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Reducing barriers for underrepresented groups

This article is part of our Get into Games special, offering students insight on life in the games industry and advice on how to get into the business. You can also find aselection of the best Academy guides for job-seekers here

Diversity and representation has greatly improved in games over the past decade, but there is still much to be done for underrepresented groups working in the games industry.

Following the first UK Games Industry Census published in 2022, completed by over 3,200 workers, the UK industry is still predominantly young, white and male. That said, 24% of the workforce are LGBTQ+ while 23% are neurodiverse, higher than the national average.

The pathways of getting into the industry can vary greatly, as illustrated by the members of a Academy panel at EGX 2023 who come from different underrepresented backgrounds. It’s not always straightforward, as one individual’s background may be unique to them from someone else, while someone else may have privileges in some areas (for example, being cis white male) but barriers that are less visible (such as being neurodiverse, disabled, or from a working class background).

There is nonetheless some commonality between different lived experiences that companies should consider if they want to not just create a more diverse, inclusive and accessible workforce but ensure it stays that way.

You can watch the full talk below, or continue reading to find the best advice from the panel.

How underrepresented people can help themselves

Some barriers that underrepresented groups face are so ingrained and internalised, such as coming from a working class background where aspirations seem non-existent, or an immigrant family where there is pressure to succeed and games are perceived as not a stable and serious career.

While employers should ensure they are taking care to build and retain a genuinely diverse and inclusive workforce, some barriers come down to individuals overcoming themselves.

Our panellists offered some concrete advice.

Figure out the right workplace for you

Jay Shin, director at Arrogant Pixel, advised that people looking to get a job in games should get experience first in any job, especially one outside of games, just to get a reference point for what a good or bad workplace is like or what a good or bad line manager is like.

“You don’t get that experience at school, you have to just start and then through that experience you’ll know, ‘I’m not going to work for a place like that’, and once you have that vision in mind, it becomes a lot easier for you to turn opportunities down because you can spot those places that might not be for you, and some places really aren’t for you.”

Support other underrepresented groups

Ryan Brown, marketing director at Lost in Cult and the head of an upcoming games publishing label is both queer and from a working class background, but he also recognised he also has fewer barriers in other areas, so believes it’s important not to consider only your own barriers when climbing the ladder and to make sure to not pull it up from behind you.

“It’d be easy for me to say, ‘Oh, look what I battled,’ but I’m a cis white man, I haven’t got those barriers,” he said. “So be very aware of what those other barriers are, and that you may have privileges in some areas and not in other areas like most people.”

Harriet Frayling, a freelance games accessibility and inclusion consultant, encouraged people in positions of power to use their privilege to open up opportunities for underrepresented people they know. If nepotism is commonplace in the industry, why not use it positively?

“That’s why I do mentorships because that’s a great way to do that for people like me, and for people not like me,” she said.

Don’t diminish yourself

If you feel like you have to conform in a way that compromises who you are, then it’s probably a sign that the workplace isn’t an environment you’d want to stay in anyway.

“I was once pulled aside by a boss (a very bad boss, by the way) who went, ‘I would like to put you forward for the senior position, but you need to change the way you present yourself because I don’t think people are going to take you seriously’,” said Shaz Shanghari, a content creator and digital illustrator, who’s also had many years in the industry working in QA for big companies like Sega and Ubisoft.

“That stuck with me for a good five years, and took me way too long to unlearn. People just need to accommodate for you.”

On a more practical step, editor-in-chief at games website Startmenu, Lex Luddy, who began transitioning gender identities after joining the industry said that if you use your name in your email address, and then change your name, bite the bullet and start using a new email address.

“Forward everything on because before you know it, you’re tied to one email and you don’t want to be looking at that email every day. It’s just a very small annoying thing that you have to look at every single day.”

How games companies can make their workplaces more diverse, inclusive and accessible

Nonetheless, employers have an onus on making their workplaces more diverse, inclusive and accessible, as they should consider that this will be a factor as to whether it’s a welcoming environment that prospective employees want to be in the first place. Below are some of the steps the panellists suggested that companies should be taking if they want to be more welcoming of underrepresented groups.

