Veteran woman game dev on being a 'cultural fit'

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It’s not only games. In my 40 years of work I have seen it in teaching in boys’ schools, engineering R&D, software development and management.
I’m a father of daughters, all of them in traditionally male jobs, and we fathers tend when we encounter one another to discuss this. Many men will tolerate quite obnoxious co-workers but will not tolerate the same behaviour from women or people from ethic minorities. But some men are very different, and supportive. Two of my daughters have benefited from the active encouragement of men.
I have seen women who are very good at their jobs being driven out by obnoxious men without management intervening. Perhaps surprisingly, in one company where this did not happen the head of HR was a retired Lt. Colonel - but of course soldiers tend to take the rules seriously rather than bending them. (In fact now I recollect the US VP of Engineering at that company was also pretty good.)
The worst case was where a male consultant (a Yorkshireman, to reinforce the usual prejudice) was allowed to refuse to communicate with the project co-ordinator except on his terms (which meant not telling her anything) - and the MD did absolutely nothing to intervene. I guess the only reason she didn’t sue for constructive dismissal was that she left to a better paid job in a more progressive company where she was quickly promoted.
It’s worth pointing out that the main reason these women were badly treated was that they were seen as threats - they were good at their jobs and didn’t automatically defer to men when, in fact, they were in the right. And they could distinguish between the job and the culture, where the culture can often be counter-productive or simply irrelevant.


I finally, this year, hit the Female Developer Career Milestone of “Not The Only Woman On The Tech Team”. The joy of it is not that there is now someone else to carry the weight of the “diversity” banner with me, and not even that our powers combined are enough to disrupt the team’s tech-bro culture. The real joy of it is finally having someone I can talk to about the technology I work with without having to grind through the massive cognitive overhead of gender & otherness first. I’ve been waiting years to find a colleague I can properly geek out with without it turning into a game where the goal is for me to prove that I am competent to do my job “despite” my gender.


You’re allowed to have one thing that makes you different. You can wear a kilt as long as you pair it with an industry t-shirt. You can have a same sex partner as long as you’re still one of the boys. You can be Muslim as long as you’re not devout. If you’re a girl you’ve used your card already.


While on the whole, I agree with you - and given that I’m a white male, I recognize that I have the benefit of privilege. And yet, and yet…

As a member of any group, especially a group you spend a third of your day with, you will usually adopt the ethos of the group: choice of vehicles, dress, way of looking at money, etc, even if you’re a white male.

It requires a lot of self-discipline (or a lot of your own weirdness) to retain your individual style/dress/quirks. Pretty much all members off the non-ruling class experience subtle influences which cause them conform to the group - again, even if you’re a white male. It’s what makes the group a group. The vast majority eventually conform; the other option is to not care about career advancement.

Me, I’ve often found office-people, especially in largish organizations, well, weird. I could never work in a cube farm.

That, and people in positions of power usually got there by a) being assholes, b) conforming, c) not making it plain to any observant person that their boss is incompetent, or d) all of the above.

/Don’t wear a tie to your next job interview. Find out right away whether you’ll fit.


If you’re the odd one out in a homogeneous community, you’ll always feel pressure to conform. If you’re a nondrinker, if you’re living in a foreign country, if you dress differently, etc., etc. It’s incredibly hard to maintain your identity without remaining a perpetual outsider.

While encouraging acceptance in a “there’s nothing wrong with any of us” kind of way is a laudable goal, it strikes me as difficult to achieve in a monoculture. Therefore, I think diversity (even enforced diversity through quotas or affirmative-action-type programs) would be a more practical solution.

I applaud Ms. McWilliams and all oddballs out there who are brave enough to tactfully speak up and raise awareness amongst the tribe of homogeneity. Society will always need the outsider to boldly hold the mirror up so we can see ourselves.

