A followup on gender diversity…

This post is a followup to my earlier post describing my own personal response to the way the discussion around diversity in games rolled out, and how we approached it at Freeplay in 2012.

For the past few years – since at least the previous ABS stats in 2007 which recorded Australian Game Development employees at 1431, with 1277 (89.2%) male and 154 (10.8%) were female – sections of the videogame community have been on multiple, occasionally overlapping, occasionally divergent, active quests which have changed their public relationships – community organisations have formed; industrial groups have pursued governments & the public eye; events and exhibitions have bound themselves more fully to the wider questions of culture and art; and consumer advocates have lobbied for the alignment of classification systems.

The aims, and subsequent rewards, for these quests has been tangible economic, cultural, and social capital, with videogames being part of the national cultural policy, the $20 million federal funding for games, Game Masters at ACMI, the Express Media Young Writers Innovation Prize going to a videogame publication, and the introduction of the R18+ rating.

But there is a cost to those changes. Videogames – those who make them, and those who play them – have stepped into much bigger conversations than they perhaps might be used to, negotiating their place in larger structures of politics & society. There is a responsibility in that. Conversations which may previously have taken place in smaller circles are now connected to wider discussions; leadership voices now speak for more people by virtue of their higher profile; and events and communities attract scrutiny as the audience for games grows and becomes more diverse.

The responsibility comes from the response to these changes and in engaging with their possibilities. The ABS statistics and the followup interviews & commentary brought the issue of women in games into the public sphere, creating the opportunity to honestly and openly examine all aspects of videogame culture, placing those in a wider context, and looking at what work has already been done, and how much is still to do.

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The Workplace Gender Equality Agency is an Australian Government statutory agency charged with promoting and improving gender equality in Australian workplaces.”  Taking a wide view, their statistics from April 2013 show that across the Australian workforce:

  • On average, women working full time earn 17.6% less than men working full time.
  • Female graduate salaries are 90.9% of male graduate salaries.
  • Average superannuation payments for women are 43.1% less than men.

While concrete information about Australian videogame salaries is hard to come by, there is some on page 17 of the Working in Australia’s Digital Games Industry Consolidation report.

The WGEA also gathers and reports on industrial data, giving a point of comparison to the recent ABS numbers. While these comparisons reveal broad trends, as noted by the ABS explanatory notes in their data, there are important differences in reporting & gathering methodologies and “users should exercise caution when making comparisons between the two sets of estimates”, as well as acknowledging that these numbers represent snapshots at specific moments in time and do not account for fluctuations throughout the year.

From their at a glance factsheet:

“All non-public sector employers with 100 or more employees (relevant employers) are required to report annually under the WGE Act. If a relevant employer’s number of employees falls below 100, it must continue to report until employee numbers fall below 80.”

While this record doesn’t bring in industries – such as games – which have a large number of smaller businesses, it does show us the wider industrial trends in gender diversity. With their 2012 All Industries snapshot, the bottom 3 industries have:

  • Public administration and safety – 21.0%
  • Construction 20.0%
  • Mining 17.0%

Looking specifically at creative industries, in film, the recent ABS numbers that incorporated games show that 39% of film and video production & post production employees in 2010 – 2011 were women, and Screen Australia has collected the census data going back to 1971.  In theatre, the Australia Council for the Arts has published the Women in Theatre report, and in music, Artfacts recorded the gender distribution in songwriters, composers, and musicians in Australia.

The result of this and other research, is a collection of work that demonstrates not only the value of gender diversity, but practical strategies for achieving it.

Research into STEM subject uptake has been undertaken both here and overseas. The 2010 Why So Few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics report from AAUW in America identifies:

“…environmental and social barriers — including stereotypes, gender bias, and the climate of science and engineering departments in colleges and universities — that continue to block women’s progress in STEM.”

Aong with the wider research into the benefits of improved gender balance undertaken locally by both the WGEA and the Australian Human Rights Commission, which include:

  • Attract the best employees
  • Reduce cost of staff turnover
  • Enhance organisational performance
  • Improve access to target markets
  • Minimise legal risks
  • Enhance reputation
  • Engaging men

From: WGEA’s Business case for gender equality.

And:

  • Narrowing the gap between male and female employment rates will boost GDP in Australia by 11%.
  • Minimising the gender productivity gap, for example, by increasing the number of women in leadership positions, will boost the level of economic activity in Australia by 20%.
  • Economic incentives such as these will have flow-on effects for wider society including to address the problem of pension sustainability, thereby reducing the dependency ratio, lifting household savings rates and increasing tax received by the government.

From: AHRC’s Women in Male Dominated Industries Research Project Fact Sheet.

The research from the AHRC led to A Toolkit of Strategies for improving the number of women in male-dominated industries that covers:

  • job advertisements that attract women to apply
  • engagement activities that broaden the pool of potential applicants
  • broadening capabilities and pool of potential candidates
  • creating a working environment that meets the needs of all employees
  • building development that promotes the career advancement of women

This document also makes the important point in its intro that:

“This is not about special treatment for women, but about the implementation of integrated gender diversity strategies.”

It also deliberately presents itself as a collection of strategies and not a magic bullet, and encourages people to discuss their experiences & practice in implementing them, with the aim of “enliven[ing] public discussion about ways to increase gender diversity in all areas of Australian industry, including those still perceived to be largely closed to women.”

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These statistics & research – whether for videogames or not – can only ever be part of the process. In all of the quests that videogames have undertaken, they have been driven by people pursuing those agendas against clear opposition. The $20 million federal funding was supported by PricewaterhouseCoopers research, as well as screen agencies & industry bodies, but was not initially welcomed by members of the film industry; the R18+ Rating was supported by the Digital Australia report, but was also pursued by consumer groups and trade bodies, who came under criticism throughout.

It is the same for increasing the number of women in games. The research is part of what needs to be done, but it also requires significant and active leadership to affect change at all levels, the will to confront those who oppose it, and the desire to build better things. This cannot happen without the discussion happening in public, without understanding the reality of where things are, and without understanding how the issue connects the videogame community discussions to wider research and industrial knowledge. Changes in the relationships to wider discourse brings responsibility, but it also brings the opportunity for change to not only increase that 8.7%, but to make the industry & surrounding communities more inviting and inclusive across the board.

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