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The Rolodex
by Jenn Frank on 03/27/14 08:27:00 am   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

Somebody once said:

...[W]e should hire based on merit, and not gender.

I would like to compose a reply directly to that person. But as a "comment" my reply is too, too long, I think, so I'm posting it as a blargh over here instead.

 

this is a rolodex, you young hooligans

 

Friend, I'll be honest: Every time I hear this phrase uttered anew, my brain explodes. The unfortunate — and unintended, I know! — insinuation being made here is that "merit" and "gender" (or "race," or "sexual orientation" or whatever) are somehow mutually exclusive. Yikes! Instead of letting people own their personal achievements, we perhaps suspect them of being hired according to some mysterious "quota." Yikes again!

No one is saying "hire a woman instead of a competent, qualified person." Yikes, yikes, yikes!

But I know that isn't what you mean by "merit-based hiring." You mean, in an ideal world, to never take gender into account when choosing the best man for the job.

Incidentally, a friend and colleague of mine said exactly this same thing to me — about how we should hire "according to merit" (or experience) "rather than gender," and he said this word-for-word — last week during GDC. I'd like to tell you exactly what I told my friend:

"Pretend I'm a guy." ("Ha, ha," my friend said.) ("Okay," I said, "wait. I think my analogy might work even if I'm not a guy. But follow me here.")

("Okay," said my friend.)

So here I am with my super-great idyllic childhood, okay. I get adopted by an upper-middle-class family living in a small, mostly-white town, so I have mostly white friends. I'm "privileged" in every measurable sense of the word. I eventually go on to a highly-ranked university, thanks to a rad letter of recommendation from an alumna (my high school geometry teacher, actually!). I land myself a spot in a pretty competitive major that contains only, say, fifteen students total, most of whom are white, half of whom are young men, half young women.

These people go directly into my Rolodex.

By 2006 I am salaried at a company where I am one among a teensy handful of women, where most of the people I work with — the people I communicate with during any given day — are mostly men, often white. And I don't just mean my coworkers, here; I mean, literally, every other person I communicate with, whether at Konami, Activision, maybe a PR firm like Edelman...! Whoever it is, I'm talking to dudes all day. It's dudes all the way down.

So, naturally, I put all these people into my Rolodex.

("I like how you keep saying Rolodex," my friend teased me.)

("It's not a metaphor!" I told him. "I literally use a Rolodex! It's totally a holdover from that old desk job." The Rolodex, already full of contacts, was sitting on my desk when I got there.)

So now I've got a Rolodex full of people I've worked with, people who I know to be talented and trustworthy. If you were to ask me "Hey, Jenn, who's a good person for [literally anything]," I might thumb through my Rolodex and pull out a white dude and go, "I can vouch for this person; he's good."

Now, I'm not deliberately being malicious or nasty or sexist, here; I'm not, like, going out of my way to NOT promote women or other outliers. It's just that, for my first six-odd years in this industry, I mostly knew dudes. And you can't convince me my "old guard" Rolodex lacks merit, right? These are the people with whom I'm most comfortable working. This is what I know.

"We all have Rolodexes, so to speak," I said to my friend, "and we all believe our Rolodexes contain people of merit and real value. And of course I'll get offended if you tell me my Rolodex is 'whitewashed'. But it IS whitewashed, because these are the people I've always interacted with, have always worked with."

My Rolodex used to be an echo chamber: It resembled, I suspect, a lot of other industry professionals' Rolodexes.

This Rolodex analogy is how we keep perpetuating something called institutionalized sexism (also, institutionalized racism, plus institutionalized homophobia and transphobia). Really talented people — people who aren't yet in a fellow colleague's "Rolodex" — never quite get that foot in the door. Of course they can't, because we're all too busy consulting these Rolodexes of people we already know, rather than seeking fresh — and oftentimes unproven! — talent.

The reality is, there is an unconscious "gender bias," according to Scientific American. That uncanny bias repeats itself in every field. It is both institutionalized and internalized: Even women and minorities ignore academic queries and requests from other women and minorities. (One peer, a Mr. John Brindle, put it really well tonight: It isn't that we actively discriminate against anybody in particular. It's that we constantly discriminate IN FAVOR of white men.)

So I have a certain ethical responsibility, I told this friend of mine at GDC, to kind of combat my own established Rolodex. I've started asking around about who maybe isn't on my radar yet. Maybe I'll keep my ear a little lower to the ground during GDC or IndieCade. Maybe I've started to realize my colleagues' Rolodexes are a little better than mine — "diversified portfolios," as an investment banker might call them.

Maybe I'd like to start signal-boosting competent, talented people who don't yet have fleshed-out résumés, "if for no other reason," I said to my friend at GDC, "than to NOT BE BORING. Being BORING is the greatest crime you can do unto another."

 

this is admittedly a Shoe Rolodex, but you take my point
(This is actually a "shoe rolodex," but you take my point.)

 

And we ARE being boring! In the U.S. — and this should be a galling factoid, regardless of who you are — Caucasian men account for 34% of the population (and about 80% of the decision-making, oh ho ho ho). White guys really are the majority, in the sense that they make up the widest swath of people, but they are overrepresented in, ah, basically every sphere. (Women love fashion design? Name me one woman NOT VERA WANG who designs clothes, fellows. Women love cooking? Name me one NOT RACHAEL RAY celebrity chef. Women love hair? Name me a single hairstylist who isn't Paul Mitchell. Even the superstars of "women's work" are men.)

