Groupwork In Pgh

Diversity Makes Us Strong

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Is there a line for the bathroom??”

I recently overheard this statement, expressed in a tone of disbelief, in the women’s restroom at our studio. Laughing at the employee’s shock at encoun­tering a phenom­enon more commonly expe­ri­enced in the wider world, I also felt a sense of satis­fac­tion, because it reflected one aspect of a shifting demo­graphic for us as a growing studio — we have more women working at Schell Games than ever before. Histor­i­cally, the studio has always cham­pi­oned diverse teams, and has in fact been consis­tently above industry average for employing indi­vid­uals that represent minority groups of people at all levels of the studio. Diversity makes us strong” is a long-held principle of the studio, and we truly believe it! However, we’ve recently been more focused on iden­ti­fying and expanding what diversity actually means to us, and we’ve grown more diverse in several areas.

In addition to our own games, our studio develops various projects for a wide spectrum of clientele, on different (and often brand-new) tech­nology platforms. Being full-service allows us to take a project at all stages of devel­op­ment, from half-formed concept to an estab­lished property, and execute at a high level without outsourcing. This means we need both people who are flexible and looking to develop new skills, and indi­vid­uals who are highly special­ized in a subdis­ci­pline. We also do a lot of weird (read: unusual and chal­lenging) things! In order to tackle this often-uncharted territory, we need talented people from a wide variety of back­grounds, disci­plines, perspectives. 

Schell Games Collaborating Population Discrepancy In Games Industry

While Schell Games beats the industry average, the industry needs to be more representative

Technical ability, while extremely important and necessary to be a valued contrib­utor on a team, is by itself insuf­fi­cient to make a good hire or successful studio member. Placing addi­tional emphasis on a variety of soft skills (construc­tive commu­ni­ca­tion, propen­sity for growth, collab­o­ra­tion and teamwork, etc.) and stan­dard­izing assess­ment of these skills allows us to attract a broader range of candi­dates from a variety of back­grounds. These skills are a big part of our current studio 360 feedback process once candi­dates become employees, so we try to evaluate them as much as possible during the various stages of the current interview process. This pre- and post-offer alignment helps reduce a cultural mismatch and high­lights what we truly value.

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In order to be genuinely diverse and inclusive, we must view holis­ti­cally cate­gories of ethnicity, race, gender, and sexual orien­ta­tion, along with other dimen­sions of diversity. Not everyone has funds to attend pedigreed four-year insti­tu­tions or even access to schol­ar­ships for those schools, which means looking beyond those types of require­ments in job descrip­tions and on resumes. It also means proac­tively subverting systemic issues such as uncon­scious bias in hiring, re-eval­u­ating dispro­por­tion­ately high barriers to entry for women and minori­ties in the tech industry, and combat­ting imposter syndrome and the confi­dence gap for disen­fran­chised and under­rep­re­sented indi­vid­uals. Instead of passively waiting for our talent pool to change, we actively seek out candi­dates from different ethnic­i­ties, races, and genders alongside a wide range of experiential backgrounds. 

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Addi­tion­ally, no two human brains are alike. We know echo chambers happen in homoge­nous work­forces, whereas people who think differ­ently challenge team member’s assump­tions and reveal each other’s blind spots. This requires recog­nizing and supporting a wide variety of thought patterns, commu­ni­ca­tion styles and strengths in the workplace. It’s important to make margin­al­ized groups feel repre­sented and encourage respectful discourse. For us, it’s important not only that we discuss difficult and emotion­ally-charged topics, but also how we talk about these things, and that everyone is a part of the discus­sion. These important topics often find their way into our trans­for­ma­tional games in some form, so welcoming all view­points is essential for representation. 

Diversity Makes Us Strong Callout 3

Possessing and displaying empathy allows one to get in the headspace of someone with vastly different set of skills, perspec­tives, back­ground, and tempera­ment. Once you try to begin to under­stand where your teammate is coming from, construc­tive conflict that arises from the differ­ences between you can actually become a healthy catalyst for a stronger work product. 

When eval­u­ating candi­dates who will poten­tially join our studio, empathy becomes a valuable trait to attempt to assess during the interview process.

Diversity Makes Us Strong Callout 4

Once you’ve hired and built a high-performing, diverse team, it’s really important to retain them. We believe teams get better over time, espe­cially as they learn to maximize the different strengths each team member brings to the table. Focusing on retention means every­thing from supporting the growth of studio members’ profes­sional devel­op­ment and promoting members under­rep­re­sented groups to formal avenues of lead­er­ship — to making sure our pay and bonus structure isn’t discrim­i­na­tory and providing flexible working arrange­ments with generous paid leave benefits. Everyone at the studio is respon­sible in some way for achieving this goal.

To this end, we are excited to launch a new internal training series on uncon­scious bias in a proactive effort to promote social and self-awareness, empathy, and inclusion. To be human is to have biases, which isn’t neces­sarily a bad thing. Our brains process infor­ma­tion in a variety of ways, and when pressed for time, we tend to fall back on shortcuts to arrive at conclu­sions. The question is not Do we have biases?” but Which biases are ours?” However, it’s important for us to learn how to recognize these uncon­scious biases and account for them when making any decision, whether it’s hiring, promoting, compen­sating, or devel­oping amazing products in a team envi­ron­ment. Inten­tion­ally exposing our workforce to the perspec­tives of those who are most adversely impacted by unchecked, uncon­scious bias is a way we plan to demon­strate and cultivate the skill of embodying empathy.

One thing I’ve discov­ered in looking for training resources is that your sources and methods of delivery have to be diverse too — there’s no one-size-fits-all approach! Our training series will leverage short videos, articles, and baseline assess­ments from a wide range of publicly available material on uncon­scious bias to facil­i­tate discus­sion amongst all our studio members. Each session will explore a different facet of how uncon­scious bias manifests itself, and how every person at any level in the studio can have a positive impact by iden­ti­fying and miti­gating it. We hope to inspire recurring conver­sa­tions, because as Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman says,

The odds of limiting the constraints of biases in a group setting rise when discus­sion of them is widespread.”

I am proud to work at a place where these concepts aren’t abstract, and our practices and policies transcend compli­ance. We don’t emphasize these things because it’s required by law, we value them because they are central to how we operate success­fully as a studio. We want to promote a culture of mutual respect, and welcome amazing new team members that add to our culture, because we recognize diversity, in all its forms, truly makes us strong.