Some Steps Forward

So, while most women in the digital games industry (and more widely in science and technology fields) agree that women and girls need to be exposed to STEM early, encouraged as much as boys, and taught to show confidence in their abilities, there need to be some concrete programs that put all of this talk into action. In the last few weeks we’ve been hearing about some new initiatives that are designed to do just that. Here are a few:

The first comes to my attention through an interview posted on ZDNet with Susan Buck, Lecturer at U Penn in website design and development and developer at In the interview Buck discusses how she fought her way into the field through self-instruction and the realization that she was not being given the same tools as the young men around her. Most recently, Buck co-founded the organization Web Start Women, an organization dedicated to bringing women into web design, and

cultivating open, supportive, intimidation-free environments where women and girls of all ages can learn, build and code together.

Another project is called AdaCamp. This is another program created to bring women together to increase their participation in open technology and culture fields. AdaCamp 2012 is being held in DC and is a part of a larger project called Ada Initiative, and is

is a 150-200 person unconference in Washington, D.C. on July 10-11, 2012. It is co-located with Wikimania 2012, the global conference for Wikipedia and related Wiki projects. Wikimania brings influential and talented people from around the world who are interested in improving the participation of women in Wikipedia and other open data projects, as shown by Wikimania’s selection of Ada Initiative co-founder Mary Gardiner as a keynote speaker.

Finally, NSERC (National Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada) has created a webpage dedicated to Women in Science and Engineering in order to provide information about policies aimed at increasing the participation of women in these fields.

Some interesting observations

I’ve been trying to avoid too much sarcasm when posting on this blog, but I have to admit I was tempted to title this post “Really?!” I’m including a summary of two articles that seem to be trying to advocate for more women in IT, but are just missing the point about why.

These articles came out at the beginning of the month, but they are a part of a trend that we keep seeing in the media. The first article comes from Brier Dudley at The Seattle Times: Facebook message: Girls, too, can do computers. Okay. So far so good. Then the first line:

If video games can inspire boys to study computer science, perhaps Facebook can have the same effect on girls.

The article goes on to discuss the fact that even though software companies have been trying to recruit more women, there are fewer women studying computer science than in the 1980’s (was the internet even around then?). Facebook, however is hoping to change that, or at least the women who work in development hope to inspire teenage girls who use the social networking site. Fair, but I still don’t understand the first sentence of the article.

The next article by Ellen Messmer at Network World reports on the Anita Borg Institute’s report that recommends that there be one viable female candidate for every IT job opening. Unfortunately, Messmer herself seems uneasy with the idea, mentioning more than once that this might seem like a “radical idea to some,” and also makes the point that there aren’t that many female graduates coming out of computer science programs. The report makes other recommendations that should help to even out the playing field in the IT industry such as:

- Build a gender-balanced internship program for technical positions.

– Use social networks strategically to increase the number of female candidates for technical positions.

– Revise job descriptions to reduce gender stereotypes.

– Institute a blind resume screening process to reduce the potential for unconscious bias.

– Implement dual-career support mechanisms when relocation is involved.

– Hold executives and managers accountable for reaching diversity goals and targets.

– Measure and evaluate your efforts to increase the representation of women.

Both of these articles present a very real problem: there are far too few women studying computer science and even fewer in the IT industry. But shouldn’t we be asking ourselves why? Perhaps we should address the real problems that are keeping women out of the industry. Women don’t want to work in an environment where they are not heard or represented or where they are harassed. Women don’t want to work in an industry where they do not receive the same opportunities or salaries as their male counterpoints. Don’t get me wrong, many women do work in these environments, and fight to receive the same treatment as men. Some women are thriving. But it is hard to convince young women to willingly enter a misogynist field that is dominated by men. So although there should be policies in place to interview women for IT positions, there should also be policies that work to change the environment of the IT industry to allow for women to be as successful as men, include more female perspectives and to forbid gender-based hate speech and bullying.

