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The reality of recruiting a diverse workforce in games

Geraldine Cross | Former Blitz, HSBC and Next HR Director

At this time of year we tend to reflect on the past and plan for the future, often setting ourselves some very ambitious targets. If you’ve been involved in recruitment, you have probably had good and bad experiences and may ask yourself why you think that was. Did luck have a part to play, or was it all about your abilities and experience as an applicant or recruiter? If you were able to give advice to someone in your shoes now, what would you say? The crucial thing is to learn for the future and share our learning experience.

We need to learn from other sectors to create a gender balanced games industry.

I have worked in HR and recruitment for over thirty years and in three different sectors, each with their own challenges in achieving a balanced working environment across ages, genders and backgrounds. When I worked in banking at HSBC, it was a heavily male dominated mature sector, which has since then become more balanced. And between 2004 and 2013 I worked in HR for Blitz Games Studios, learning directly about the challenges in the games industry.

Whilst I have always been fortunate to work with inclusive and open-minded games companies, I have been struck by industry-wide challenges when it comes to recruiting specifically for games. There are two key issues that I believe can be easily addressed, and that can significantly help us move towards a more gender balanced games industry.

The first challenge is ensuring job descriptions are gender inclusive.

I have experienced a similar problem with age inclusion in other industries. Age discrimination regulations introduced back in 2006 highlighted that the wording of job adverts can easily be discriminatory. It was difficult at the time to get used to refraining from using adjectives in job adverts like ‘dynamic’ or ‘mature’, which may be perceived as age-related. Organisations also had to remove the requirement for a particular length of experience (for example two years), as this could be connected to age, and were instead asking for ‘demonstrable experience in…’, or something similar.  These all seem natural now but at the time it was quite a breakthrough, and once employers realised the benefits of removing age discriminatory wording, it began to open up new pipelines often giving rise to new opportunities. Some companies such as B&Q gained a great deal from engaging in age diverse workforce activities and leading a network of employers in removing barriers to an age-balanced workforce. For B&Q it made them more reflective of their customer base and ideally placed to offer better in store support and great customer service.

When it comes to games recruitment, we have come a long way from the game image and “we’re hiring” banner, but I see a similar challenge to what B&Q and others faced addressing age discrimination, only with gender.

When I was browsing HR jobs just over a year ago, some adverts put me off straight away and I moved on to others. I realised afterwards that it was the tone and wording of the advert made me conjure up a psychological image of a recruiter who was looking for male applicants or that the environment was aggressive or hostile. I’m very focussed on the wording of adverts now when I’m advising companies. We need to consider whether our job advertisements in games are putting off female applicants. Are job advertisements not only using gender-neutral words, but also gender-neutral imagery? Before the age discrimination act was put in place, employers weren’t in most cases discriminating consciously – they weren’t aware they were doing it – and we’re in a similar place with gender in games now.

The second challenge in the games industry, is that recruitment by recommendation or word of mouth is quite customary and is understandable, particularly in micro and small companies.

I remember many years ago when diversity became a prominent issue for the vast majority of UK employers, including the banking corporation I worked for at the time. In a controversial move, the company’s recruitment recommendation incentive scheme, which paid a nice bonus if the person you recommended was successfully recruited, was ceased. It was deemed to be discriminatory as it tended to result in recruiting a similar workforce to the existing workforce and not opening up opportunities for new kinds of applicants to come in.  Whilst that felt very strange at the time, it soon became normal practice and the bank began to grow a diverse and inclusive workforce generating an abundance of new ideas, challenging existing norms and opening our minds to innovation more readily, creating a greater reach for the business.  By putting in place recruitment strategies that ensure we open up our opportunities to those outside of our networks, diversity imbalances in the workforce can be effectively addressed.

I have recently come on board with the Gender Balance Workforce Project conducted by the Next Gen Skills Academy and supported by Creative Skillset, where we’ve asked women working in games about their experiences to try and identify the reality of why less than 14% of the sector workforce is female, when more than 50% of gamers in this country are girls and women. We've had a huge amount of response from both women and men working in games, but I’ve also been very pleasantly surprised by the amount of support the Gender Balanced Workforce Project has had from employees and employers. The survey feedback has been very useful.

Successful mentoring experiences and inclusive working environments certainly appear to be a good recipe for success, and we will be holding workshops in February for women in games, as well as companies and employers, to tackle gender imbalance in the sector – both through leadership and communications support for women working in games, and practical strategies for employers to ensure their companies are inclusive and balanced organisations to work in. It will be shared in due course and hopefully mark the start of a positive and enriching development in the industry, where the importance of gender equality is accepted and becomes norm.

Geraldine Cross has over thirty years experience in HR, having led HR teams at HSBC, Next and, between 2004 and 2013, Blitz Games. She is working to create better gender equality as part of the Next Gen Skills Academy’s project Gender Balance Workforce Project. Three one day workshops will be held in London, Bristol and Manchester 2-4 February for women working in games, and one in London on 19 February for games companies and employers to find practical solutions to gender inequality in the games sector.

Creative Skillset's Diversity Fund (England) provides funding for training for creative professionals residing in England who are under-represented in the workforce. Grants of up to £1,600 to spend on training and short courses are available to individuals who belong to at least one of the following under-represented groups: women, black, Asian and minority ethic (BAME) people, people with disabilities. Click here to find out more and apply.

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