A dreamer is one who can only find their way by moonlight, and their
punishment is to see the dawn before the rest of the world.
-Oscar Wilde

Yes, but the issue here is that the ethos of the groups in the past have been defined by a narrow subset of the population. It’s the job of management to make the environment more inclusive, and this is not only from ethical considerations but because it is good for business - in effect, widening the pool of talent.
The US and British military “knew” for years that women were no good in front line roles. Yet one of the top Soviet air aces, and many of the tank crews at Kursk, were women. In the Soviet army, many of the traffic controllers were women. And they kept order, not with “feminine wiles”, but with sub machine guns.
Look at the Royal Navy. In the 19th century there were plenty of women on ships, and they affected the culture - one of the reasons the death rate was so low on RN ships was they were cleaner than those of France or Spain. Then steam came and the women were out. Then the 21st century came and suddenly the RN is getting awards for diversity. Cultures can change.


I want to Like this… but because it hurts and it’s true, not because I actually like it.


Since I work in engineering (and in the past in computer development), I am conscious of how I dress. I’ve put a LOT of thought into it.

As a woman who is part of the technical team (I used to be a technical writer, now I’m an instructional designer of technical courses), I first and foremost have to dress in a way that makes it clear that I am not administrative staff. Most of the women in our building are administrative assistants.

That means, no, I don’t buy stuff from Kohl’s, or K-mart, or Walmart. I don’t wear stretchy black pants and a crappy stretchy shirt and comfortable shoes.

In our office, the men wear polo style shirts and khakis or jeans. Managers tend to wear button down shirts, white or blue, but never a tie. Some guys pull off a t-shirt and jeans but mostly it’s the polo shirt.

I can’t wear that or even riff on it - it’s not a flattering look on me, and I’m young looking to boot so it would only make me look like a school girl.

So I dress up. I don’t try to fit in. I wear heels, good ones. I wear skirts. I wear silk or classic knit tops. I wear color, lots of it - no one wears color in our office. On a day when I want to look pulled together but don’t have the energy to think an outfit through I wear nice black slacks with a beautiful patterned top - easy to throw on but still stylish. Similar to what the secretaries wear but a big notch up on the quality scale. I lug a Kate Spade laptop bag that’s nylon - casual but classy - to meetings. I accessorize always with on trend pieces. I look business but, hell yeah, I look like a woman.

My tops are cut conservatively; if I wear something that reveals any cleavage then I also wear a giant necklace that fills in that space.

There’s a few other women in our office that are technical. One woman I admire wears things like past the knee wool skirts and sweaters - sort of a old school Bryn Mawr student look. The taller, thinner ones can get away with jeans and easy tops - casual, comfortable, one of the guys. I’m too curvy to pull that off. I just look clunky in that kind of clothing.

I think that if you can’t really do the “uniform” at work, you can create one that is expressive of yourself and still shows where you are in the pecking order.


The five studios I have worked at all had what seems to be the standard games industry dress code, which is basically: please shower. However people do tend to dress a little better as they age/increase in status, want some promotion.

A lot of studios also have heating/cooling issues due to everyone running 2-3 computer equivalents a lot harder than the typical office, so you can see things go all shorts/t-shirts from that.

The only thing one doesn’t see except for top execs and a minority of interview candidates is full business suits. But I can’t imagine it would be a problem, given the general diversity (and the hipsters do ironic versions already).

The real ‘land of the industry T-shirt’ is qa (who are a reasonable chunk of the headcount), but really we give them some free clothes and not much money, so it is a natural result.

Before games I worked in university research labs, and really the range is about the same except that there are a lot more stylish people in games (artsy people often have things like taste and style), and they have a lot more money. You go from the huge diversity of graduate students and undergrads (from tattered conference shirts to inexpensive style to father is rich) and blend up to business casual or better as you go up the ranks.

On women I can remember basically the same diversity as the men. Business casual, hipsterish formality, industry related t-shirts, younger dance clubby styles, kind of biker-ish, kind of hippy-like. The women do not seem more constrained than the men to a fairly inattentive observer.