To compare: half the U.S. population is Women, All Women. So when anyone issues a challenge like "How about employing a lady in that particular type of position, for a change," that person is asking you to limbo under a bar with some hilariously spacious berth.

"We should hire based on merit, rather than gender."

These are bold words to speak to a class of people that, even now, is consistently written out of history books and continues to receive unequal pay. Our collective "merit" is diminished each day of the week, regardless of our individual achievements.

In his book The Sky Is Not the Limit, Neil DeGrasse Tyson writes at length about the people who, at every turn, encouraged him to leave astrophysics. "To spend most of my life fighting these attitudes," he writes, "levies an emotional tax that constitutes a form of intellectual emasculation."

And while DeGrasse Tyson graciously never names the university that caused him so much pain, he does go on to credit the university to which he transferred, his alma mater Columbia, with a portion of his success:

"There are no limits when you are surrounded by people who believe in you, or by people whose expectations are not set by the short-sighted attitudes of society, or by people who help to open doors of opportunity, not close them."

They're beautiful, optimistic words, words that ought to serve as a clarion call to people in every field of work.

And yet, and yet: If reaching your full potential only requires a supportive network and culture of people, it is small wonder so many women and minorities shy from the video games industry. (DeGrasse Tyson says exactly the same, of women in the sciences, here.)

Just some food for thought.

*addendum: Thanks to my unnamed GDC convo-partner, if he sees this, for the content in this blog post. (Hi!) Thanks, too, to Shawn Allen. Also, Elizabeth Sampat's necessary, must-read blog is what put me into this headspace — it's the first article I can remember in recent history written for other women in the industry, and only for them, by a woman.

Everything above came about because I wanted to very explicitly respond to a comment left on Sampat's post. I feel a little weird in that I admire Sampat's post's willingness to talk to fellow women, while I — once again — am writing directly to other men. I'm not sure what this means, either, but I do acknowledge it.


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Comments


Katy Smith
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This is really well written! Thanks! Also, "dudes all the way down" is going to work its way into my discussions on this topic from now on :)

Katy Smith
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double post, so here's an Ascii turtle.
_
.-./*)
_/___\/
U U

Sean Kiley
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When you talk about pulling job applicants from a Rolodex, I think you are arguing against a certain type of nepotism which has the effect of favoring installed industry majorities.

However when talking about resumes/demos coming into an office, I think hiring on merit makes sense.

Alex Van de Weyer
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I was going to make the exact same point - totally agree with this.

Matthew Brabbin
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Sean, the literal, physical rolodex isn't the problem. Sure, individual nepotism is bad, but it's not what Jenn's article is about.

It's about the metaphorical rolodex, the rolodex that all of us have inside our heads that's made up of everyone from every group of people we've ever interacted with.

If the vast majority of people you've interacted with are members of group X, you're going to have a subconscious bias towards group X, whether you want to or not. You're naturally going to favor people from that group, because that's who you're familiar with. Even if you tell yourself that you're hiring based solely on merit and not any other quality, your subconscious biases are going to make you more likely to choose someone from group X than group Y. With very few exceptions, everyone has these subconscious biases, and if you think you don't, I encourage you to look up the Project Implicit tests at implicit.harvard.edu, it might be a little eye-opening. I know it certainly was for me when I took them, many years ago.

Having a subconscious bias is okay! It's something everyone has to deal with. The important thing, especially for those of us with the most systemic power (straight, white, cisgender men) is to recognize and make an active effort to counteract these subconscious biases as much as possible. At least, it's important for anyone who wants to consider him or herself an ally of women, people of color, and other marginalized groups.

Ian Schreiber
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Of course hiring on merit makes sense. But if half of the human population is women and only a tiny fraction of applicants for your open position are women, then you're probably not hiring on merit, in the sense that your hiring pool only contains about half the top talent it should. And if half of your hiring pool IS women but you still find yourself hiring almost all dudes, odds are VERY good that you're actually NOT hiring on merit, that you have some unintended gender bias in your hiring. The point is that hiring on merit means systematically, ruthlessly detecting and eliminating systemic biases that you can't see, else you're not as much of a meritocracy as you thought you were.

Hakim Boukellif
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"But if half of the human population is women and only a tiny fraction of applicants for your open position are women, then you're probably not hiring on merit, in the sense that your hiring pool only contains about half the top talent it should."

Isn't the whole issue that that other half of top talent simply doesn't exist right now? If less women than men study the subjects needed for game development (which is definitely the case for at least the more technical roles) then there inevitably will be fewer women than men applying for jobs in game development. That being the case, even if every company in the industry hired exclusively on merit (or even based on lottery for that matter), the average company would still predominantly consist of male employees.

Being biased towards women when hiring feels to me like treating the symptom rather than the cause.

Leszek Szczepanski
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I don't see the connection between the quote and the Rolodex.

You're looking for new faces, outside the list of contacts you already have. Great! However does it matter if the new face is of a man or woman? As far as I understand it shouldn't.

