Wooga: A Corporate Culture of Gender Equality
Guest contribution from Valentina Luzina, Head of HR, Wooga
Making diversity our corporate culture:
steps we took to achieve this transformation and increase our proportion of women
How can a gaming company manage to transform a male-dominated field into a diverse business? I can say with conviction: where there’s a will, there’s a way! In my experience, you need two things in particular: openness and the courage to make the leap. A guest contribution from Valentina Luzina, Head of HR, Wooga.
The gaming industry is still regarded as a typically male domain. This extends from the games themselves, which heavily feature male characters, to the employees in the companies, about 70 per cent of which are male. Some female players even give themselves male names in games in order not to stand out as women.
We’re all sufficiently aware of these facts. What’s also true, though, is that there’s room to work on them! With just a few steps, a male-dominated business can become more diverse than ever before. I’ve experienced this for myself at Wooga these last years. A little over 10 years ago, Wooga was already quite diverse from the cultural perspective, but it was still just as masculine as the average business in the industry. The proportion of female employees was about 20 per cent. This figure looks quite different in the year 2023: 42 per cent of the employees are women, with 24 per cent of them working in tech areas and 40 per cent (!) in management roles.
This is unbelievable for the gaming industry – although it should actually be quite normal. After all, right around 50 per cent of the world’s video game players are women.
It was this discrepancy that led Wooga to ask some key questions: Why exactly are things the way they are? And what can we do to change them? Wooga’s games are actually played mainly by women – so it was clear to us that we have to promote women more. That was the starting signal for us.
The most important step is the first one
Our first step involved bringing in an expert. The topic of her presentation: unconscious bias. It was a real eye-opener for the whole team, raising everyone’s awareness of the subject. It was also a door-opener for us to continue promoting the issue. So, my first tip is: address the issue and start a dialogue. Put out your feelers to see if the management and the rest of the team are open to the subject. At that point, the first small measures should be taken; after all, successes are the best basis for further dialogue – and are more convincing than any study.
That’s the most important step: just getting started in the first place! Many companies get caught up in meetings and detailed strategies before ever getting started, when it’s really best to just get rolling and learn as you go; and with time, you’ll improve and be able to think bigger.
The situation at Wooga was as follows: there was a definite openness to the subject, yet there was still a lack of readiness to really invest in it. We were also facing some existential problems at the time. So, my HR colleagues and I asked ourselves where WE could change something in our sphere of influence. We realised that we, in HR, were in a pivotal position. After all, our role involves filling the candidate pipeline and training the hiring managers in matters of equal treatment in the interview process. In doing so, we largely help determine how diverse our workforce is.
Consider: Whom do YOU want? And what do THEY want?
Those who want to draw more women to their company must think long and hard about what’s important to working women and how they want to be addressed. This requires some tact – especially in light of the fact that most cases of prejudgement or exclusion are the result of unconscious bias. Language is a very powerful force here. That’s why companies should use great judiciousness and sensitivity when formulating job postings, rather than taking a run-of-the-mill approach. It’s not just about addressing all genders, but also about the choice of words in general. Adjectives such as ‘enthusiastic’ and ‘empathetic’ can be perceived as more feminine characteristics, while ‘ambitious’ and ‘goal-driven’ are often associated more with men. As a result, fewer women respond to job postings that sound typically male. Another example: Often, women apply only for positions where they meet 100 per cent of the outlined criteria. Men, however, also apply for positions for which they meet only 60 per cent of the job profile.
The examples might sound stereotypical, but there is a simple explanation for them: socialisation. Women are socialised differently than men. They are taught to be humble – while men are allowed, or even encouraged, to show their strength and ambition.
Thus, HR departments need to put a lot of thought into this area and use these findings to develop measures for their hiring process. It will pay off!
Diverse hiring practices = making compromises?
Besides using gender-sensitive language in job postings, we at Wooga also introduced the principle of having at least one female job candidate in every round of hiring. When it comes to ambitions of raising the proportion of women in a company, there’s a misconception that diverse hiring means having to make compromises. This isn’t true, though. It’s not about a company promoting a woman into a management position simply because it has to. Rather, it’s about providing a woman with the same opportunities. And if the candidates are equally qualified/suited, preference is given to the woman.
In our company’s arrangement, the position is given to the person who is best suited for it. As I see it, we don’t need to fixate on a particular quota. However, I believe intentionally including more women in the shortlist of job candidates is a very sensible measure. Another positive aspect: once a management position has been filled by a woman, this precedent increases the likelihood that more women will then also apply for the same or a similar position.
Furthermore, we decided that every interview panel must include at least one woman from the company. In departments that were previously dominated by men, such as engineering, finding a suitable female colleague for this role each time was at first more difficult than expected. There were hardly any women working there at the beginning, especially in management positions. At the same time, we didn’t want to have just any female colleague sitting on the panel; after all, they needed to be in a position to answer an applicant’s questions during the interview.
It took some time at first to even out the share of the interview handled by the woman representing the company, in particular. Sometimes she would speak much more than her male colleagues, sometimes much less. We realised that neither extreme was really expedient and it was important that the applicant not draw the wrong conclusions about the proportion of women in the overall company based on the gender distribution in the interview.
These three measures changed everything at our company! And they didn’t cost anything. It really only involved small adjustments in our process. The successes resulting from the measures have encouraged us to keep pursuing the issue.
Diversity is a huge opportunity
Diversity is more than just a matter of gender, of course. It’s about offering equal opportunities for all – regardless of their race, religion, world view, age, possible disabilities, sexual orientation or appearance. Equal rights are fundamental to diversity.
At Wooga, we follow a self-empowered mindset. In other words, everyone can get involved! We see problems as opportunities to change something – at our own initiative. However, we can only be true to this motto if every single employee has an equal sense of belonging. This is the very essence of inclusion.
In summary, I see equal rights as an obligation for companies and diversity as a huge opportunity. Diverse teams are more creative, more dynamic, more innovative – and ultimately more successful. I’ve seen this quite clearly over the last seven years at Wooga. Not only do we now have a more healthy corporate culture, but we’re also one of the market leaders for story-driven casual games and have been ranked among the top 1 per cent of Germany’s best employers. All I can say is this: even if it’s challenging and takes quite a lot of time at the beginning, investing in diversity and inclusion pays off exponentially in the end.
About the author:
Valentina Luzina is Head of HR at Wooga, the Berlin-based developer of story-driven casual games. She joined the business in 2017 and, together with her team, consistently promotes issues such as diversity and family friendliness.