A couple of weeks ago, somebody went through most of the major games websites and calculated what percentage of the bylines on each were from female writers. The results were, as you might predict, unbalanced; on average, 75 per cent of the articles were written by men. But Eurogamer came off astonishingly poorly in this analysis, with less than 1 per cent of its output in February of this year attributed to female writers. That’s worse than any other outlet.
As one of the only women in leadership in the entire UK games media – and someone who wrote for Eurogamer for many years, from 2006 onwards – I experienced a mix of emotions upon reading this statistic. It angered and disappointed me that in the more than 10 years since I started working with Eurogamer, the site had apparently found so few other female voices worth airing. At the same time, I am painfully aware of the systemic issues that make 50/50 representation so difficult to achieve in any area of the video games industry. I do not think that a lack of female contributors necessarily indicates sexism or bias against women. But it does indicate a lack of effort in talent development, and a certain complacency that should urgently be addressed.
I’m not here to argue why games websites should publish more women, because it is demeaning to have to argue in favour of my own existence, and that of people like me. The benefits of a diverse workforce, in media as elsewhere, are well-established. Instead, I want to talk about how they could.
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(Before we get into this: discussions about diversity in the workforce should not neglect race, queer representation, disability and other axes of inequality. Gender is only one of many imbalances in the games industry – and trans women and women of colour face more obstacles than middle-class white women like me. Obviously, I can’t speak for all women. I can only speak from my own first-hand experience, both as a woman working in the games media, and as someone who hires people to work in the games media.)
I got my first job in video games journalism 13 years ago, and over time I have seen the situation substantially improve – at least in some ways. When I started out, I was the only female editorial member in my entire department, which published about eight gaming magazines. When I started writing for Eurogamer in 2006, it was me and the legendary Ellie Gibson; at my next job, with IGN UK in 2011, I was again the only woman on the team. Later, in 2014, I became the editor of Kotaku in the UK, working on a global team that was almost half women – and by the time I left last year, my UK team was actually all women for a while. I am the Guardian’s video games editor now, and I work with as many female writers as male.
There is self-evidently no shortage of female talent in video games writing in 2018. But despite that, there are still relatively few women in leadership roles. This is partly a legacy issue: 10 years ago, the games media was massively male-dominated, so people with five or ten years’ experience are mostly male. When I have hired for entry-level jobs, I’ve had plenty of more-than-qualified women apply, but if you’re hiring for a senior editorial position, your candidates are likely to skew male.
This problem is worsened by the fact that women are less likely than men to apply for jobs that they are not 100 per cent qualified for – whereas men will apply when they meet 60 per cent of the criteria. (This statistic originates from a Hewlett Packard report years ago, and has been backed up and explored time and time again.) Even women with experience might not apply, which skews your hiring pool further.
What are games outlets to do, then, if all the people who apply for their jobs are male? You can’t go and hire someone unqualified just to improve your gender balance, right? But then the next question to ask is: why are all of the people who apply for your jobs male? Could it be because you have no visible women working at your outlet, and therefore women aren’t coming to you? It is no coincidence that games outlets with visible women – Kotaku and Polygon lead the way in this regard, amongst the bigger specialist games websites – attract more women who want to work there.
This is something that could be corrected over time, as the newer generation of female writers and video-makers makes its way further up the management ladder. But that will only happen if we actually hire women, and then make an effort to keep them around once they join. It’s lonely being the only woman in your organisation, even if your colleagues are supportive, and there are challenges that disproportionately affect us. Gendered online abuse is one of them. Your male colleagues might take some shit over a review, but nobody’s going to threaten to rape them; no game developer has ever called them a “little girl” in a tweet. (This genuinely happened to me once.)
The disproportionate trolling that women in video games have to deal with is enough to put a lot of girls and women off this career option entirely, or push them into quitting. I’ve known many women over the years who simply got fed up with online bullshit and never getting promoted, and went off to work in a more rewarding career. It is extremely important to have support systems in place in media organisations if you’re serious about keeping your talent. I had nobody to turn to when this started happening to me, except uncomfortable male colleagues; my female employees, meanwhile, have been able to talk to me.
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After these gender-balance statistics made their way around Twitter a couple of weeks ago, a lot of male editors started questioning themselves about their outlets’ failure to publish women. I’d advise these editors to ask themselves: if you never get any women pitching your site, or applying for your jobs, why is that? Does your staff/about page make your company look like a welcoming environment for women, or is it a sea of beards? Do you read female writers – and if not, why? Do you talk to women – readers, writers, whoever – about whom they are reading, or do you only talk about work with other male writers and editors? Do you read widely when you’re looking for new freelance talent, or do you stick within the specialist games media comfort zone? Do you make the effort to reach out, or do you expect people to come to you? Not all of our biases are conscious.
There are still more guys out there who want to write about games than women. In my long experience hiring journalists and working with freelancers, it’s about 65/35. This isn’t because of some immutable fact of biology; it’s the product of a whole bunch of social factors. But if less than 1 per cent of your site’s output comes from women, that isn’t a natural result of an existing gender imbalance. It means that women aren’t coming to you, and you’re not reaching out to them. And if that’s the case, you’re missing out on 50 per cent of the world’s talent.