Consider transferable skills, not just experience

One of the biggest barriers to getting into even entry-level positions in the games industry is that the job descriptions too often ask for a set number of years’ experience or qualifications.

As their role includes working with and mentoring freelancers, Luddy often hears how many trying to find jobs in games media are told they lack the necessary experience.

“I’ve been told I don’t have enough experience, despite having been doing this for five years,” they said.

While being told you don’t have enough experience is a barrier relatable for anyone starting out, it’s a considerably greater barrier if you’re from a low-income background who can’t afford to spend a year in a free or low-paid internship or the debt accrued from higher education. Being based in Ireland, Luddy also brought up how media is primarily consolidated in Dublin, an extremely expensive place to live, a similarity shared in other media roles around the world where remote work isn’t an option.

“Suddenly, the only people that can afford to stick it out long enough to get a job that pays well are the people who have support already in place or who live in Dublin, and it’s the same with the games industry,” Luddy added.

Brown said: “I really do think that executives and hiring managers need to be able to look at transferable skills. Even if they have just worked in a Subway or done something completely outside of games, whether it’s retail, look at those points, see if any of that clicks with what it is you’re looking for. Getting more diverse people into games by loosening up what that experience looks like, and just being able to see the right person’s transferable skills really helps.”

Make accommodations, not assumptions

Companies should have robust processes to ensure hiring processes are accessible and inclusive, and if a candidate has requested reasonable accommodations, then these need to be followed through.

“Recently, I was at an interview at Rocksteady, and they have genuinely one of the most inclusive hiring processes I have ever been through,” said Frayling. “I asked for my reasonable accommodations during the interview, not only did they do them, but they checked to make sure they were working. There weren’t excuses like, ‘Oh, we weren’t told,’ that then makes it look like there’s something wrong with me.”

But it’s not just about making accommodations at the recruitment stage but also once a person is in the role, which can say as much about the company, and whether it is genuinely fostering a diverse culture. Typically, that will be on outward appearances, especially for people coming from a non-white background.

“For people of colour, be very prepared in some positions to be the only person in the room and in some cases to suddenly be the spokesperson for your entire race in that room,” said Shanghari. “There is this unspoken barrier where people don’t really know how to speak to you — but I like the same things you do, I read books, don’t be afraid!”

Shin also highlighted that hiring diverse personality types is equally important in making a stronger team, in some cases finding people who are polar opposites of one another in personality type and lived experience.

“I’m a massive yes person, I have lots of energy, I want to do a million things all at once, but my COO is someone that says no in the most respectful way, and someone that will rein it in, but someone that I will respect and adapt to,” she explained. “The worst thing I think is going into a workplace where there is artificial harmony, where people are political in how they interact with one another, and it’s more about the outcome, they say things that aren’t authentic to get a specific result. I hate that.

“What I like is we can have the most crazy argument over specific shades of pink, but still be able to go out and be friends with each other at the end of the day. I like healthy conflict because you have to build consensus around these ideas, and the diversity of the team makes that happen.”

Retain underrepresented people by supporting them

While the diversity of a workforce might look healthy on the ground level, that representation becomes noticeably lower in senior positions, which highlights an issue of retention. This may not necessarily be the result of a toxic workplace environment, but people from visibly underrepresented groups, especially femme-presenting or non-white people, are more likely targets for harassment on social media.

While any public-facing role, such as a journalist, content creator, or community manager, requires developing a thick skin, employers need to understand that it’s often going to be tougher for someone from a marginalised background.

Luddy explained that they were lucky in a way as they were still masc-presenting when they started out in games media. “Then as I dressed more feminine, the more I would be on shows using she/they pronouns, people would be a bit more willing to go along with it because they’d already decided they’d liked me.”

But even if it’s not online harassment, other aforementioned factors like cost of living and the lack of a safety net means that someone from a disadvantaged minority has other external pressures that can eventually wear them down from wanting to stay in the job, let alone climb the ranks.

“If you’re hiring diverse people, then support them to stay there,” Luddy concluded. “Some people need more help to be able to stay in the industry than others. It’s not because they’re not trying, it’s because they have a lot more to deal with than some other people.”

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