When your looking for an employee, gender, age, race, sexual orientation should be totally off the table. What is left? Skills, passion, knowledge etc.

The rolodex is a different problem, not related to gender at all.

Ashley Blacquiere
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The point is that the 'games industry Rolodex' is inherently gendered because the industry is overwhelmingly dominated by male developers.

Put it this way: If a trusted friend came to you and said 'I need a person who is really good at x and has y years experience for a venture z that I'm starting up' where would you find someone to recommend? From your figurative Rolodex, or from the pile of resumes on your desk?

I'm pretty sure the point Jenn is making here is that for most people, the answer is the Rolodex. And, as stated, in the games industry that Rolodex is often filled with white males.

What Jenn is advocating by 'keeping her ear to the ground' is a concerted effort to meet people who she otherwise may not have an opportunity to work with, but who have some of those great qualities you mention: skills, passion, knowledge, etc. By making an effort like this one can perhaps expand the Rolodex beyond the confines of one's immediate work circle, and perhaps break the old cycle that so often stymies new entrants into the field: 'How do I get a job in game dev if I need 5 years experience to get a job in game dev?'

There are all sorts of ways to expand one's network: Social events (GDC, meetups, etc), volunteering (schools, universities, professional programs), game jams, etc. These types of events and places are always full of keen individuals (of all genders!) who have the skills, passion, and knowledge, but maybe not the experience. And its an 'ethical responsibility' for us as developers to make sure we're reaching out to those people - that they're not just getting pushed to the sidelines by established convention - because we *need* diversity.

Ian Richard
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I fully agree that keeping your ear to the ground and meeting new people is important. This industry can use some fresh blood and I'm overjoyed every time I hear of anyone who decides that they want to make a game and go a step beyond "The idea".

But this have NOTHING to do with gender... it has everything to do with who you know.

A man who doesn't know anybody will be ignored just as much as a woman who doesn't. When you live in a network driven industry, it's your job to get into other people's Rolodex.

The practice is BS, and I'm all for changing it.... but it has nothing to do with gender.

Christian Kulenkampff
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"When you live in a network driven industry, it's your job to get into other people's Rolodex." And here women have an unfair disadvantage like in practically all industries. Of course there are other "outgroups" that are also marginalized and discriminated. You can look at the video I posted some posts below to understand how this works (I urge you to do so).

Maurício Gomes
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People should not be hiring from the rolodex with a few exceptions, you should be hiring from the resumes people sent you.

And when hiring from the resumes sent you, you should hire based on merit.


Too bad this is to ask too much (I don't know anyone in the "mainstream" AAA industry, and I never figured how to get to know anyone, or get hired, or anything like that, I live in Brazil, don't have money to visit a conference, and it is obvious that success in the game industry is still mostly tied to who you know, do not matter if you are employee, employer, indie, AAA, business owner, QA, coder, artist, black, white, woman, men, gay, hetero, brazillian, polish, japanese...)

David Mullich
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I concur. As a game producer who has worked in the game industry for 35 years, I have quite an extensive Rolodex myself, but rarely can I rely on it to satisfy my hiring needs. I've used recruiters for some higher-level positions, but place on-line ads for most. To create games of the quality I require, I have to base my hiring or contracting decisions on candidates' talent or experience. It just so happens that many of the programmers, designers, artists, producers and testers I have hired or otherwise worked with have been women and/or people from a wide variety of ethnicities and races.

I might be missing Jenn Frank's point, but it seems that she is advocating giving preference to groups that are underrepresented in the game industry in order to expand our rolodexes. I suggest an alternate approach: we should be doing everything we can to let people know that EVERYONE with talent is welcome in the game industry, and to knock some sense in to those within our industry who truly are prejudiced and make hiring decisions based on stereotypes. If we truly base our hiring decisions on merit without excluding any any underrepresented group, our rolodexes with grow naturally.

David Mullich
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Upon further thought, I'd like to correct myself. I do think that if one meets job candidates based on merit, one's "rolodex" will automatically become more diverse. However, there is benefit in seeking out diversity, particularly in creative positions. Gamers are a diverse group, and so it is helpful to have equally diverse game developers. If all designers (as well as artists and to some degree, producers) come from the same background -- typically white, male, middle-class, urban, liberal, heterosexual, non-religous -- we will continually present a single creative vision in our games. We should seek out diversity in order to present broader points-of-view in our creative works.

Paul Borawski
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Great article! It's very to the point of the problem, and yes like she said in an ideal world only merit SHOULD matter but we don't live in that world. Most jobs I have had and that I have helped my friends get are through referrals. It's the way the world works. You hire who you know to lessen the risk of someone not working out. So to say that hiring on merit makes sense is a non starter. It all goes to privilege, white men (myself included) have had it pretty easy getting into the door in most places of business. While I am not rich nor come from a rich family, I definitely concede I have had it easier than many other people I know just based on my sex and race. I hope more articles are written like this on Gamasutra. Great job!

Jay Anne
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The rebuttal to the merit quote is simple. The diversity that an employee can add to the workforce IS part of their merit. An employee's utility goes beyond just the ability to finish their tasks. If an employee can add diversity to the idea pool and culture, that is worthwhile and possibly even invaluable. It breaks the echo chamber, as you suggest. This additional merit can be intangible and hard to pinpoint, but enough people seem to suggest that forcing diversity works out in the long run.

