Opinion – Discrimination in the Data

Fighting social injustice, WITH NUMBERS

I should note, all information referred below speaks to US numbers. The survey was much weaker on other locations.

Gamasutra’s 2014 salary survey came out this week (link) and provided one of the few sources of survey information on the gender disparities in the video game industry. Plenty of people have talked about the problems and shared their own stories, but few have taken a systematic look at the issue. To be sure, the Gamasutra survey only looked at it as a side effect of a broader discussion, but information on gender issues is in such short supply that the survey can’t be ignored. What Gamasutra found is both disturbing and sadly incomplete. The survey gives us a hint of some of the issues, but its structural flaws prevent us from making stronger conclusions. This is a shame, because the industry really needs hard data on this.

The survey showed what many have long known to be true: that the video game industry is male dominated. No position studied had anywhere near gender parity with the closest being producers who were only 78% male. It gets way worse, and quick, from there. In addition to being a sausage fest, the video games industry pays men substantially more than women. Though there is considerable variance, women made 86% of what men made across all positions studied. In some areas, such as design or QA, the pay has reached near parity, but others, such as art design or audio professionals, women are paid sustainably less. The average female artist makes approximately $20,000 less than her male peers. Unfortunately, this is about as far as we can go with this survey. As interesting as the data is, the poor presentation of it detracts from the conclusions we can make.

While I certainly understand that gender was not the sole goal of this survey, it could have had stronger things to say with just a little tweaking. Consider the salary information above. While the survey notes the substantial differences in pay, it does not mention the differences in position. Many of the pay differences could be explained by position, not wage discrimination. In the case of programmers and artists, the pay differential almost mirrors the difference in pay between the ranks of professionals with 3-6 years. It’s quite possible that the problem is not wage discrimination, but rather position discrimination. Other positions don’t have quite a neat match up as those two, but the objection still stands. Without knowing the seniority of the individuals surveyed, it’s hard to know where the disparity actually lies.

For those seeking to undo gender discrimination, this matters greatly. Company policies mandating equal pay for equal work won’t fix the gender disparity if women aren’t being given a chance at the higher paying work. This is the reason why the gaming discussion on gender so desperately needs more hard data. Too many commenters are caught up in the anger and sadness of the anecdotes that raise the profile of the issue to figure out where the actual discrimination lies. The industry must take a thoughtful, systematic, and data-filled look at itself if it is to identify the problems surrounding gender and come up with useful solutions.

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