The IGDA Foundation has created a database of diverse speakers, along with a grant program to help them get to conferences.
The gaming world has had some very public problems when it comes to inclusion, as the Gamergate controversy revealed. But the problem also extends to meetings and conferences within the industry. Nearly 80 percent of the gaming industry identifies as male, according to the International Game Developers Association, but the proportion of white and male speakers at game developer conferences is even larger, according to IGDA Executive Director Jen MacLean.
To address that gap, the IGDA Foundation, which MacLean also leads, recently announced the creation of the Speaker Diversity Initiative. SDI has two parts: the Speaker Diversity Network, a database of self-identified diverse speakers who are available to speak at conferences, and the Speaker Diversity Grant, which provides travel funding assistance to diverse speakers.
If you’ve organized a conference, you tend to lean heavily on your network, which really creates a vicious cycle.
The initiative, MacLean said, was inspired by an earlier IGDA grant program, which revealed that financial support for speaker travel was in high demand. “And those speakers were all diverse speakers,” she said. “Because of the volume of requests we received, we thought, ‘Wow, there’s a bigger problem here. There’s clearly a need for something that is more defined to address this issue.’”
The IGDA Foundation needed more than a funding apparatus, though, MacLean said. That’s because the diversity problem stems from bubble of the community of game developers, which the Speaker Diversity Network is designed to pop—or at least expand. “If you’ve organized a conference, you tend to lean heavily on your network, which really creates a vicious cycle,” she said. “You bring on the people you know, who bring on the people they know, and it’s hard to get new and diverse perspectives.”
Some financial support for SDI comes from a grant from the Bigglesworth Family Foundation, which focuses on inclusion efforts in the tech industry. But because the IGDA Foundation has just a staff of two, it has looked to streamline management of the program between staff and its volunteer programs committee. All SDI applications come online through Submittable, and the foundation’s programs committee convenes virtually once a month to consider grant applications.
Since SDI was launched in early August, MacLean said, it’s approved travel grants for eight people, five of whom are women, and five of whom are people are color. Moreover, the program is supporting these efforts internationally; the grants are for travel to conferences in New Zealand and the Czech Republic as well as in the United States. “We really do care about making sure that we’re encouraging voices from every discipline, from every gender, every ethnicity, and really around the world, to make this a truly global program,” she said.
Similarly, the range of speakers applying to be a part of the Speaker Diversity Network is broad. “So often [when] we talk about diversity, we think about gender or ethnicity, but one of the things that I’ve been encouraged to see is people with physical disabilities applying,” she said. “I think it’s so important, particularly as we think about accessibility and our products, to have diverse voices of all kinds participating in the discussion.”