Daniel Borgmann
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Diversity is a merit in itself, but it doesn't justify discrimination.

If you say that a certain group of people has less merit because of their ethnicity or gender (white male) and you decide against hiring them based on this fact alone, that's discrimination.

We can strive for diversity without discrimination, by encouraging a more diverse range of people to develop the merits required for the job, and of course by making everybody feel equally welcome.

Christian Nutt
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Where in the world has anybody argued that white men have LESS merit than others? I seriously haven't seen that seriously suggested anywhere.

Daniel Borgmann
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"The diversity that an employee can add to the workforce IS part of their merit."

So if they happen to be the wrong gender and ethnicity (the one which does not bring ethnic or gender diversity to the workforce, most likely white male in the western video game industry), you assign them less merit based on their gender and/or ethnicity.

How else am I supposed to understand this?

If we put aside wishful thinking for a second, I really don't get how showing hiring preferences based on gender can ever not be discriminatory.

I understand why companies would choose to do that (and even why people would advocate for companies to do this), but at least call a spade a spade.

Christian Kulenkampff
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It's simply not discrimination. It might be a decision based on other things than just a murky impression of performance, but discrimination is something else.

When you want a colorful diverse company it's not discrimination when you choose the first woman instead of the sixth man to do the job. Nobody says a company should always hire women over men or hiring women at all cost. A thoughtful discrimination-aware diversity-aware hiring process is all we ask for.

Many people, organizations and legislators don't think this simple request is met with the required urgency, so they consider compensatory policies - also not discrimination.

[User Banned]
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This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

Harley White-Wiedow
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"I really don't get how showing hiring preferences based on gender can ever not be discriminatory."

Think about this for a second. Our industry is overwhelmingly showing hiring preferences based on gender. The proof is in the results - it's an overwhelmingly male workforce. Take out support staff, and it gets even worse. This article is merely suggesting that we stop doing that, and start looking past our discriminatory tendencies towards getting a few good women up in here.

Daniel Borgmann
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"Our industry is overwhelmingly showing hiring preferences based on gender. The proof is in the results - it's an overwhelmingly male workforce."

No, that is not a proof. To prove hiring preferences, you would have to show that the percentage of female employees is smaller than the percentage of (equally qualified) female applicants. Has anybody done such a study? I am not aware of it, and I wouldn't be surprised if actual facts would show an opposite correlation. If I'm wrong, then this is of course a serious issue that needs to be addressed, but let's stick with the facts please.

Also, I don't know if this article is still up to date, but it seems relevant:

http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/404799.article

To quote:

"Positive discrimination means treating one person more favourably than another on the ground of that individual’s sex, race, age, marital status or sexual orientation. While, in this situation, the individual’s characteristic is being taken into account to benefit that individual, typically because that individual belongs to a group that is often treated unfairly or under-represented in the workforce, this is nevertheless unlawful discrimination."

and

"In contrast to positive discrimination, limited forms of “positive action” are permitted under all strands of the discrimination legislation. So, employers are allowed to offer disadvantaged groups access to facilities for training and to encourage job applications from under-represented groups. However, they are not permitted to discriminate in the selection of candidates for employment or promotion or the terms and conditions on which they are employed."

Let's figure out how to get more women interested in the field and how to make workplaces more welcoming for everybody. But let's not discard reason and equality in the process.

Christian Kulenkampff
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"No, that is not a proof. To prove hiring preferences, you would have to show that the percentage of female employees is smaller than the percentage of (equally qualified) female applicants." There is huge evidence for disadvantages for female applicants in general. Why do you think there are special laws to promote positive actions? I feel like a parrot. Please watch this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CkbzQpmNrlk
Don't you agree with what Mikki says at the end of her talk?

Discrimination is always based on prejudices and is directed towards somebody else. When you hire with diversity in mind you don't think:
"Oh, this man is probably not able to do the job, because he is so manly."
You think:
"Oh this man would be totally able to do the job, but there is only one female developer in our team. It would be really cool to have another woman in our team, so I will employ this woman, who is also totally able to do the job. We all want to be a diverse colorful team, this really broadens the horizon and helps to understand multiple audiences."
This is not discrimination.

To quote your article:
"We reported in July that the Equality Bill, which proposes a number of changes to discrimination law, has been presented to Parliament. One proposed change is the introduction of the right for employers to take _positive action_ when selecting between two equally qualified candidates." (As far as my quick look-up goes, the proposals were incorporated)

Very interesting document (UK):
https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/
system/uploads/attachment_data/file/85014/
positive-action-recruitment.pdf
"Example:
An employer has very few women in its senior management team. Under the general positive action provisions it offers a development programme which is only open to women to help female staff compete for management positions. This is not unlawful discrimination against male staff, because it is allowed by the positive action provisions."

Laura Frentzl
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> Really talented people — people who aren't yet in a fellow colleague's "Rolodex" — never quite get that foot in the door. Of course they can't, because we're all too busy consulting these Rolodexes of people we already know, rather than seeking fresh — and oftentimes unproven! — talent.

