Diversity Creates Diversity

A few weeks ago I listened to Elizabeth Sampat talk about Women in the video game industry at GDC. Her talk, Women Don’t Want to Work in Games (And Other Myths), was very good. I found myself listening along and nodding as she spoke… Until Myth #3.

I didn’t disagree with what she was saying – actually, that would be impossible. All she was doing was stating what women in the industry felt according to her survey. Not her opinion but measured fact, which is pretty tough to argue with.

(And have anyone take you seriously, anyway.)

So what was it about what she said in Myth #3 that didn’t sit well with me?

Simple. I like “crushing some code” from time to time and describing it that way. Sometimes I have to design interactions between system components, and I feel almost artistic when I get elegant results. Other times I have some tasks that I need to get done and I breeze through them. When my boss asks me how the day went, I crushed it.

That’s how I feel. I’m not a “brogrammer”, but it’s the right word. If I had to I could say I “did amazing today”, but something about the emotional punctuation of “crushing” it feels right to me.

Eureka, a Solution!

Today I read a post by Doug Bradbury titled, Gender Equality Is Not Enough. What he wrote helped me realize something.

The talk didn’t sit right with me because Elizabeth was taking away a piece of my identity. I could see how the aggressiveness of that word wouldn’t suit everyone, but it suits me some days, so why couldn’t she let me have it?

After reading Doug’s post, I realized the answer. Our differences are why diversity is important.

She can let me have my word!
I can choose to use my word, and she can choose not to, and we could work together.
She could “do amazing today”, and I could “crush it”, and we can laugh and both go home.

Honestly, that sounds nice. I think I would enjoy that. I should say so, maybe she would agree?

And then I watched again

And I realized… she never tried to take my word.

When I listen closely a second time, with Doug’s post fresh in mind, I realized I was guilty of something I’ve criticized others for recently. I was being defensive, and I hadn’t even realized it.

When she talked, she said the women wanted:

  • A family friendly, family welcoming atmosphere
  • Flexibility, with ideas like “core hours” to accommodate schedules
  • An environment with the ability to feel ownership
  • Working hand in hand with peers who understand what each person brings to the table
  • Communication with professionalism and respect
  • “I want a company that prides itself on being well-rounded.”

That… actually sounds amazing. I mean, I knew it at the time, but I also thought she was trying to say that my identity wasn’t welcome to work with her.

Had I honestly missed what that bolded point meant?

My reaction to Elizabeth’s talk was to think she was asking me to be the same as her, to “soften” myself beyond recognition into homogeneity to make room for her. She wasn’t. She wants well-rounded teams full of diversity.

Sure, she did ask that the industry be gentler. It should be. No, it has to be, because it’s not welcoming right now.

It’s not okay for to judge someone for not “crushing” it today. It’s not okay to say she’s “not a good fit” because a talented woman doesn’t also like drinking beers and playing Call of Duty with the team after-hours. Honestly, I never would have made that claim anyway, but some people would.

No, as an industry we need to open up to diversity. We need to accept the differences in every programmer, male and female, and see that our teams get better the more we embrace diversity.

To answer Doug’s question:

Why?

Diversity creates diversity.

Because a team of clones will all design the same solution. A team of all “hackers” or all “brogrammers” or men or women – the more homogenous the team, the less likely we are to come up with diverse solutions.

Diverse solutions can be combined into ideas that no single individual would have thought of.

Women bring different perspectives, ones I can’t have. They bring different approaches and values that I don’t.

Diversity creates better solutions to harder problems, not because we’re “equal” in the sense that we’re somehow the “same”, but because we’re different and we choose to place ourselves willingly onto an equal playing field and work together respectfully and professionally.

*Note: I work in the commercial software industry, not video games. Hopefully it doesn’t need to be said, but our industries are very similar and suffer many of the same problems. If you reacted similar to me when you first listened to her talk, I highly recommend listening again with fresh perspective.

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