Massive Hate

After following a long thread on the IGDA Women in Games Discussion List, I think I have gathered enough outrage to share this story. Jennifer Hepler, a writer for BioWare, was recently the target of a barrage of misogynist hate-speech that arose after a piece of a quote was taken out of context and circulated on some online forums. I have read many of the tweets, the so-called reasons for this attack, and the analyses of why gamers are so angry, and my head is still spinning. No one could convince me, however, that anything Hepler or BioWare could have done would have warranted the way that this woman was targeted for her gender and… weight? Really? (Apparently there was a picture of Hepler that accompanied the excerpt, and her appearance did not meet the high standards of her critics.)

Daniel Nye Griffiths summarized the situation in Forbes, including an analysis of why gamers are so angry with the situation. He links to another blog which compiled many of the tweets sent to Hepler before her account was disabled. I read many of them*sigh* and I agree with Griffiths’ statement:

These comments are profoundly vicious and obscene in their phrasing, and should not be read at work, or by anyone seeking to maintain much faith in the human race.

In response to all of this, BioWare has released a statement in support of Hepler and donated $1,000 to the anti-harassment volunteer organization Bullying Canada.

Jennifer definitely has some support, and she has mine as well. Solidarity.

Develop salary survey 2012: Males vs females

Develop‘s 2012 salary survey is out, with some not-so-surprising figures. The bottom line? The difference in salaries between male and female game developer executives in the UK is £3,000.

The staff at Develop published a summary of the survey here. They found the same trend globally between men and women, and went on to mention that this difference is due (in part) to a larger issue: the number of female games professionals overall. Only 6% of the surveyed game developers and 11% of those surveyed in the overall industry were women.

A third of the women surveyed were game designers (the largest group of women in one area), all aged 22–39, with an average of 3–5 years experience. They had a median salary of £26,944. Their male counterparts who had 2–3 years experience on average had a median salary of £31,935.

Go Figure.

Google’s Marissa Mayer says more women needed in tech

How do we achieve this? Don’t just focus on how many women are in technology, focus on creating more computer scientists. Create more interest in the field beginning in high school.

Mayer was quick to point out that when it comes to advanced placement exams, 200,000 students take the calculus test, but only 14,000 take the computer science one. That means 7% of the students who think they’re good at math take both the math exam and the computer science exam.

“If you talk to Google engineers, only 2% were exposed to computer science in high school,” added Mayer. “We really just need to get that number up. Imagine if we had 200,000 or 500,000 students graduating from high school every year who have taken computer science, as well as calculus.”

Read more here.

Study: Minorities, women often discouraged from entering engineering, science fields

From The State Journal, “West Virginia’s Only Business Newspaper” comes another article about women (and minorities) who study STEM.

Cathy Bonnstetter wrote:

An online poll of science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, department chairs at America’s top 200 research institutions […] showed that 40 percent of minority and female chemists and engineers polled said they were discouraged from studying STEM subjects.

Although they agreed that their institutions did very little to recruit and retain women and minorities in their programs, the mostly white, middle-aged, Caucasian male STEM chairs said:

the number of women in their STEM courses has stayed steady. They also said they believed women came to college most prepared to tackle STEM subjects, while minorities came the least prepared.

The reason the minorities were less prepared?

“The chairs felt the underrepresented minority students faced a lack of limited quality science in elementary and secondary school, as well as a lack of role models,” Lucore said.


Read the full article.

Women in IT

Another post in Campus Technology about the push to get more women into the IT industry, more specifically, into executive positions.

The editors of Campus Technology write that although there are more women than men on campus(es) and more women earning advanced degrees, males dominate executive positions, especially in IT. The article also includes interviews with three female IT executives in which they share their thoughts on their male-dominated field.

NCWIT Trying To Increase Number of Women in Technology Field

This article from the Technology section of Forbes describes the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT) program “Pacesetters” that has partnered with educational institutions and businesses to recruit and retain women in the field of IT.Apparently it is working. Author Tim Sohn wrote:

“Higher education institutions and businesses are already reporting results: The University of Virginia is on its way to boosting its percentage of women computing graduates by 10 percent to 25 percent. Google now has twice as many female engineer interns. University of California, Santa Cruz has increased the number of female majors in computer science by 40 percent. In addition, IBM is encouraging more women to participate in professional development programs.”