Some of you might recall a great piece of investigative journalism from Kotaku about three weeks ago that detailed the extreme bias towards women within the Riot Games workplace. Finally, Riot has responded and claims they’re striving to “change their workplace culture”. They stated in a blog that Riot “Hasn’t always been, or wasn’t, the place we promised you” and has since vowed to make big, impactful changes to their workplace and culture.
The question is though, in a tech company that has been ruled by an 80% male presence since 2006, how deep do these harassment allegations run, and, quite honestly, how the fuck will those long-embedded views change so quickly when it’s been a natural behavior for so long?
The article referenced above compiled statements of 28 present and past Riot employees who claimed that the “bro-culture” within the tech giant is very real, and very present within the company’s day to day operations. This way of life within Riot was described as “cultish”, and some even said that it inspired and even rewarded sexist behavior. Multiple women that were interviewed expressed how Riot’s recruiting and interview processes emphasized the need for candidates to fit an extremely specific “employee model” that put them at a disadvantage. An obsession with “core gamers” and “culture fits” consistently bolstered these views to a point where when co-workers were called out on these behaviors, their concerns were used against them instead of addressed and remedied.
Riot Games is a massive tech company that employs over 2,500 people, of which, 80% are males. Their 3 head leaders and 21 of their 23 senior leads are male as well.
Mere days after Kotaku’s article dropped, even more employees began to come forward with stories of their own. Riot responded with this post on their Twitter:
“To listen, we have to be quiet. You haven’t heard from us, because we’re focused on listening and supporting internally. In the weeks and months ahead, we’ll share the immediate and long-term actions we’re taking to enact real change for women at Riot.”
Six former Riot employees have since posted blog stories of their own regarding sexism within the company, following Kotaku’s revealing article. Meanwhile, multiple others have detailed their own experiences across other social platforms like Twitter and Facebook. Victims of this harassment are taking steps to move forward with their lives, and are banding together in hopes of comforting one another. In the meantime, Riot has spent the past few weeks working internally through one on one sessions and meetings. During an “all hands on deck” meeting to discuss the Kotaku article, co-founder of Riot Games, Marc Merrill, was brought to tears (allegedly), while the other co-founder, Brandon Beck handed him tissues, according to Kotaku sources. Riot’s leaders have promised change, like many of their current employees are calling for.
According to them, they will be “broadening their diversity and inclusion initiatives, recall it’s long-held [cultural] values, and hold it’s questionable employees accountable.” My question is when your “workplace culture” has always been one that resembles a cultish, “bro-culture”, how much is really going to change? This isn’t a time to reinstate long-standing principals, because those obviously are what led you here. In fact, Riot should take this opportunity as a way to re-invent its culture in a way that openly embraces women as respected members of the gaming community. Because believe it or not, women do play video games too.
Riot has also hired two consultants that will assist them in taking the appropriate “next steps”. Their post suggests that the company is “prepared to make big changes and have begun taking action against specific cases, including removal of Rioters.”
The company has also released a detailed explanation of what these “changes” will look like:
“We will weave this change into our cultural DNA and leave no room for sexism or misogyny. Inclusivity, diversity, respect, and equality are all non-negotiable. While there is much to improve, there is a tremendous amount of good at Riot that will drive this change. This is our top priority until we get it right.”
While this sounds all good and well, as the saying goes, “actions speak louder than words.”
Riot is preparing for the ensuing weeks and months as they expand their inclusion and diversity initiatives. They are presently looking for a “Chief Diversity Officer” that they hope will become an executive member of their leadership team. They have also vowed to re-evaluate their recruiting practices and to increase their anti-harassment training. They have also stated that they plan to edit “the language of Riot, words like ‘gamer’ and ‘meritocracy,’ to ensure they mean the same thing to all of us” – which is an issue that multiple sources told Kotaku has led to “widespread marginalization of women.” Riot claims they will be vigorously investigating these claims and holding the problem employees accountable.
Their post states, “No one and nothing is sacred. We are prepared to make big changes and have begun taking action against specific cases, including removal of Rioters, though we aren’t likely to get into those details publicly on a case-by-case basis for legal and privacy reasons.”
It’s honestly hard to tell whether any of what has been said by Riot will actually happen. We live in a volatile time, where this kind of behavior is just unacceptable. Why companies think they can get away with this shit is beyond me, but again, it appears this behavior has been happening, and even encouraged, for quite some time. It’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks, but something needs to change here, actually, a lot of things do. Add to this the fact that Riot’s “ideal candidate” is a “core gamer” (specific gamers that live for first-person shooters and MOBAs), which significantly affects whether a candidate is even brought in for an interview or not. Considering 10% of gamers that play MOBAs and, an even smaller, 7% of gamers who play first-person shooters are women, the odds are immediately stacked against them before they even apply for the position.
Riot’s search for these potential employees bottlenecks the hiring process. Honestly, the fact is it’s just a ridiculous standard to have when looking for a candidate. Anyone that has a love and passion for video games has the right to be considered for a job, anyone that is a gamer will share the views Riot seems to think are only shared by these specific people, and that’s just so far from the truth. You can’t have a diverse group of employees when “diversity” and “meritocracy” really mean “you’ve got to be like us if you want to be one of us.” The best part is this isn’t just assumptions or hearsay, Riot’s demographics speak for themselves, again 80% of their employees are white males.
What Riot needs to do, is look into why so many female candidates aren’t meeting their expectations when it comes to the hiring process. If they can’t tear down the structures that were put in place so long ago, their biased, sexist, “core gamer” principals, that have run the company for so long, will just be perpetuated and only cause more damage to undeserving women within their workspace. So take a good long look in the mirror Riot, and get your shit together. Women can do the same jobs that 80% of your company is doing, have some faith and give some of them a shot, you might be surprised what they can bring to the table.