Why This Xbox Employee Wants More Women In Gaming

Photo Courtesy of Nicole Fawcette.
Nicole Fawcette is the Senior Brand Manager and Women in Gaming co-lead at Xbox. The views expressed are her own.
"So, what do you think would be a good tagline for your game?" I curiously asked a group of 7 and 8-year-old girls huddled around a laptop in an Xbox boardroom last summer. They had just taken me through a giggle-filled demo of their original game, "Blocky & the Quest for the Infinite Chocolate Bar," developed from scratch at a three week-long camp run by Girls Make Games. We laughed together as I moved my block character from platform to platform searching for the Holy Grail of confections, a mythical chocolate bar that never, ever ran out and would feed you for eternity — if you lived long enough to find it.
"Hmmm…have fun and don't rage-quit!" one of them happily shouted and they all burst out laughing. As I laughed along with them, I thought, "Huh, that could also be a motto for being a woman in the gaming industry."
Now, please don't get me wrong — I love working in video games and I truly believe I have one of the coolest jobs in the entire world. I get to lead Xbox's Women In Gaming initiative, which celebrates women in the space, and am a senior brand manager for Gears Of War.
For me, gaming has been a lifelong passion: One swing over a pit of crocodiles in Pitfall! played on a hand-me-down Atari and I was hooked. Gaming became my preferred pastime, and time sink. I'm not proud to admit I flunked a number of third year university classes because I bought my first Xbox, but hey, here I am.
Casting magic spells in Fable, scavenging the wasteland in Fallout, or journeying through the fantasy worlds of my favorite franchise, Final Fantasy made me obsessed with the medium. Games had always been a part of my life, whether I consciously knew it or not. I never considered it strange that I was a girl who liked games, until I wanted to make it my job.

"We need to keep the creative spark alive and remove the stigma that games are not for them. Games are for everyone."

Nicole Fawcette, Senior Brand Manager and Women in Gaming co-lead at Xbox
Women play games — this's not news. But while it's been estimated that 42% of all gamers are female, our industry does not reflect the audience we serve: Women make up only 22% of gaming industry employees. [Microsoft, which owns Xbox, does not break it's staff up by divisions, but the total number of women working at the company was 25.9% in 2017.] There's a lot to unpack here to explain why that number is low. The reasons include the challenges of keeping girls and young women engaged in STEM, making careers in gaming more visible, ensuring gaming content is representative by telling diverse stories, and retaining women through a more inclusive culture that includes clear pathways to career success and leadership.
For me, the most important part of solving this problem is what I saw at that Girls Make Games camp: We need to keep the creative spark alive and remove the stigma that games are not for them. Games are for everyone.
I truly believe games are a great equalizer. You can have fun regardless of what gender, race, culture, or religion you are. Fun and play are core to our humanity. So if games are for everyone, why do we need to keep advocating for women in games?
While we are an industry built on enabling fun for all, the truth is that the female experience of working in the gaming industry is still not a level playing field. Men in gaming typically don't need to prove that they like games and whether they play or not doesn't seem to impact their reputation or careers. I struggled to be taken seriously during my first few years in the industry, despite having a credible professional background and a legitimate love of games. I often felt tested or put in a position where I had to prove my gaming worth. Not gaining that acceptance or credibility could mean losing a place in the industry I worked so hard to find.
Besides the issues of acceptance inside the industry, there are external personal safety concerns as well: Checking to make sure you're not being followed back to your hotel room after a gaming tournament, or worrying about your address ending up on a Reddit message board because you made an unpopular comment, or being kissed on the mouth without consent while greeting a fan at a convention, but not being able to complain for fear of retaliation. These are my own personal examples, but the scars of Gamergate are real and I know I’m not the only one who has had experiences that created isolation, fear, and a complete breakdown of professional confidence. See what I mean about rage-quitting?

"The current dialogue about women's worth, as it relates to employment, unlocks a lot of opportunities for us to tell our own stories."

Nicole Fawcette, Senior Brand Manager and Women in Gaming co-lead at Xbox
Nevertheless, we persist, and it really is an exciting time to be a woman in the gaming industry. The current dialogue about women's worth, as it relates to employment, unlocks a lot of opportunities for us to tell our own stories. It's time to have those hard, uncomfortable conversations, and most importantly, create moments for us to take positive action as a collective, including the support of our male allies.
Today, Xbox is hosting the 18th annual Women in Gaming Rally at the Game Developer's Conference in San Francisco. It is our largest event to date, with over 1,500 women registered to attend. Our theme of "We Make Games" acknowledges and celebrates women's important contributions to our industry, not just because we're women, but because we're putting in the work to make gaming a fun place for all players and game makers.
For me, Women in Gaming and the rally is about acknowledging our value. It's about creating a community of women who love what we do, love our industry, love our products and consumers, and want to create more opportunities for women to be a part of it.
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