This is true regardless of race, color, creed, religion, gender, or sexual orientation. Those doing the hiring would rather not take a chance on unproven talent. It's the old Catch 22: "I can't get a job unless I have experience. I can't get experience until I have a job."

> Women love fashion design? Name me one woman NOT VERA WANG who designs clothes, fellows.

Coco Chanel. Liz Claiborne. Donatella Versace. Donna Karan.

> Women love cooking? Name me one NOT RACHAEL RAY celebrity chef.

Paula Deen. Julia Child. Sandra Lee. Giada de Laurentiis. Ina Garten. Anne Burrell. Padma Lakshmi. Have you ever watched the Food Network?

> Women love hair? Name me a single hairstylist who isn't Paul Mitchell. Even the superstars of "women's work" are men.)

Tracey Cunningham. Marie Robinson.

Just because you don't know them doesn't mean they don't exist.

Look closer at the labor statistics: white males comprise 34% of the population, but they comprise 43% of the workforce; 53% of the labor pool is made of up men. That's both employed and unemployed. According to the BLS's report on women, in 1970, 11% of women in the labor force held college degrees. In 2011, that number rose to 37%. Only 33% of men in the labor force have college degrees. Of men and women in the labor force whom have college degrees, 95.75% and 95.73% are employed. In 2011, women accounted for 51% of all people employed in management, professional, and related occupations -- higher than women's share of the labor pool (47%). Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Women in the Labor Force: A Databook (February 2013).

Women hold 4.6% of Fortune 500 CEO positions. That's a damning number, but consider that it was 0% less than thirty years ago -- in 1986, Liz Claiborne (remember her?) was the first woman to become CEO of a Fortune 500.

Overall, women are making gains. Let's focus on the positive. Continue supporting and encouraging women -- and men -- to seek jobs wherever their interests may lie.

Christian Kulenkampff
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"This is true regardless of race, color, creed, religion, gender, or sexual orientation. Those doing the hiring would rather not take a chance on unproven talent. It's the old Catch 22: "I can't get a job unless I have experience. I can't get experience until I have a job."
What do you think about marginalization and [interpersonal] discrimination which are probably the reasons for biased rolodexes?

"Just because you don't know them doesn't mean they don't exist."
I think the common lack of knowledge already proves the point...

"Overall, women are making gains. Let's focus on the positive. Continue supporting and encouraging women -- and men -- to seek jobs wherever their interests may lie."
As far as I know many organizations recommend to do more than just that. E.g. http://www.oecd.org/gender/closingthegap.htm

Laura Frentzl
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> What do you think about marginalization and [interpersonal] discrimination which are probably the reasons for biased rolodexes?

Individuals will always prefer colleagues they have worked well with before. Any interpersonal discrimination based on physical attributes is unfortunate and should be advised against as a general rule. In my experience, though, I've never seen hiring done out of a rolodex (or any such similar device, if the rolodex is taken as a metaphor). Resumes land and are judged based on content relevant to the job.

> I think the common lack of knowledge already proves the point...

I disagree. Do you know who the front-runner(s) are for the Green Party in 2016? Probably not. But I bet you know who the front-runner(s) are for the Democratic and Republican parties. Hint: two of the parties mentioned have women as front-runners. The lack of common knowledge is more a function of the dissemination of knowledge. Media and memetics. Take the chefs, for instance -- when the Food Network launched in 1993, nearly every chef on the network was a man. Alton Brown landed on TV in 1998. Gordon Ramsay landed in 1998 and made a lot of noise because he's an insufferable prick. Rachel Ray didn't show up on television until 2005. And if anyone doesn't know who Julia Child is, they simply don't know much about celebrity chefs.

Do CS students know who Charles Babbage is? What about Ada Lovelace?

> As far as I know many organizations recommend to do more than just that. E.g. http://www.oecd.org/gender/closingthegap.htm

From that link:

> Greater gender equality in educational attainment has a strong positive effect on economic growth

Women already beat out men in college degrees; in the BLS study, I saw figures of 55% or higher.

> Stereotyping needs to be addressed in educational choices at school from a young age.

This is akin to what I said about encouraging women to seek careers wherever their interests may lie. Fostering natural growth in interests should be paramount. Encourage STEM by providing children with toys and challenges that promote those disciplines. Do not pigeonhole your children.

Christian Kulenkampff
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"The lack of common knowledge is more a function of the dissemination of knowledge." This is exactly the point. Don't you think the biased media coverage is coined by marginalization and discrimination? (BTW I am from Germany, the political landscape here is different. My knowledge about American politicians or chefs is very limited. The male-female ratio of popular German TV chefs is pretty daunting).

"Do CS students know who Charles Babbage is? What about Ada Lovelace?" I didn't know about Charles Babbage, but Ada Lovelace is really popular, beside many men like von Neumann, Dijkstra, Turing...

"Women already beat out men in college degrees; in the BLS study, I saw figures of 55% or higher." So why do you think there is a gender gap, when it comes to employment in so many positions and sectors? This gap is really huge in software development spheres. To quote the databook: "For example, 14 percent of architects and engineers and 34 percent of physicians and surgeons were women, whereas 61 percent of accountants and auditors and 82 percent of elementary and middle school teachers were women." I have the impression that these statistics make marginalization almost tangible.

