VR Scout article written by Kate Wilson and Dan Burgar
With the industry growing hungry for female influence, women in VR has never been more important.
In the early nineties, a TV studio took a risk. Executives were casting for a character named Dana Scully: a supporting role, they envisioned, being played by a woman with the same physical attributes as Pamela Anderson. Despite that brief however, The X-Files producers ultimately chose actor Gillian Anderson. Turning Scully into a fierce, whip-smart medical doctor, the newcomer offered a portrayal of a female leader in STEM that was missing from mainstream pop culture.
The performer’s high profile allowed young women to imagine themselves in her position for the first time. Soon after, something unexpected happened. A few seasons into the show’s run, institutions saw a huge uptick in women’s enrollment in university technology and science courses. They dubbed the phenomenon the “Scully Effect”.
It’s an experience that many want to see translated into the world of VR.
Like most areas of the tech industry, the sector is guilty of a gender imbalance. With individuals moving into the business from areas such as VFX and animation – traditionally male-skewing professions – VR and AR companies typically have more men than women on the payroll.
On top of that, organizations are often segregated by gender roles. While project management, HR, or marketing jobs might be handled by female employees, very few companies hire an equal number of male and female developers. As a result, women looking to move into technical positions in the industry lack visible role models.
In the view of Joanna Popper, global head of virtual reality for location at HP, it’s vital that women become more observable in all areas of the VR industry.
“I support the principle of ‘see it, be it’,” she says. “It’s important to look at who’s getting quoted in articles, who’s getting the opportunities to step into executive jobs, who’s onstage at panels, and what part women play at every level of the company. When it’s possible to physically see women in high-ranking positions, it encourages more women to enter the industry.”
There are many reasons why VR companies should be trying to attract more female employees. For profit-driven directors, the most convincing is the impact on their bottom line. Numerous studies – most notably that published by McKinsey in 2015 – have revealed that hiring more women, and promoting them to leadership positions, correlates with significantly higher profits. Reports showthat having a diverse upper-level management leads to better decision-making, which allows companies to create better products, and shape a healthier culture.
By placing women in supervisory roles, companies can tap into a fresh pool of experiences. Marginalized groups – both women and people of colour – tend to see different problems, and can therefore solve alternative issues. Female-led company Vantage Point, for instance, provides sexual harassment training in VR, while businesses like Virtro create colourful games as an alternative to gory first-person shooters. Virtual reality is, quite literally, a technology that portrays different views. When companies create more varied teams, it opens up a bigger market share.
Despite understanding how a gender-balanced office can improve their business, though, VR organizations are often slow to adopt tactics to boost their female representation. In the view of Amy Peck, founder and CEO of EndeavorVR, there are a few easy ways for companies to start.
“I live by a principle called ‘me plus three’,” she says. “I take a look around and identify the three women closest to me who I can move the needle for, and make a difference to their career. As each person participates, that three becomes 30, and that 30 becomes 300, and it grows exponentially from there. Both men and women can use the strategy, and it’s important that they do, because we need to galvanize together as a team. We’re all on the same side... Read the full VR Scout article here
Image Credit: VRScout / Amy Peck / Joanna Popper / Martina Welkhoff