Last month, San Francisco hosted the annual Game Developers Conference. One of the highlights of GDC is the annual Women in Gaming Awards Luncheon: Women in the game development community come together to network and recognize each other for jobs well done.
The event has changed a lot in the last nine years, when I attended my first GDC. It began as a networking cocktail hour. Although it was launched with great intentions, it became an event that attracted a ton of men. Not that in itself is a bad thing. But most of the men seemed more interested in picking up free Xbox swag and possibly a date than learning about the professional community.
Which brings me to my topic: the two ladies at the heart of Women in Gaming.
Karen Randhawa and Marta Beck are part of the Microsoft Studios Staffing team, in the broader Devices and Studios Staffing organization. Together, over the past six years, they have turned Women in Gaming into a “must attend” extravaganza. Complete with swag bags and signature cocktails, WIG has come to more closely resemble the Oscars than it does the happy hour of the past. A place where women (and yes, some men) come together to discuss topics important to them, learn from one another, and reward each other for successes in their industry. This year, the impact was significant enough that we even had the New York Times in attendance.
I decided to put on my Barbara Walters hat and sit down with Karen and Marta to learn more about what inspired them to get involved, and what keeps them coming back. Here’s what they had to say:
Women in Gaming has been going on for many, many years. What inspired you to get involved and take the reins on the event?
Karen: We wanted to represent diversity at Microsoft in a way that was more meaningful and unique. Denise (Novosel…the Xbox Staffing Director) suggested a luncheon. We came up with the awards concept: We wanted a cool forum for women in the industry to participate and network, while being surrounded by the elite women in gaming.
We started small with 70 people which seemed huge at the time. We’re now at 250! People have been really enthusiastic and impressed that we have put in the ongoing effort to bring together this community.
Marta: I got involved because Karen went on maternity leave [a statement that makes us all laugh].
Karen: I did it for two years. The third year I was literally on my phone during my C-section. There’s a picture to prove it.
Marta: For me any opportunity to talk to women in the industry, people who actually make the games, is thrilling.
What are some of the issues that are important to women in the industry right now?
Marta: The comments we get at the event, online and questions directed to our panelists, address: “How do we navigate this male-dominated industry?” They want to hear how other women have done it. It’s complicated because everyone’s experience is different.
Karen: The gender balance in the industry is still so skewed. It’s often hard to encourage young girls to pursue careers in gaming. They want to talk about how we encourage kids, particularly girls, interested in technology and programming.
What questions do you find are important to women when they are seeking new opportunities in the industry, specifically, at Microsoft?
Karen: I am asked about the culture. About growth opportunities. Mentorship. A lot of female developers care a lot about the subject matter of the product they’re working on.
What does Microsoft do to address concerns that are important to women?
Karen: We have many initiatives as a company. We sponsor events like Seattle Girl Geek dinners and Codess. Team leaders provide mentorship opportunities to new people. We pair people up with a “buddy” on their first day so their onboarding is a good experience. We try to provide different steps in their growth to help them take the lead on features or maybe participate in interviews for new employees.
Marta: Women of Devices and Studios (DnS)! We recently had Pete Carroll come talk to the group. Plus we sponsor events like WIG. Nothing else provides this opportunity for genuine connection among women in the industry. In North America, this is a one-of-a-kind event.
Karen: At the event, Marta and I want to cry every year.
Marta: We do. It’s a tear jerker!
Ok…last question. What’s it like working with Kiki Wolfkill? I think she’s rad.
Karen: Kiki is one of the women at Microsoft I admire a great deal. There’s also Bonnie Ross, Shannon Loftis, Nancy Tellem – a bunch really – which is so inspiring! I have had a few opportunities to support Kiki and her team, and she really is rad.
Marta: Yeah… there is an authenticity about Kiki you feel immediately. I’m glad she’s on our side.
As a dude in the industry, I am always inspired when I attend Women in Gaming. If you are interested in more information or if you would like to participate next year, please follow the Xbox Jobs Twitter account (@XboxJobs). Also, you can follow Karen (@karenr604) and Marta (@kahloaku). The next Women in Gaming luncheon will take place during the 2015 Game Developers Conference.
Learn more about international opportunities at Microsoft on our Global Careers site.