"Do not pigeonhole your children." I totally agree. But don't you think there is a huge lump of traditional role models and prejudices that are constantly perpetuated? Don't you think we should do more than just encouraging? Please watch this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CkbzQpmNrlk Don't you agree with what Mikki says at the end of her talk?

Elizabeth Sampat
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Jenn, you know I think this post is amazing and important. And I wouldn't worry too much about your audience— it's good that you're talking to men, because as the comments show, Lord knows they need it.

John Ingato
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"because as the comments show, Lord knows they need it."

Please explain. I'm not seeing any comments that merit such an accusation. Though I find your comment to be very narrow visioned.

Kris Graft
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Well, I sure did delete a couple of the worst offenders, including one that said "Discrimination doesn't deserve the bad rap it's gotten."

And also there is still a dose of "Dudes don't see problems so there must not be any" attitude with dissenting posts. So I totally see what Elizabeth means when she says dudes need to get educated about this.

I have no idea what you mean when you say she's being "very narrow-visioned."

John Ingato
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Narrow Minded - "having a biased or illiberal viewpoint; bigoted, intolerant, or prejudiced"

that might not be the best term to use but my point is there are only a very small percentage of these comments that she could be referring to, yet she is grouping all men together based on the small percentage of posts she decided to focus on.

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Lance Thornblad
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@Kris - Really, you don't? Fight marginalization with marginalization, eh?

That said, it was a good article. But I agree with the post above that said, "This is true regardless of race, color, creed, religion, gender, or sexual orientation."

Christian Kulenkampff
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@Elizabeth: True words.

Some of you might relate to this (from my point of view I certainly cannot *really* understand, nevertheless I find it very energizing): http://bellejar.ca/2014/03/15/tired-of-talking-to-men (via http://feministing.com)

Mike Fleischauer
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"I have no idea what you mean when you say she's being "very narrow-visioned."


And that is why your moderation is being called into question.

If ANYONE spoke about any other racial or sexual group with the proverbial "they", as Elizabeth did, you'd be swinging the banhammer.

Kris Graft
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Dudes all the way down, indeed. Great post, Jenn. Thanks for posting it here.

John Trauger
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This is a tough problem. Nobody likes discrimination. (OK, very few)

But at the same time games are a business. Skilled people are needed for skilled positions or the business potentially suffers. And most of the skilled people are guys.

If Jenn is asked for a recommendation, she is being asked for her opinion. In that context there is nothing wrong with her choosing to favor a woman. That's her choice and a part of what makes up her criterion for who to recommend. The stock people will put in her opinion will rise and fall with the fortunes of the names she gives that actually get the job.

It's a very different thing for an employer to intentionally and systematically exclude or include a group.

A part of this is also just the time it takes to become a seasoned dev. Women have to work their way up to senior positions, pay their dues. Not just as rank-and-file devs, but as dev superstars. We need female John Carmacks and Peter Molyneuxes making the games they truly want to make and selling a bunch of them.

About 10 years ago, I remember reading about black university students and Affirmative Action. In many cases, students who were placed in universities their grades would not have gotten in them into, the students dropped out after a year or two from the pressure. Affirmative Action did not get them an advanced degree from prestigious school.

The worst thing someone like Jenn could do for women in games is recommend a woman for a position she isn't ready for. By all means seek out qualified women, but the word is "qualified".

Sean Gubelman
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You rock. This article is fantastic. (Created this account to tell you that)

Ben Sheftel
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I'm happy to have stimulated such interesting discussion!

"The unfortunate — and unintended, I know! — insinuation being made here is that "merit" and "gender" (or "race," or "sexual orientation" or whatever) are somehow mutually exclusive"
I didn't make any statements about the relationship between merit and gender, just that hiring should only consider the former (The Employment Non-Discrimination Act agrees with me). An analogy might be that the Army assesses physical fitness of men and women equally, regardless of any correlation between gender and physical fitness.

I'm a bit confused as to whether you're saying that merit based hiring practices are bad or ineffective. You mention, even in bold, that people should own their personal achievements, and I didn't think that making the statement "gender discrimination in hiring decisions is bad" would be controversial, so I'll assume the second.

Like others, I agree with your main point that candidates for jobs are often determined by existing relationships. This may slow changes in employee demographics. I certainly agree that we should change that by considering as many candidates as possible to find the best employees. But I still believe that the hiring process should only take into account the candidate's merit (talent, passion, etc). Elizabeth encouraged the reader to "employ women whenever possible", which would of course discriminate by gender.

Christian Kulenkampff
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I feel like a parrot. Please watch this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CkbzQpmNrlk
Don't you agree with what Mikki says at the end of her talk?

Ben Sheftel
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It's an interesting talk, although it's very general. What part are you referring to? Encouraging more legislation? Identifying interpersonal discrimination?

Christian Kulenkampff
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Of course it is general, because it is a general issue, this stuff is omnipresent and affects everybody. I mean both. I think the recent blog posts do what Mikki asks for.

Ben Sheftel
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Got it. The blog post does point out an industry process which can discriminate against new demographics entering the industry, and Jenn correctly points out that women are more affected since they are one of the new demographics. I think that those in charge of hiring should rely less on personal connections, but the action should treat every one of those "less connected" candidates the same way regardless of gender. AKA hire based on merit...

