Translation: The Majority of Female Developers Quit Within 5 Years!? What Should be Done for Women to Work Longer in the Game Industry?

The following is a translation I did of this article from Famitsu, in which freelance writer Riko Kushida reported on a CEDEC panel. I thought the content might be of interest to overseas readers. Rather interestingly, it was published way back in September of 2014, during a rather tumultuous period. I thought it strange that no one at that time brought attention to it in the Western press, despite its relevancy to that time period. Let me know in the comments below if you would like more pieces like this translated, or if you have a correction to point out. In any case, I hope you enjoy the article!

The Majority of Female Developers Quit Within 5 Years!? What Should be Done for Women to Work Longer in the Game Industry?

There’s a slightly shocking report result that says “of the female game developers who work in the game industry, 5% continue working past five years.” Responding to this, four women who work in the game industry held a panel discussion at CEDEC 2014.

(Text and photographs by freewriter Riko Kushida.) [Translator’s note: Kushida is a long time game industry journalist from the time of the early 90s. These days, she mainly writes about game history and its development.]

From September 2nd to the 4th, 2014, CEDEC 2014 the largest game developer conference in Japan was held at Pacifico Yokohama! Here I’ll be reporting from a session held on the last day entitled “The Way to Work for Women in the Game Industry.”

This session was held as a panel discussion and four women who are active in the game industry took the pulpit. Nami Takasaki, Lead Designer of the Design and Development Division at Matrix Contents Business Department took on the role of moderator. She was once a manga writer, but she switched careers to become a designer in the game industry in 1993. As well, the panel included three other names: iNiS CEO Ms. Masako Harada, Gamedo CEO Ms. Kokoro Nakamura, and Cyber Connect 2 Development Division Sound Programmer from the Sound Group of the Sound Division, Ms. Yuka Watanabe. Harada founded iNiS in 1997; Nakamura began work at Hudson in 1994; Watanabe began work at Cyber Connect 2 in 2003; each panelist holds a career over 10 years in the gaming industry.

The motive for Takasaki and the others to take up this theme was because of some report results announced by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare in 2011. According to that report, in contrast to an overall ratio of the number of employed people showing that women make 42.7%, developers in the game industry were fewer at 12%, and moreover of those, only 5% continued work in the industry for over 5 years. When she found that out, Takasaki said, “I had continued along thinking that I was doing the job I liked as if it was entirely normal, and I received quite a shock when I learned that wasn’t necessarily the case for the women around me.” And so, this discussion would take up the voices of women developers actually working in the industry and search for solutions to any problems found in the working environment.

Slide 1

*Before We Start*

  • This discussion does not advocate or entertain discussion about special privileges for women.

*Today’s Theme and Goal*

  • While thinking about the employment of women involved in gaming development …
  • Giving advice and examples of how to improve it

Slide 2

*To Compare*

From the 2011 report

Women developers in the game industry … 12%

Those who continue for more than 5 years … 5%

How is this compared to the general population?

The ratio of total workers who are women is 42.7%

Women in Workplace Over Lifetime Graph Japan The letter M trend

Is it really that the games industry is hard for women to work in?

This was the first topic. For these panelists working long years in the industry, “I’ve never once thought it was hard to work in the industry. It’s not a job that depends on physical strength, and I think when you look at the mental side, women are stronger,” said Watanabe. “When I was working as an office worker, there were a lot of men that smoked and I once thought that was tough to deal with, but that’s about it,” said Nakamura. “I’ve never once thought it was difficult to work ‘just because I’m a woman,'” said Harada. “When you’re doing the things you’d like to do, you can put up with the work,” said Takasaki. Compiling these opinions together, it was concluded that “there are women in the industry who don’t think it’s hard to work in it.”

The next topic was, “Is there anything that you struggled with or felt made it hard to work? If so, what would your proposed solution be?” In response to this, Nakamura talked about something that happened in her office working days that made it hard to work for her. Nakamura married somebody else who worked in the company, but one day her husband and a couple of other employees left and started a new company. There were voices who said, “We can’t trust her with this job, because she’s married to a guy who quit the company,” toward Nakamura, the wife who remained at the company, and she said she felt it created a difficult work environment.

Bringing kids to work is okay? Creating an environment where women can continue to work

Given an example of how keywords like marriage and the household affect work life, the next topic, “A change in how we work, a proposal to environments that support long careers” was raised. Harada referred to her own experiences when she said, “If there’s something that demanded I changed my work style, unsurprisingly giving birth was a big change.”

