Runaway is a Dunedin-based games company. In the lead-up to International Women’s Day, they started a Girls Behind the Games campaign to encourage young women into tech. This wasn’t a one-month campaign; gender equality is a part of the day-to-day running of their company.
Runaway have a near 50:50 split of female to male employees. They believe that making games for women, by women, can make a difference to the tech industry. I spoke with Zoe Hobson, the managing director, and Caroline Carter, a recent employee and graduate, about Girls Behind the Games and helping women in tech.
What’s the end goal for Girls Behind the Games?
Zoe: The biggest goal for us is to encourage more women to join the industry. One of the end goals is to try to raise the visibility of women working in the industry to try to raise the profile of those women and encourage girls who are just starting in the industry or in computer science more generally.
Obviously a social media campaign is great for increasing visibility, but it’s not going to solve the whole problem. There a lot of different angles from which you need to approach the problem of women getting into tech. We’re hoping to reach out into to schools and help young girls at the ground level see that this could be a career for them. Girls Behind the Games should be a place women can go when they want to feel inspired.
I’m sure there are other companies doing this, but either [there are] not enough or not with enough visibility. They need to take action and talk about it to create a positive cycle where other businesses will start taking that step too.
Caroline: We want to celebrate women already in tech, boost visibility, and get other, bigger companies to support Girls Behind the Games. Spreading awareness and partnering with larger businesses to reach out into schools is a next step for us.
Do you think that having women in your company is what inspired Runaway to start this campaign?
Zoe: I think we take our diversity for granted at Runaway. We think it’s totally normal and natural to focus on diversity as a company, because of course you should. Then the media were really interested in the fact that Emma and I hold both lead positions in the company. Everyone was like “wow, radical, two women leading a company”. But we just thought it was normal. We were surprised that people saw this as an unusual or interesting company just because of the women in leadership.
Part of the reason behind the campaign is that we want to push for this to become normal. Runaway should not be unusual or special.
Caroline: I think we’re unusual right now because tech is huge and growing so fast but a shift towards diversity just isn’t happening for most game studios. Diversity gets left behind. People are sticking with what they know to keep up with the growth of the industry.
Does the campaign go far enough? Have you had responses around including more women of colour?
Zoe: As the campaign has grown, so has that focus on expanding the campaign. The few negative comments we’ve found so far have been around including more women, and they haven’t been negative as such, but more like “hey, what about this group of people?”. Now we can stand up and support that visibility as well, and use Girls Behind the Games as a platform for women of colour.
Even though the campaign was targeted at women to get a clear message across, rather than designed around every type of diversity, it’s been great to add that to the conversation. The campaign continues to grow organically out of what people want to see.
Caroline: I’ve found it amazing to see the range of visibility that Girls Behind the Games has brought about. We wanted to get some conversation going but we didn’t expect it to be such a global, common experience. It shows that the lack of diversity in tech is huge, it’s a real problem that isn’t being addressed.
Are there enough women coming into tech from the university level?
Zoe: In terms of programmers, definitely not. We get a lot of women coming into other roles, but we want women in tech and development roles.
Ten years ago, Emma [Johansson, creative director of Runaway] was one of the only women in her game design papers. Today, Caroline was still one of the only women. This year there were no women taking the advanced-level computer science papers at Otago. That was a big sign that we needed to do something. Nothing’s changed. Everyone is talking about diversity a lot more than they were ten years ago, which is the first step. But not enough action is happening.
Caroline: I was shocked seeing only 1 female demonstrator in my papers. In every other paper there were a lot of girls, but the ratio is completely different for computer science.
Zoe: It’s a societal attitude, it’s teachers, it’s parents, it’s high school subject choices, it goes right back to primary school, there are so many factors that stop girls graduating out of tech on a regular basis. And that needs to change.
How do you think the Runaway workplace benefits from having near gender parity?
Zoe: It’s really good for the studio culture.
As a woman in a position of leadership, I have come up against challenges were there are egos clashing or people don’t want to listen to you. Right from day one, it was clear that Runaway wasn’t like that. We can have disagreements but no one gets offended or competitive. We find a solution without it being a big deal.
I try to be really transparent. Everyone’s ideas are welcome and we appreciate a range of opinions. There’s no bias around wanting things to be your way and shutting down ideas that fall outside that.
Caroline: There were lot of guys in comp sci. For my business papers, you could share ideas in your group. In comp sci, there was always one guy in the group who would not take me seriously until someone else supported my idea.
Runaway was such a contrast. Even just as an intern, everyone would think about my ideas and discuss them seriously. Even if it was a silly idea, we would just build off it and could make great things from it.
Zoe: We want to create games that people love and engage with, that feel unique and different. To make those games we have to have different voices to connect with the audience. That diversity of opinion and stories and ideas is essential to make the games we want to make.