By Yashash Agarwal
In the waning days of July last year, a conversation with a twelve-year-old girl left an indelible impression on my heart. Priya, our trusted help’s daughter, had her eyes affixed to a game I was testing as she waited for her mother to finish her chores. Perhaps due to the all-encompassing nature of the game or because I wasn’t expecting her to take interest in my work, I only noticed her presence belatedly. She stood in the corner of my room – adorned in a salwar kameez, with her hair neatly braided.
Upon beckoning her over, I was struck by her unbridled curiosity. She peppered me with flurry of questions: who had made the game I was playing, how many individuals had laboured to bring it to fruition, what magic lay behind the creation of games with realistic graphics and sound effects, whether gaming was a profitable industry, and if so, how lucrative it could be. I attempted to satisfy her inquisitiveness as best I could, employing Wittgenstein’s ladder more than once.
In what seemed like a fleeting conversation of a few minutes, Priya divulged details about the games she played on her father’s phone and exhibited sketches of characters from those games. As our dialogue evolved, she suddenly revealed, with a grin that stretched ear to ear, that she aspired to create games when she grew up.
Days passed, and I did not encounter Priya again. Yet, her words reverberated within me and prompted me to scrutinize our own users’ demographics more closely than I had in quite some time. I saw that over 40% of the one billion individuals worldwide who engaged with our games in the last four years were women. However, the realization that we lacked sufficient representation of women on our team hit me harder than the statistics themselves, and I recognized that it was undoubtedly impeding our progress.
Thus, come August, we aimed high and set bold targets of increasing the representation of women on our team to 30% within nine months and 40% within 18 months. We held innumerable internal meetings and external sessions to forge a path that not only aligned with our aspirations but also offered a blueprint that other like-minded organizations could follow to enhance diversity and inclusion.
Take Action for Gender Balance in Leadership
Striving towards gender balance in leadership roles is a crucial step towards bridging the gender gap in the gaming industry. According to a recent Global Gaming Gender Balance Scorecard by 20-first, women account for a paltry 16 per cent of executive teams in the gaming industry. Perhaps the most crucial step in bridging the gender gap is to have women in leadership roles in our organisations, who can be role models for younger ladies.
Women with several years of work experience have been consciously hired for key leadership positions in various functions in our organisation, including finance, communications, legal, human resources, and business development. Our recently launched quizzing product, Quizzop, has women in leading content roles. Their inputs across key business discussions have allowed us to make decisions with more maturity. In addition, they play the role of excellent mentors to our younger colleagues, easing the integration of newcomers.
Methodically Eliminate Bias while Interviewing
Inclusive hiring is also pivotal in achieving gender balance in the gaming industry. It is apparent from the HP India Gaming Landscape Report 2021 that women consider gaming roles as viable career options, with 84 per cent of them indicating as such. Thus, we have adopted more inclusive methods while hiring. First, we anonymise resumes during the screening process, as we discovered that initial shortlisting often harbours unconscious biases. This approach has eliminated biases to a large extent. Secondly, we have diversified the interviewing panel to ensure that the final decision on an applicant is based on a blend of opinions from a diverse group, reducing the odds of missing out on a suitable candidate.
Educate and Reinforce Policy
Inclusivity is a journey, and the path to a diverse workforce requires self-reflection, education, and policy reinforcement. Even the most experienced managers can possess unconscious biases. Homogeneity in past workplaces can lead to unwitting discrimination against candidates who do not fit preconceived notions. Through open discussions with startup founders and leaders, we have come to understand that awareness and education are key to uprooting these biases.
Our team realised that we must provide our leaders with education on inclusivity, beyond just short-term workshops and training programs. To lead the way, we drafted a Diversity & Inclusion Policy, following the model of our primary investors, Bitkraft Ventures. This policy is a pledge to our colleagues that we will offer equal opportunities for growth and pay, and ensure a secure work environment regardless of gender, marital status, or any other attribute.
Consider Flexible Work Arrangements
The pandemic led to an unprecedented rise in remote work. While offices are reopening, companies should consider convenient working arrangements, especially for expecting and young mothers. Women need to feel valued for their work during what is otherwise a strenuous time, which can help build trust and improve retention of female employees.
We have tried to recognise this need for flexibility, with 34 per cent of our workforce being women, who work from 18 cities, including two outside India, at their own convenience. Although managing individuals in a small team working at different hours requires extra effort, the benefits of a happier team far outweigh the challenges!
India ranked 135th in the 2022 Global Gender Gap Report by the World Economic Forum, trailing behind countries like Bangladesh, Nepal, and Sri Lanka. Gaming is one of the few industries that sees a nearly equal number of female consumers. Gamers are a diverse group that transcends language barriers, identities, borders, and backgrounds. Hence, gaming companies must lead the charge towards creating a diverse workforce to pave the way for other industries. It will not only be symbolic of the new India but also good for business.
In two months, Priya turns thirteen. Some years down the line if she still feels strongly about making games, there must be a support system to let her pursue her dream confidently – adorned in a salwar kameez, with her hair neatly braided.
The author is the CEO and co-founder at Gamezop, a multi-game platform that apps can integrate to add a gaming section for their users.