With that, two concrete examples were given of creating an environment where women can continue to work for long periods of time. One was a brief look into the daily life of iNiS, the company Harada manages, called “Scenes of the Kids and Work.” Shortly after giving birth, for the most part, Harada stayed at home to take care of them, but when there was work that absolutely demanded her presence, or she felt like wanted to have some connection with wider society, she would sometimes bring her kids to her company. This became a regular occurrence, even when they began kindergarten, there would be cases like days when the daycare wouldn’t take her kid because he had a small fever even though he appeared fine, so she brought them to work. She talked about examples like when they were babies, she would put the baby car next to her desk and work, or during their summer vacations, she would have her elementary school children do their homework in an open meeting room at the company. “It started arguments, but at my company, everyone understood my situation. There may have been workers who didn’t like it, but when a problem arose, we’d just think about how to fix it and move on,” Harada commented.

Takasaki introduced another example. CyberAgent had introduced a “Macaroon Package” this spring, which is a women employee support system. Time off for periods was renamed “F rest” and was made easier to take, “pregnancy searching sabbaticals” were prepared for women employees who were receiving treatment for infertility, one could take half-days off for their children’s parent teacher conferences or school entrance ceremonies, etc. In this way an overall system for taking time off was set up. In addition, when children got suddenly sick, a system was set up to work from home. By the way, according to a press release from CyberAgent, 32% of the company’s employees were women and of that amount, 14% were mama workers and in 2014, the percent of people who returned after their pregnancy leave was 96.3%! It’s written that they expect a further increase of mama workers and are planning other expansions of their time off system.

To get back to the point, Nakamura also had some experience with setting up a pregnancy leave system. Right now, there’s only one example in her company, but she said that they would adjust at-work time and part-time work when needed to support her. Since she’s married, but is yet to have children, Watanabe said, “I’m relieved, since there’s already an example of a woman returning to work part-time after pregnancy leave at our company.”

The many troubles working women and the men in the HR departments brought forth

The discussion set forth time to answer questions about troubles faced from working women, men who were involved in hiring women and even from Facebook and Twitter.

First in reply to a woman who said, “My period discomfort is horrible everyday, but all my superiors are men, so it’s hard to talk to them about it,” Watanabe commented sharply and succinctly, “You’ve got it all backward. If there’s something wrong with your health, you shouldn’t be thinking about how to broach the topic with your work place, you should first be going to the hospital and taking it from there.” Harada added, “There are lots of cases where this sort of thing won’t be recognized as a sickness. But it’s your body, so you have face what’s going on yourself.” Takasaki jumped in with her own experience, “I wish you’d go to the hospital. I used my own busy lifestyle to excuse ignoring a warning that came up in a routine health checkup and I ended up inconveniencing everyone by being hospitalized in an emergency. I came to think of that as my carelessness and irresponsibility.”

The next discussion topic that came up was that of a man who said, “I’ve got a contract for a game that’s targeted toward women, but my entire staff is male. If there’s a secret to increasing our female employment, please tell me. I’m afraid I don’t know if I’ll be able to get them to work here long-term.” Nakamura first teased the guy, “Why on earth did you get a contract for a game targeted toward women, if all you had was male employees?” Then she continued to comment, “What do you plan on doing after this project is finished? If you’re going putting a focus into games targeted toward women in your company’s future from now on and recruit for that purpose, then I think you can get them to work long-term. But if it’s just one game, then they might feel like there’s not much of a purpose to sticking around.” In addition, Harada gave advice from the point of view of a manager, “It’s the type of thing you hear all the time, but if you don’t have anyone applying, then you should change the way you try to appeal, if you’ve offered a position in the interview, but they turn you down, maybe you’ve got an environment that’s hard for women to thrive. Think about it from the position of your work environment.”

As well, there was a question from female creator who is currently working in the industry, “What have you noticed that helped you work in the industry for so long?” Watanabe answered from the perspective of another creator currently working, ” Don’t overdo it. If you’re working when your head is not, the programming bugs are only going to increase. Also, when you play, play. I feel like when creators don’t play enough, their creativity drains.” Takasaki added her advice for when you feel like you want to continue working, but your workplace is getting hard to work in, “You have to negotiate with your company and tell them what points would make it easier to work if they were taken care of. When I first started having people work under me, I understood for the first time that the boss is not going to know what’s wrong unless you appeal to them with your problems.”

Finally Takasaki wrapped up the panel discussion with a message to female creators: “I don’t think there’s any great difference between men and women and I don’t want to get stuck endlessly worrying about the differences, but it’s a reality that there are lot of women quitting because they’re worried they can’t continue with their jobs. I think it’s an awful waste that these people came into the industry because they love it and now they think they have to quit because they’re women. I wish women wouldn’t think ‘Oh, it’s because I’m a woman, might as well give up.’ You can solve so many problems through creating a good environment or making good management decisions, much like the four of us here who have worked in the industry for a long time.”

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