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#educate, #mentorate, #gamergate - encouraging STEM participation

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Offline kat

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What can be done to address one of the main issues highlighted by #gamergate; there being too few women in the games industry (and IT & STEM generally). It's not a new problem. In the UK, central Government has spent the best part of the last twenty plus years exhausting public money on the problem, largely to no avail (according to their own data and admission there are now fewer females entering STEM than twenty years ago). So if Government can't find a workable solution, even with access to (relatively speaking) infinitely deep public pockets, what can be done to remedy the situation that don't cause more problems, unintended or not.

Speaking to game developers about what they do the address the dilemma (and running the following past a charity/fund raising consultant incidentally [1]), the key seems to be acting locally, getting to the problem early and keeping it personal. In other words, it's not about throwing money around, rather it's a matter of getting to the students (girls in particular) whilst they're still in (middle) school (under 18's) [2]. Failing that, for older College or University students (18+), it's more important to 'mentor' rather than 'teach' - the critical factor in whether girls go on to a career in STEM in particular appears to have greater relation to their first hand and informal interaction with industry professionals and not necessarily their teachers or professors ("teachers teach, industry professionals inspire") [3].

With this in mind, the following are some ideas game studios and educational establishments can exploration at the local level;
  • Studio visits - onsite studio visits by local schools.
  • School visits - studio representatives visiting the classroom.
  • Run Computer/IT/STEM clubs and/or extra credit after school activities.
  • Studios working with educators to create extra credit projects.
  • Studios working with educators to create more involved course work.
  • Provide teachers data they need to develop study materials for the classroom.
  • Provide teachers information needed for policy change.
  • Preferential learning environments - programs tailored to either/or/both girls and boys.
  • Encourage either/or/both girls and boys to collaborate with, and compete against, each other [4].
  • Encourage critical thinking, exploration and problem solving [5].
  • Encourage female mentoring [6].
  • Encourage industry mentoring in general [7].
  • Parental involvement - help parents understand that "computer" is not synonymous with "toy/game".
  • Program & initiatives that cater to traditional biases [8].

[1] A specialist in the field of fund raising for charity and non-profit educational programs for school age youngsters (ostensibly 13-18).

[2] Generally speaking, it's preferable to get to students early as they likely won't yet have established any strong personal 'social' biases towards STEM subjects that might otherwise turn them away from study because they're not seen as 'cool' or fashionable by their peers. In other words, 'geeks' and 'nerds' are still considered stereotypically 'unfashionable'. Unfortunately only anecdotal evidence appears to be available to confirm this bias. In other words, girls don't get involved in tech  due to their not wanting to be seen as being 'geeky', 'nerdy' or 'unfashionable' by their friends and peers (who are not interested in STEM) - "geeks only need apply", a considerable 'negative' compared to the numbers wanting to be famous.

[3] This is not to denigrate or diminish the importance of what teachers do and their abilities to educate students (a thankless task?), rather it's an issue of the formal nature of the "student-teacher" relationship (similar in many respects to "Doctor-Patient" or "Client-Council"); because visiting professionals are not 'teachers' the relationship to students is more readily casual and informal, meaning it's more likely for students to be 'inspired' rather than 'educated' into action.

[4] Preferential or dedicated environments, otherwise know as "Safe Spaces", should be physical or virtual locations where program or project participants are able to be freely and openly creative or expressive rather than necessarily free from criticism, being questioned or being on the receiving end of 'lip' from fellow students/peers as a natural result of competitive or challenging interactions, actions the individual might subjective consider 'unsafe' (cf. #5 below).

[5] Game development (IT and STEM generally) is ostensibly about problem solving, the expression and explanation of thoughts, ideas and concepts to others (not always versed in what are often regarded as 'technical' subjects). As part of this process however, 'arguments' are likely so students need to be made aware that the difference between critical thought processes and analysis, the interpersonal interactions and differences in communication skill usually required for this, and that the 'heated' discussion and arguments that occur as a natural result of the expression/explanation of ideas, are just that, heated or passionate debate - students should be encouraged to understand this and be open to criticism as a means of improving their output rather than it being perceived as an 'attacked' on their person, identity or ideas.

[6] Mentoring has to be free of politics, agendas and ideologies, i.e. free from authority figures and individuals (teachers/mentors) that might be looking to use these environments for 'recruiting' purposes. This is of significance because part of the reason girls don't currently get into games development appears  (anecdotally) to be a result of the constant stream of 'fear ****' spread by a very vocal minority falsely accusing the games development Industry of being "misogynistic" and "women hating" when there is no empirical evidence for this (correlation does not imply causation).

[7] Non-gendered mentoring should be as valuable as gendered mentoring, in other words, industry involvement should be encourages based on the individuals experience, knowledge or expertise, rather than their gender. With this said however, it should be acknowledged that some students may find it easier to relate to same-**** authority figures so this should be a consideration where possible.

[8] If the idea is to encourage girls to get into game development, in a general sense it may be advantageous to structure programs in a way that caters to traditional biases; because certain aspects of their world view are already familiar, orienting complex concepts to those might make them easier to digest. Development of 'pink' (for girls and 'blue' for boys) educational materials should be embraced for their easy familiarity as a means to comfortably encourage individuals participation.

Article Research Resources
IGDA - "Developer Satisfaction Survey 2014" (Game Developers at a glance)
Develop-Online - "Women make up 15% of UK games development industry"
Gamasutra - "Gamasutra salary survey 2014"
Video Games Lack Female and Minority Characters
Video Games and Gender: Game Representation, Gender Effects, Differences in Play, and Player Representation
Why Do Women Outnumber Men in College?
Black Women Students Far Outnumber Black Men at the Nation's Highest-Ranked Universities
Growth in the proportion of female medical students begins to slow
Why Do Women Outnumber Men in College?
Women in higher education
Postsecondary enrolements by institution type, **** and field of study
Women’s college enrollment gains leave men behind
University of West London - Student Statics HESA Equality data analysis
SAT® Percentile Ranks for Males, Females, and Total Group 2014 College-Bound Seniors — Mathematics
The 2014 math SAT test results confirm a pattern that has persisted for 40+ years — boys are better at math than girls
Girls better than boys at making story-based computer games, study finds
Graduate Careers Australia June 2014 - An analysis of the gender wage gap in the Australian graduate labour market, 2013
Why do boys outnumber girls for computer science?
(not primary data source NBC Science - Geeks drive girls out of computer science)
American Psychological Association - Men: A growing minority?
European Centre for Women and Technology - She Figures 2012: Gender in Research and Innovation
More women entering male-dominated specialties, finds GMC
Nordic Institute for Studies in Innovation, Research and Education - Statistics
The Value of Fame: Preadolescent Perceptions of Popular Media and Their Relationship to Future Aspirations
Teenagers who 'want to be famous' face poorer job prospects in later life

[this post was originally part of the general 'gamergate' topic but split so it has it's own focused attention]