Christian Kulenkampff
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Great post, thank you! I can totally confirm your experience when it comes to software developers in general... -.-

Rochelle Briar
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"You mean, in an ideal world, to never take gender into account when choosing the best man for the job."

well, no, i wouldn't assume gender would be taken into account when hiring men.

James Margaris
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Elizabeth Sampat's post is full of pretty good practical advice on increasing diversity in hiring. It might be nice to create a concise list as a sort of "diversity hiring for dummies" as something a little more digestible than a big block of text.

* Don't emphasize drinking and partying in recruitment drives
* Don't talk about your "work hard play hard" mentality and foosball table
* Do talk about creativity and family friendliness
* Do review resumes without names attached
* Don't rely on connections when hiring, look for fresh applicants
etc

Personally I find "work hard play hard" sort of positioning to be a huge turnoff - I read it as "work a lot then go out after work and drink a lot." Same with Friday drinking and things like that. I'm not really into foosball or foosball culture, if that's a thing that I didn't just make up. So these are not only good ideas for hiring women but also for hiring people with different mentalities.

Ian Richard
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I can agree with this completely. I've never fit in with the gamer culture and many of the "Perks" they offer look juvenile.

Having a game room or a weekly LAN party may have been a perk when I was in college... but now I'd rather be allowed to spend time with my family. I love the teams I've worked with, I'm passionate about making games but I have responsibilities outside of the office.

Being bored with ultra-violent games doesn't make me a bad game developer or a bad team player. I have plenty of friends who enjoy games that I'd consider awful. I can happily disagree with people.

I love making games but I'm a professional and expect to be treated like one.

Luis Guimaraes
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On one side, some say to not hire from withing the industry specially not hire males.

Parallel to that, an explanation about why people hire from withing the industry and how hiring males is a side-effect of it.

On the other side, people working indie, making mods, going to gamejams to either break in or better yet, create their own spot in the videogames industry.

In the center, massive layoffs and big studio shutdowns news every single month. Lots of experienced and known developers looking for jobs, most of which are male as the current demographics point.

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Christian Kulenkampff
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There are many publications that show how female applicants are systematically evaluated worse by both males and females: see e.g. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CkbzQpmNrlk This adds a huge handicap on the weight of cultural expectations.

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Aline N
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Sure, numerous studies have shown this effect:
http://advance.cornell.edu/documents/ImpactofGender.pdf
http://www.pnas.org/content/109/41/16474

Good summary of second article here: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/25/science/bias-persists-against-w
omen-of-science-a-study-says.html?_r=0

Studies have repeatedly shown that men and women BOTH have a systematic bias against women, e.g. the same applicant description was presented with either a male (John) or female (Jennifer) name. The male applicant was rated 4 (out of 7) for competence and female 3.3 for competence. The male applicant was offered $30,328 salary and Jennifer $26,508. John was judged more favorably as someone to hire and mentor.

Daniel Borgmann
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There has also been a study showing that teachers are biased towards students with different names. This is not just a gender issue (and in fact in that particular study, boys were generally expected to do worse than girls), even the name alone can unfortunately make us biased.

It would be interesting to see the same study repeated with a wider range of names.

Christian Kulenkampff
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So you think it's just the name or what? Don't you think scientists are better than that? It's just one example of an extensive list of findings that support this case.

Of course there are other kinds of discrimination. There is a concept called intersectionalism that describes how multiple factors add up. This is a nice blog post on this: http://www.nerdyfeminist.com/2012/11/intersectionalism-101.html

Daniel Borgmann
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Sure I believe scientists are better than that, just like I believe that teachers are better than that or that scientists are better than to discriminate by gender.

But given that at least some of those have been proven wrong in practical studies, it would be foolish not to consider all angles.

The teachers were prejudiced against boys by average, but the impact of the individual name was much greater than gender alone. That says a lot about the subconscious power that names hold over us.

Christian Kulenkampff
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I understand, but instead of questioning one of the mentioned studies you could have looked for other ones. It is like we have to humbly ask you about each degree for turning your head around before you even look in our direction. Did you watch the talk by Prof. Hebl? Did you read the article about intersectionalism?

Nobody says there are not other forms of discrimination and injustice that we have to fight. For example in Germany a recent study shows how people with Turkish names have lower chances to get apprenticeship training positions (http://www.focus.de/finanzen/news/trotz-guter-qualifikation-tuerk
ischer-name-bringt-nachteile-bei-der-bewerbung_id_3720227.html).

When you think scientists are questionable regarding objectivity, normal employers are even more questionable, especially when we can observe such a lopsided outcome.

Laura Bularca
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Great article :) But I am a bit confused on the advice. Here is why (maybe I am missing the point):

How do you hire a person you do not know based on merit, when that person has no industry work experience? Its a bit of a catch 22 and let me explain: an amazingly talented artist is easy to spot, but how about his working practices, his skills to integrate in a game development team, maybe for example he never worked with any planning tools, maybe he produces amazing art extremely slowly, maybe he is wonderfully skilled but not a team player? I also had a first step in this industry and try to do the best I can to evangelize it, but when it comes to hiring someone, I cherish the work experience because I know, no matter how different the previous studios he worked for were, he still understands the responsibility of delivering and also has a measure of professionalism and a certain attitude that you can hardly learn unless you have been there. I wish we lived in a gentler world where newcommers can get the time and attention they need, but when you have to deliver fast, the previous experience is invaluable. So as much as I hate to admit, I do always look at my Rolodex (this is a word I learned today :D) and indeed, due to many factors, that Rolodex is overwhelmingly masculine.

