open and start talking about them.
While discussions about diversity and inclusivity can be uncomfortable, the panelists said, they are important to rethinking how the culture in tech fields could influence women and other minorities.
Walking around this year’s GeekGirlCon, it is clear the conversation around women in games, tech, and science is going strong. Now in its sixth year, the conference has outgrown its humble beginning as a panel at the 2010 San Diego Comicon. This year’s conference drew around 11,000 attendees, and panels and events around women in geekdom and technology abounded.