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.

The Inaugural Feminists in Games Workshop

Well, for those of you that made it last weekend, we had a great, productive, thought provoking time. Some fun was had too, but really we got down to the nitty gritty of how we are going to make change, and we even came up with a few ideas of where and how to start. Over the course of the next few days I am going to post videos of the talks given at the workshop, and I am also going to invite attendees/participants/observers to send me your impressions of the weekend to post.

In the meantime, here is a video of the talk by Profs. Suzanne de Castell and Jennifer Jenson. This was the FiG welcome talk, and a primer about how we might bring a feminist perspective to our work in the games industry (and to our work in a broader sense). Enjoy! Take notes! (also, wear headphones for the Q&A because it’s a little hard to hear).


Some Good Press

An article from The Guardian tells us that the number of grassroots feminist groups in the UK have doubled in the last two years. Yay! These groups are battling the objectification of and discrimination against women, and apparently filling their ranks with young men as well. Well done ladies and gentlemen.

The article in highlights a few organizations that led a protest against selling pornography at eye-level, some of which ended in shop owners agreeing to cover up the images on the magazines on display.

As 17-year-old Nina Mega from Edinburgh put it: “Sometimes you get the idea that the world is a pretty misogynistic place and feminists are few and far between, but when you see all those like-minded people together – men and women – you just think: ‘Wow.'”

Nudey magazines aren’t the only things spurring a call for change in the UK. Also particularly upsetting to young feminists is the debate over potential compulsory lessons on abstinence (only for teenage girls of course) as well as the growing anti-abortion movement and the number of women losing their jobs (there are twice as many women expected to lose their jobs as men).

A note to Nina: The world is full of misogyny, but it’s important that we keep organizing and fighting, especially as the going gets tough. Right on.

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.

How early should children start using computers?

It’s no surprise. They should start as early as possible. MIT’s Lifelong Kindergarten Group (the maker of Scratch) has partnered with DevTech Research Group to make Scratch Jr., a program aimed to teach kids from preschool to Grade 2 how to create their own stories and games using digital media.

Mitch Resnick, director of the Lifelong Kindergarten group, spearheaded the creation of Scratch. Having worked with a network of afterschool programs using digital media, Resnick was struck by the lack of software that enabled kids to go beyond playing with other people’s media. There was nothing that encouraged them to make their own interactive stories and games.

As there is more discussion about what 21st century literacy is, Resnick equates teaching basic programming to teaching how to write. He adds:

What’s most important to me is that young children start to develop a relationship with the computer where they feel they’re in control,” Resnick said. “We don’t want kids to see the computer as something where they just browse and click. We want them to see digital technologies as something they can use to express themselves.

Read more about the project here at MindShift.