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It’s no secret that the games industry has an inclusion problem. While many developers and publishers claim to want a diverse pool of staff members, it seems the industry has a long way to go to achieve that goal.
But some developers seem to be making an effort to change that. Iron Galaxy, a developer based in Chicago — with a second studio in Orlando and a third in Nashville on the way — says it now has 23.3% LGBTQ+ employees. This is a much higher percentage than is typical for the industry. The World Economic Forum’s recently released Audience Representation Index indicates gaming is lagging behind other media in representation and diversity.
Iron Galaxy has worked on several triple-A games, including Killer Instinct Seasons 2 & 3, as well as ports of Skyrim, Spyro Reignited, and Crash Bandicoot: The N Sane Trilogy. Its current project is Rumbleverse, a 40-player brawler royale. Last year, GamesIndustry.biz named it one of the best places to work in the US.
GamesBeat spoke with Iron Galaxy’s co-CEO, Chelsea Blasko, and DEI program manager Rejess Marshall about what it’s doing to accommodate and respect its staff. Here is an edited transcript of our interview:
GamesBeat: Was there a point where you decided to change things at Iron Galaxy?
Chelsea Blasko: For a little bit of history on it, one of the things we recognized was we had quite a few people in this community already, so how could we foster and support that community further and recognize that. For me, it was finally getting to a point a few years ago, feeling like we had a platform as a company to talk more about our initiatives, and more of a responsibility to make sure people did know, so that we were attracting people and letting them know that we were a friendly place to work — that people didn’t have to worry about being the first person to come in as an LGBTQ+ person. And that became more of a driver to speak publicly about what we’re trying to do.
GamesBeat: Can you tell me more about what you’ve done to make your workplace more attractive for LGBTQ+ people?
Rejess Marshall: I think one of the biggest things that we do is our benefits I always tout those because they’re so amazing, not even the LGBTQ+ benefits, but just the benefits in general. I think we just try to do a good job of being mindful when we’re shopping around for packages, that they are as inclusive and expansive as possible. While we’re create creating and crafting policies, we tend to lean towards caring about the person first and being mindful that everyone’s situation could look different. A lot of times I think people keep things at the binary and think about things in a more traditional sense, but even like our our parenting stuff, right? If you want to have children, we’re considerate of what that looks like –whether you’re able to give birth, whether you’re not the birthing parent. No matter what your circumstance is, we have a benefit or benefits that really can support a plethora and multitude of situations. So if you want to have children, we’re considerate of what that looks like whether you’re able to give birth, whether you’re not the birthing parent, no matter what your circumstance is, we have a benefit or benefits that really can support a plethora and multitude of situations. So it seems like everyone can find a way to get the support that they need.
Blasko: And over time, too, we made sure that our language became more and more inclusive. For instance, when we first started [offering benefits] around birth was way back and we really only had men in the office. So we just had a paternity benefit. Then we had then we had a woman give birth and we added a maternity benefit. And then I realized I wanted that to be primary and secondary caregiver leave. I realized still that language doesn’t really capture what we are trying to get across to people. And so we really wanted to change it to birthing and non-birthing parent benefits. So we’re recognizing the medical recovery and we’re recognizing the emotional bonds. And so we just try to learn and improve all the time to make sure we’re reviewing how we’re speaking about things, how we’re talking to people, and we’re making sure that we are being as inclusive as possible with the language as well.
Marshall: Yeah, like Chelsea say like birthing parent, non-birthing parent — or just saying “parent” in general. Anybody can become a parent, whether that’s through adoption, whether or not you have to become a foster parent or you started taking care of a little cousin who knows what the situation is. So this really leaves a flexibility for people to make that determination and find what they need.
GamesBeat: And you say the benefits also cover non-birthing situations, such as adoption and fostering as well?
Marshall: Absolutely, and we cover those at 100%. So our bonding leave is 100% of your salary for five weeks. We have a recovery leave, so if you are the birthing parent and you need recovery leave after giving birth, you have that as well. They’re actually stackable so you can get the exact time you need personally to recover and also to bond with your child.
Blasko: We also have pretty robust fertility benefits as well, understanding that people have a variety of different circumstances and may need to maybe to avail themselves of services like IUI or IVF. If they’re undergoing some gender affirmation surgeries, they may need to pursue fertility treatment prior to that, so that they have as many options available to them and their future as they may want. We want to make sure that we’re supporting as many circumstances as we possibly can.
