For a number of years, I have been bringing the topic of gender differences in preferences to the forefront with many studies to back it up. My intention has always been to create an inclusive approach as opposed to a focus on the separation. One of my motivations to go into the gamification design world full-time with Gamification Nation is that when I started looking into the industry, all I saw was young white men. A lot of what they were promoting was highly competitive interactions and although I love games, I felt this industry was missing a trick.
At first I thought, I must research if my hunch that women have different preferences towards competition is actually founded on something. In fact, what I found through the research work of behavioural economist Uri Gneezy around matrilineal and patriarchal societies, that my intuition actually held value. It even brought a very interesting perspective to the fore, namely that in a matrilineal society the man will play the role, women play today in a patriarchal society. I also found in my search that in fact women are just as competitive as men, we just apply a stronger filter. If women don’t think they have a chance they won’t compete and having a chance is usually a good 80% match, for a man in a patriarchal society this is closer to 40%.
More research I came across explains in fact that up to age 3 or 4, both gender have similar ways of expressing themselves. It is however society that makes girls by age 6 relate more to their immediate environment and boys tend to be encouraged more with adventure. This is society grooming us one way or the other. Changing this is where the root cause lies for the diversity movement to flip into the inclusion movement. It is deliberate action towards inclusion that will change this. If your daughter wants to be batman, encourage her. If your son wants to be make-up artist cheer him on.
So where does that leave us on the topic of diversity versus inclusion, so far it only explains how my hunch that the industry needed some feminine input was probably a valid one. Even today if you look at the gamification industry, women are still under-represented and nobody can hide the fact that isn’t diverse in age, race, gender and many other things. When I first spoke at the Gamification World Congress in 2015 about gender difference from the perspective of gamification design, I was frankly stunned with the response it created. I had ruffled a few feathers, some people took offence to my use of pink and blue in the slides, which just happen to be universally recognisable and also part of my favourite colours. But the most fascinating of all was the emotion it unlocked…
The guys living in very male dominated cultures at the event, thanked me for opening their eyes and giving them some ways on making their work more inclusive. The men from more egalitarian cultures, struggled with the concept with the exception of those that had actually used one design fits all and learned the hard way that it didn’t suit their female audience. Men with daughters also came and spoke to me on how what I had presented actually made sense from playing with their children. The handful of women that saw me, quite honestly couldn’t reach me because of the line of men that had formed, but a lot of them afterwards came to me to say that pointing this out was highly needed.
My intention was to create awareness and methods for inclusive gamification design. In the aftermath of that conference some of the top players, dug deep to find evidence that what I had said was wrong. The best that people could come up with is that age was even more of an issue than gender for design inclusion. I also experienced some nasty reactions, which probably belong in the #metoo style range. What I had attempted to do was to make an industry more inclusive and yet by putting the spotlight on the topic, I had at the same time made it much more divided, which I didn’t intend at all.
Earlier this year at SXSW in Texas, I joined forces with two great female friends in the gamification industry Monica Cornetti and Marigo Raftopoulos to delve even deeper into the topic designing to engage females. The turnout in terms of numbers was really disappointing and whether that was because a Nasa event took most of the audience, or the actual topic. The people that stayed, thanked us and many have been in touch to follow up on how they could create engagement journeys for women. The one thing I always say at the beginning of a talk about gender inclusion, is that we actually all operate on a spectrum with feminine and masculine as the outer poles. Given each situation where and how we respond on that spectrum varies significantly. I know men that are more feminine than I am and I knew women that are more masculine than the men I know.
So do we need female superheroes to solve the lack of diversity? Personally, that thought alone makes me cringe. Don’t get me wrong, role models sure help. Having to flip the equilibrium completely for it to be inclusive, is missing the point in my view. Meeting in the middle somewhere makes much more sense. In my early days as a basketball coach in inner-city Antwerp, where you had a melting pot of nationalities and cultures living together, a fellow coach once said for him not to be considered racist, he had to be mindful of not being too accepting of what the other cultures brought to the mix, so as not to be racist against his own race. It is a thought that stuck with me for a long time and one that made clear to me that tolerance and acceptance is as much about boundaries as it is about opportunities.
In the recent spate of the #metoo campaigns on social media, a clear light is shown on some really unacceptable behaviour by some men in society and I would say in a matrilineal scenario this could well be women or even where women have the power handle it may also be women. The fact that it is being spoken about is a good start in my view. The thing is doing pointing out that there is a gap or a problem, is only the start of a potential solution.
The solution in my view is to be inclusive by design. From a rules perspective, look at all of your target audience and invite them to be part of the design process and if the rules are specifically aimed at a group whether they are identifiable by gender, age, culture, race or other make 100% they give you input. It is up to both men and women to stand up for the each side and to be humble enough to ask for help when you are out of your depth. So my suggestion is instead of pointing at the gap, let’s look at how we can be inclusive instead.