I think the best we can do to change this is make this world of ours more open. My girl friends will NEVER read Gamasutra but might read somewhat more commercial sites. They will NEVER read a coding tutorial but they MIGHT read nicely written postmortems about indie games they might play. Some would be interested in the art behind Clumsy Ninja :) but unless you have a particular, tageted interest in game dev and know where to look for dev stories and where to look so you can get a feeling about this industry... How could the idea to work there ever occur?

And in those not-game-dev-targeted places, we can shape that inexperienced person based on merit, we can guide that potential candidate into how to prepare a portfolio, how to be convincing in a job interview.I know this is happening, a little, but keep in mind that I have a different experience than someone from US. I know Leigh publishes in other places than game dev oriented places but I wish I'd see one of her amazing articles in Elle, or something.Thats my idea to get a more diversified game dev community.

Kris Graft
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I feel like if everyone took some time to understand what institutionalized discrimination is and what it entails, this conversation would be more productive. Once people understand that the benefits of breaking that system outweigh the drawbacks, we can maybe start to make progress.

Dave Bellinger
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As someone who truly believes a change needs to happen and is completely in support of moving this industry towards a much more diversified future, I have to say that this type of passive-aggressive attitude helps no one. You're essentially calling everyone on one side of this discussion ignorant in so many words.

So if the topic is productivity, your comment is quite ironic.

Kris Graft
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Oh for goodness sake.

How's this for plain-old aggressive: If you're in this thread trying to have a debate about an article that is fundamentally about institutionalized discrimination, and you cannot or are not willing to grasp what institutionalized discrimination is, then yes, in regards to the topic at hand, you are _ignorant_ and should see your way out. You cannot have a "discussion" (as you call it) with people who are _ignorant_ about the topic you're trying to have a "discussion" about. Attempts at such a "discussion" would be...unproductive!

You claim to "want a more diversified future," but the people and ideals you've aligned yourself with suggest otherwise.

Dave Bellinger
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Late reply is late, but let me just clarify: pointing out your comment as being unproductive and ironic is not me "aligning" myself with people who oppose your ideals. I likely share your ideals, I disagree with your methods.

Aline N
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Ideally, I would love it if all applicants were judged strictly on merit. Unfortunately, people cannot easily separate themselves from the biases.

Numerous studies have shown that both men and women are biased against women. Here are two:
http://www.pnas.org/content/109/41/16474
http://advance.cornell.edu/documents/ImpactofGender.pdf

A good summary of the first article is here: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/25/science/bias-persists-against-w
omen-of-science-a-study-says.html?_r=0

The same application was given to all participants, with the only different being that half had a male name (John) and the other half had a female name (Jennifer). Participants judged the male participant as more competent (4/7 vs 3.3/7 for the female applicant) and were willing to pay the male applicant more ($30,328 vs. $26,508 for female named applicant). Also, the male applicant was seen more favorably as someone to hire and mentor.

To be fair, there is a similar bias against men in nursing. Human beings are not able to objective in the face of gender and race. The question isn't whether it exists. The question is what should be done about it.

Perhaps companies could start ranking applications anonymously or give all applications the same male name?

I think women would do very well in an objective comparison, if it were possible to do one.

Christian Kulenkampff
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Thank you very much for the links!

This is interesting regarding anonymizing written applications: http://www.worldcrunch.com/culture-society/do-anonymous-job-appli
cations-reduce-discrimination-/c3s5120/
"Ironically though, he noted, people hoping to have a more diverse staff might be hindered in doing so by the anonymized applications."

There are many interesting studies by Prof. Hebl on this topic (http://www.owlnet.rice.edu/~hebl//Mikki_Hebl/Publications.html, unfortunately often paywalled). This study (http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/01973533.2012.746601) suggests an identity-conscious hiring process (when it comes to interviewing).

I personally believe a personal atmosphere in combination with reflective discrimination-aware well-prepared interviewers is probably the best way to combat discrimination in job interviews.

"I think women would do very well in an objective comparison, if it were possible to do one. " This is beyond all doubt.

Aline N
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Thank you for these additional links -- very interesting!

Steven Bobson
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This is old, I know. But I don't understand this blog post at all.

You start out by saying that merit and gender aren't mutually exclusive. Of course, I think that's obvious.

You then explain why hiring experienced individual based on previous contact is biased to the status quo. You have a point here, and your suggestion of intentionally diversifying your pool of contacts is good. Except I would argue that this is completely different than hiring based on merit. Your analogy was strictly about hiring based on pre-existing relationships and says nothing about merit.

You then state that the collective merit of women is being reduced by society. This seems to indicate that you believe women are disadvantaged when merit is used to determine the best hire. You're setting up the mutual exclusion you decried at the start of the article: if we can't choose based on merit because merit is not fair, then what are we supposed to hire on? Gender?


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