GamesBeat: Other than benefits around children and family, are there other benefits that you’ve included?
Blasko: One of the things that we’ve had, since the very beginning of Iron Galaxy is domestic partner benefits — making sure, even before same sex marriage was made into law and codified, that benefits were available to partners who were not necessarily recognized by the United States at that time and that they were able to access that health care and access any of the benefits that we had for any person in Iron Galaxy. Also, you know, should should we see some of those things move backwards, we’re prepared to continue to offer domestic partner benefits and continue to support those families as well.
Marshall: Considering everyone’s preferences and choices — everybody may not want to get married. Not everyone believes in the institution of marriage. But whether you do or you don’t, if you have a partner that we can define as your domestic partner, you can cover them with your benefits, which is really amazing for those who may not believe in marriage or if something else were to happen. So that’s really cool. I think we have really good trans-inclusive policies. If you were to transition or We’ve had employees to take advantage of that and we work with them one-on-one on crafting language for their team. Transitioning is not just a medical thing. It’s also a very social thing. Is your name correct on your email, in in our IT systems? How do we talk to your teammates and your supervisor? Making sure that we support people is really important for us, and I think we’ve had employees take advantage of those benefits, and have positive experiences.
Blasko: Yeah, not quite a benefit but other things, policies and things we do around the office. We really encourage people to share their pronouns as well, starting with any intake or interview process. We want to make sure that everyone is aware of the pronouns that should be used. We can add them to our payroll system. We have name tags in Florida that have people’s pronouns. We’re looking for other ways to continue to celebrate that. There’s only a very small percentage of people in the leadership or HR who are able to access information, but we asked people to share things outside of EEOC, like their LGBTQ status and I feel super honored and proud that over 23% of our staff is sharing with us that this is how they identify — that they identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community. So that makes us always think about how we can provide more support for these people because it comprises such a large percentage of our population in general. We just did the Pride Parade in Chicago. And that was a ton of fun for me. It had been on hiatus for the last two years, due COVID and everything so we had. We had a banner and we had the car decorated. We had T shirts. We were able to go out and celebrate and really have some joy around around the community. And we did a Pride brunch as well. So we really tried to think about what are some — both education for the rest of the studio, as well as what are some fun events? We did a queer art storytelling event this year to educate people a little bit more on how we can talk about this? Did you want to talk about the ERGs?
Marshall: Yeah, sure. I believe the LGBTQ plus ERG was our first one formed and so when they originally were formed, they were just internal groups of people who wanted to get together and find community. Like I said, I think that was the first one group that was formed and it split. Now we have six and we have full employee resource groups with budgets and programming, but I think it just speaks to the spirit of that community here at our company. They really took the lead and really took off and started those programs. I know last year we did Drag Bingo, which was a ton of fun, but we also had an “Empowering trans allies” session last year, to show people how you can just be more inclusive in language. Also we take suggestions and I think that was that was spawned from a suggestion. Somebody wanted to learn and people wanted to learn how to be better trans allies. And so we were able to get a speaker to come in and teach us those things.
Blasko: On another note, one of the things I have felt more of a responsibility to do is be more visible. Traditionally in my life, I felt that should not be the onus of the non-straight person to have to come out. And so that’s how I approach my life traditionally. But I realized in talking to some people in the office how powerful it was for them to feel seen, If I could share some of my story, that could help other people in the office and that being out and being seen in that way could hopefully help other people to feel embraced, and that it’s a good place to be.
GamesBeat: Have there been any particular challenges? You hear this, and think, “Well that doesn’t sound so difficult.” So why aren’t more people doing it?
Blasko: Time and attention and logistics of rolling things out and listening to people for feedback. I can’t speak to why other people don’t do it. I think first for me was realizing just how important it is — that we do need to make a concerted effort to make sure that things things do happen and they don’t get de-prioritized and part of that was hiring Rejess to help us, as an organization, keep an eye on those goals. I had foolishly thought initially that I could just be spearhead it all a few years ago. When I was just trying to spearhead it all with the help of some a few enthusiastic teammates, we weren’t getting as much done. So it was really a commitment to knowing we need a 40-hour role dedicated to making sure we’re following these goals, along with helping encourage people in our ERG s and others to participate.
