Groupwork In Pgh

Diversity Makes Us Strong


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.

Diversity Makes Us Strong Callout1

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. 

Diversity Makes Us Strong Callout 2

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.