Article provided by Greenlight Digital

In the fight to diversify the workplace, STEM fields – science, technology, engineering and mathematics – have increasingly come under scrutiny.

In the US, engineering and the computer sciences make up 80 per cent of the STEM landscape. Yet women occupy a fraction of the jobs: 12 per cent and 26 per cent respectively. In the UK, the story is similar. The STEM workforce is estimated to be less than a quarter female.

Strangely, one solution might lie with a pursuit that, for a long time, was on the fringes of polite society: video gaming.

Video games and STEM are inexorably linked, according to study

An October 2018 report published in Big Think paints an interesting correlation between women who play games and women who go into STEM fields.

“The more girls play video games, the greater the chance they’ll pursue a STEM degree, regardless of what kind of game they play,” the report found, based on evidence collected in a longitudinal study surveying teenagers at seven different points in their life, from the ages of 13 to 20.

The study found that girls that played games were three times more likely to pursue a STEM degree at university than girls who didn’t play games.

No such correlation emerged with the teenage boys analysed.

Is it time we encouraged our daughters to get more actively involved in this booming, billion-dollar industry?

Well, as we discuss below, many girls are playing. The problem, in a twist of fate, is that the gaming industry has a diversity problem of its own.

The gaming industry’s diversity problem

The idea that playing video games is primarily the domain of boys is outdated. Women are increasingly playing too. In the United States, 41 per cent of players are female. In Canada, that rises to 49 per cent. In France, 53 per cent.

Yet representation in the gaming industry suffers in three key areas:

  1. Problem #1: the games themselves. As this list of the best-selling games of all time illustrates, the landscape is still dominated by machismo. The likes of Grand Theft Auto, Call of Duty – even Pokemon – all ask that you play as a male character. In fact, not a single game on the list mandates that you play as a female character.
  2. Problem #2: the number of women working in the games industry is low.biz estimates that about 21% of the industry is female; however, dig deeper, and only 5% of coders are women. The nuts and bolts of these games are almost always assembled by men.
  3. Problem #3: expectation. Publishing houses invest millions in bringing games to market and are fixated on the idea that gaming is a male pursuit, or at the very least, that men are the more dependable market. But then, consider this: the heads of the ten biggest publishing houses are all male. Does bias come into play here?

Yet, change is coming to the gaming industry – slowly

But if gaming is symptomatic of a larger diversity epidemic, there’s also cause for quiet optimism, because the video game landscape is slowly changing.

Take The Last of Us 2. The sequel to one of the best-selling games of all time is set to star a young lesbian woman named Ellie when the game is released sometime in 2019 or 2020. Another franchise, Gears of War, has typically bristled with machismo. Its next entry, Gears 5, will feature a female protagonist for the first time.

What has precipitated this change? A few years ago, Sony went to one of their most reliable studios, Guerrilla Games, with a proposition. After years of good service, Guerrilla, who had been churning out games in the Call of Duty mould, would be given the chance to make anything they liked. Faced with a blank slate, the Amsterdam studio devised a story starring a young warrior named Aloy; an empowered female character tasked with saving her tribe. Horizon Zero Dawn was released in 2017 to glowing reviews and, crucially, sold well too. To date, more than 10 million copies have been sold.

Thanks to the commercial success of Horizon, publishers are starting to revaluate their blinkered approach to creativity.

Will STEM follow suit?

The STEM fields need to similarly break free of the rut they’re in. One way to do this would be to embark on a promotional drive that highlights the inventions female scientists have brought the world. At school-level, aptitude for sciences is shown to be even across the sexes. In fact, many girls outperform boys. What girls often lack, studies show, is the same conviction in their abilities.

Thus, girls need role models to look up to, especially when conventional thinking suggests that scientific enquiry is somehow the domain of men.

A drive to dispel this myth would go a long way to levelling the landscape. In the end, that’s an ideal we should strive for, because no industry should ever be dominated by a single gender. Uniformity only gives rise to echo chambers of thinking and a dearth of ideas.

Simply put, tackling inequality in STEM starts with telling a better story.