Women share game industry career advice

Scores of game industry women gather to talk about how to balance work and life.

REDMOND, Wash.--When a friend was returning from maternity leave a few years ago, video game professional Shannon Loftis made a point of sending her a lengthy e-mail spelling out the things she had learned upon coming back to work after the birth of her own son.

Later, the friend asked if she could pass it on to another friend who had just had a baby. Loftis said yes.

Nearly four years after that, as Loftis was finishing up maternity leave after the birth of her second child, the very same e-mail--detailing strategies for handling the many demands of family and the office--found its way into her in-box.

Loftis' story was emblematic of the issues that all video game professionals, but perhaps women more than men, deal with as they navigate the realities of a profession that requires long hours and doesn't do much to help employees manage their dual--home and work--lives.

That's why at least 150 people gathered here, at Microsoft's RedWest facility, for Women in Games International's one-day conference, "The Balancing Act: Game Industry Careers and Quality of Life."

Women's long-term quality-of-life issues are different than men's.
--Bonnie Ross,
Microsoft Game Studios

Over the course of several hours, a keynote address, two panels and several workshops, those in attendance discussed how to keep happy while working in an industry famous for the stresses under which it puts its workers.

The event was seen by some as a replacement for the Women in Games conference that last year was held in conjunction with the Austin Games Conference. This year's AGC, held earlier this month, did not host a women's event.

Befitting the interest that so many women have in learning how to tackle these issues, the ratio of men to women at the event--usually at game industry confabs there are at least 10 men for every woman--was turned on its head. If 10 percent to 12 percent of the industry's professionals are women, it seemed almost like all of them were on hand here Saturday.

The day started with a keynote address by Bonnie Ross, director of production for Microsoft Game Studios publishing. She addressed the issue of some of the differences she'd seen over the years in how men and women deal with the fragile work-life balance, something that has come to the forefront of industry human resources issues recently, especially after well-publicized complaints and lawsuits by employees of Electronic Arts, Activision and other video game industry companies.

"Women's long-term quality-of-life issues are different than men's," Ross said. "Many of us will slow down and stall our careers to affect this balance. Men have a slow curve upward toward the pinnacle of (professional) expertise. Women will take a couple of dips."

As a result, she said, many women's video game careers never reach their full potential, and some end up leaving for other work. Thus, she said, it is imperative that the video game industry work harder to come up with ways to address women's needs.

Part of the solution, she said, is finding ways to bring more women into the industry in the first place. And that starts with intentionally promoting diversity.

"A more diverse environment is also a comfortable workplace for diverse people," Ross said. "So hopefully, they want to stay longer."

Part of making that happen, she urged the audience, begins with having women in the industry learn that they need to do a better job of networking, both for their own advancement and that of female friends and peers.

At the same time, said Paula Fellbaum, director of human resources for game publisher THQ's Relic Entertainment division, women may well force the industry to come up with new ways to handle the delicate balance between work and life.

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