There’s been a bit of chatter in the WoW blogosphere lately about women and WoW, whether WoW players or the game itself are misogynistic, whether women are as good at this game as men, etc, etc. I was reading Larisa’s excellent post over at http://www.pinkpigtailinn.com/2010/08/how-to-conquer-azeroth-go-fight-for-it.html and I wrote a long response over there to her comment that
And it hasn’t got to stop there. There are other areas to conquer. A certain headquarter in Irvine, California. How many times haven’t you heard about the guy who dreams about getting a job at Blizzard. But what about women? Isn’t it about time that we break into this business, aiming for the design team rather than the customer support? I know it takes more than being a passionate gamer to get a foot in there. It takes education and a willingness to work crazy hard for almost no money. But don’t let this stop you.
I don’t think we’ll see a solid shift in the thinking patterns and a breakdown of the outdated stereotypes until we have several women in positions that today are hold by people like Ghostcrawler or Morheim.
I honestly don’t know how we’ll get there. But I think that if more women become as passionate, competative and confident as the male players, it will help a bit.
And I wanted to expound on that here. I have heard several times that if there were more women on the design team, you wouldn’t see X or Y. Back during the RealID fiasco this was a common meme – that only white male developers would fail to see the problem with having to use a real name on the forum.
But there are reasons why there aren’t [many? any?] women working on the top design teams at Blizzard, and it’s not because Blizz doesn’t want them; any American company would jump at the chance to get a female applicant for any position who is the most qualified because it looks really, really good for them when they have to justify their hiring practices to Equal Employment Opportunity Commission folks. Heck a lot of engineering firms have to find ways to count their secretary pool and their engineers in the same numbers so they don’t have problems… but that’s beside the point.
No, the reason there aren’t women on the design team is because they aren’t applying. The reasons stretch back many many years. To prove I know what I’m talking about I need to give a couple relevant personal details: I’m a woman, obviously. I was homeschooled. I went to college for computer science. Three colleges, actually; a junior college for two years where I got a very technical education, a liberal arts school for three (I went part time and worked in the field) where I learned more abstract stuff, and then a state university for two where I got my masters’ degree. Then I got a job doing software application design and coding. I currently work contracts out of my home (and if any readers just happen to be looking for a contract worker who is awesome with C# and Java and has designed specialized industry multimillion dollar applications, let me know…)
Anyhow I suspect it starts in public schools, but I don’t know because I never went there, but by the time they apply to colleges it’s too late; men outnumber women in computer science departments 9 to 1. Literally. I never had a class with more than three women in it. Colleges throw money at women who want to study computer science, especially in grad school. For computer science the rule of thumb is no American should ever be paying to go to grad school here, if they don’t pay you they don’t really want you. But women get above and beyond. My gal pals and I compared notes and we all got the exact same “extra” fellowship that none of our male cohorts got…
Once you are in a computer science program, though, you have the twin hazards of Business and Babies to watch out for. Business seduces away a lot of female comp sci folks. They go study databases and get a minor in Business and five years later they’re running teams of programmers, not programming themselves. Success stories? Yes, but not in ways that will really impact game development.
And Babies: most women want them. Most women want to take some time out of their career, or slow down, to have babies. And most women have babies at the same time that they might be having the most successful years of their careers as computer scientists. It gets really hard to pull the all nighters after your thirties, and you have a choice; spend them at work fueled up on Diet Coke meeting that coding deadline, or spend them at home changing the baby’s diaper. Even women who don’t take time off will choose a lower-key career, something that doesn’t require 80 hour weeks and multiple all-nighters right before release.
More subjectively, there’s the drive. Anecdotal evidence I’m sure but in grad school, we girls went hiking in the mountains on weekends or did housework or relaxed as well as our school assignments. We’d come in on Monday and the guys had been in the lab all weekend, writing compilers to make their code 3% more efficient because they just had to have the highest score in the class. That is what Blizzard is looking for, that sort of dedication and drive, and frankly most of us women seemed to be more interested in having a balanced work and life. If we applied at Blizzard we’d see it as a job, not a life.
Again, that’s generalized. Not every guy is like that. But say 1 in 5 of all comp sci folks have that drive. Well, if 90% of all comp sci folks are men then most of those driven ones are men too.
I knew a very talented woman who applied to Google. They turned her down because they could tell she wasn’t the sort to spend 80 hours a week at work. Most CS jobs are salaried, not overtime, so to a manager there’s nothing but upside to getting someone who has no life other than to work. Companies like Google and Blizzard – change-the-paradigm cutting edge companies – need those folks to make it work.
If a trained, driven, dedicated woman who loved computer games applied for an opening at Blizzard and was as good or better than the male applicants, they’d take her. That she isn’t on the team is not Blizzard’s fault. They just haven’t found the right woman yet.