GamesBeat: You mentioned something about people in your company feeling comfortable sharing their stories, and their authentic selves. I’m curious, because the percentage of people in the games industry who identify as LGBTQ+ is miniscule. The blame is usually placed on bad hiring practices and non-inclusive workplaces. Do you think there’s a chance that there might be more people within the industry who don’t feel safe publicly identifying themselves as such?
Marshall: I would definitely agree. I think early on, we had people who just cared and so two of our core capabilities and our values are “people” and “continuous improvement” and I think they kind of go hand-in-hand a lot. And we take that continuous improvement seriously, right? It’s not just about the video game development side, but how do we continually improve our workplace? How do we continually make changes? How do we listen to people so we care for them and then make those actionable changes within our company?
Blasko: Something that was powerful to me, and I hesitate to say it because I definitely don’t want it to affect anyone negatively. But we do these the iron Galaxy segments on our blog that highlight people from the community or highlight some of our employees and we were doing one for Pride. And at first, we didn’t have many people sign up. And I thought, well, this seems really strange because we have, you know, at least 23% of folks willing to disclose to us — their employer — what their identity is. Then I heard that some people were still really hesitant to have them be public. Maybe their families didn’t know or some of their friends and for me, I was so touched by that. I’m hoping that what that’s showing is that we are a place where people do feel comfortable. It’s so sad for me that they’re still these other places. But I was really shocked, frankly, that the workplace could be one of the first places that someone might feel comfortable coming out.
GamesBeat: Do you have any advice for companies that genuinely want to be more inclusive but maybe don’t know how?
Marshall: I think first is representation. A lot of our early employees, they were the you know, they were friends, right? This is a place where our founder wanted to work with his friends. Being mindful of who your friends are, in what their circumstances may be, allowed us to build these policies in place early on. So if you have people that are in your company, and you have people in leadership and they have a seat at the table, they’re able to advocate for that. That representation allows people who don’t identify with that particular group, to interact with someone, to learn about them, and to demystify some of the the misconceptions about a particular community. That’d be the first thing and then I think the rest is just simple stuff. Take a look at your benefits. Take a look at your policies. Is there a lot of gendered language? When I started, I worked with our recruiting team early to just decode some of these gendered words, that may be more masculine. That way in our job descriptions we’re looking at who would want to apply. You see words like “rockstar.” That sometimes that is a male-dominated word. We just made sure that we audited our job descriptions so that they were as inclusive as possible. Auditing our application so that you can disclose to us early what your pronouns are. Or if you have a legal name versus a preferred name. It’s just really just being mindful of small things that really make a difference for some people.
Blasko: Yeah, even a very small thing today. Someone who is somewhat new to the company sent out an email: “Hello gentleman.” To a group of, you know, outward men, but I was included, someone else was included. And I just reached out to them on the side and said, “Hey, when I send emails, I tend to use ‘folks’ or ‘y’all’ to make it as inclusive as possible.” If I hear someone say something in a meeting, that I know that would help to educate them on, I just pull them aside afterwards and give them some education. I find that people are receptive to that. They want to learn. They want to understand how they can be better. I also think making sure that you’re giving people a voice, whether they’re LGBTQ or whomever, that people understand that they are being listened to and heard. They see results of using their voice, whether it’s in the products that we’re making, or the benefits and policies that we put for in the studio.
GamesBeat: What about advice you might have for people trying to enter the industry? What can they look for when they’re seeking jobs or positions?
Marshall: I would, tell any LGBTQ+ person looking to join the games industry: Pay attention to the things that matter to you. When you’re on their website, pay attention to their commitment to DEI. Pay attention to who’s on their website. Pay attention to the application process. Did it allow me to self identify my pronouns or am I just stuck with whatever you give me? There’s a lot of outward-facing things that you can kind of glean from employers websites. Most employers put their benefit packages or highlight a lot of their benefits on their website. So that’s a good way. Reaching out to employees of that company, maybe on LinkedIn. I always encourage people to just ask other people who work there. “What is it like? What is your experience?” Joining LGBTQ plus you know, groups that focus on the industry, and just finding community within the industry is usually a really good way to find your your tribe.
Blasko: I would also say don’t be afraid. The interview is a two-way street. You have a lot of choices now. So if you are getting some of those red flags from the things that Rejess mentioned, you do not have to take that job. I think you know, a lot of young people, you may feel that pressure, and there are options out there. There’s going to be a better fit for you. Just know that.