I do think the ‘cultural fit’ thing is annoying, but it does come up. Mainly with candidates that have no real interest in games or just seem super annoying in their interview. I have encountered the other end of it, but in both cases it was I think correct, and I didn’t want to work there either really.

But I keep getting the feeling that I have been choosing workplaces well, in general. I certainly have turned down a few jobs because I didn’t want to work with the people I met, and have not even applied to others based on reputation.

BTW, for anyone who dives down the links in the article… I wore a tuxedo to the one real big launch party I went too (as I happened to own one that fit at the time), and I was not alone, but was a small minority.

As a developer - not games - and previously as a tech support monkey, I can see myself in a lot of this article.

As a teen I used to wear makeup and skirts, and I can directly associate my choice to stop wearing makeup with the start of working in a tech industry and not wanting to be perceived of as ‘girly’ or ‘worried about unimportant things (e.g. appearance)’ by my male coworkers.

This isn’t something I feel bad about, nor do I secretly wish to “go back” or become more effeminate. I intentionally changed in order to fit in better and I’m fine with it - but I don’t think that people should be obliged to do so.

I also think the “I’m a developer first, woman second” is a -good- thing. If we were more interested in what we did with our lives, and less worried about genetic lottery that we can’t change, might things not be better?

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It’s funny, I was just talking to a friend from college and mentioned getting some swag for her from my company. She automatically declined apparel, citing that most vendor/convention shirts in her industry (gaming) were men’s sizes and cuts. Fortunately my company and the company that is next to ours offers women’s cuts and sizes. She was stoked.


Re: not looking like administrative staff…

This reminds me of an incident years ago when I worked in University research labs.

I was a white male undergraduate part time worker/researcher and ran into a black graduate student who I knew from another lab I had worked in. He was borrowing some equipment, putting it on a cart to roll it over to another building. I stopped to say hello, and he said something like “oh good, now nobody will think I am robbing the place”. I responded with a “nah, maybe if you dressed like me”, meaning in tattered rags vs his generally sharp appearance and lab coat. But then I hung around for the minute or two it took him to get out of the building because… you know? He was right there was a reasonable chance he might be challenged by security. And it dawned on me that he had quite good reason to keep himself looking pretty sharp.


Also physician, engineer, you name it. But there are men for whom “I’m a man first, X second” is still the order of the day. These are the ones that need the work - the ones for whom machismo is a defining characteristic.

Slightly OT, I was once told that Aero Mexico had a high incidence of controlled flights into terrain due to the machismo of the pilots leading to fights and arguments in the cockpit. After experiencing that airline, I could believe it.



Should also work for politics and nationality and other irrelevant things. Then such differences are somewhere far enough to not interfere with the task (which can include “social relations” - with my “One Republican Friend” we have about as many ideological differences as there can be, but we’re engineers first and everything else a distant second and we have billions of others to politics-bicker about while too few to geek out with).


There’s lots of facts about my body and identity that I’ve never felt like I needed to hide or mitigate, or prove that this aspect of myself wasn’t more important to me than whatever task was at hand, even if I was actively bringing it up and telling people to change things because of my experience.

I’ve never said, for example, “I’m an artist first, 5’4” second" - even if I’m telling people that a shelf is out of my reach, or would be out of the reach of many about my height, I don’t feel like bringing it up shows I’m not committed enough to other aspects of who I am and what I do.

There’s other models for it not mattering besides minimizing it or pretending it doesn’t exist or is not also a part of the life we live - another model would be not caring, it’s there, it’s just a fact, I don’t need to rank it and diminish it, it just is, and will come up whenever those things affect what we do and what we make.


Throwing a cultural fit?
I’ll show myself out…


Irrelevantly reminds me of a Czech joke pre-1990.
Czech child: “I’ve got sweets”
Bulgarian child “I’ve got a Russian friend”.
Czech child “If I had a Russian friend I wouldn’t have any sweets either.”


I am uncertain of what exactly you mean by this, but I still think this is the most depressing thing I’ve read all day. Being uncomfortable in your own skin is not a healthy place to be.

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