Interactive Ontario, with the financial support of the Ontario Media Development Corporation, the Canada Media Fund, Ubisoft and Humber College, initiated this project as a first step to better understanding the challenges of having a diverse and inclusive workplace and to provide recommendations and resources to help Ontario’s interactive digital media companies improve their diversity and inclusion.

Findings from the study show that increased diversity and inclusion can help employers find the best possible talent, create better content and open up new markets. It also appears that efforts to create a more inclusive company result in a better managed workforce that is more efficient, feels more invested in the company and has less turnover.

The toolkit present tips as well as list of resources intended to be a starting point for producers’ investigations into how they can improve diversity and inclusion within their company, regardless of its size.

20 Top Tips

The following Top Tips for producers to increase their diversity and inclusion were pulled from the roundtables and interviews and have been formatted here as a document that can be pulled from the report and used as a standalone resource. They are not listed in order of priority and may not work for each IDM company. We encourage interactive digital media companies to implement the tips that work for them and their particular circumstances.

  1. Patience

Be aware that existing staff may be wary of changes as a result of new diversity and inclusion strategies. Build trust by including them in the development of strategies, demonstrating how the strategies will positively impact them (working with new voices, building better content), and moving slowly to implement the plan.

2. Build trust

Recognize your own biases to hire within your network or hire people similar to you. Be ‘purposeful’ in going outside your networks to find talent and exercise ‘conscious inclusion’.

3. Recognize bias

Attend workshops on unconscious bias, diversity and inclusion strategies, inclusive workplaces, communication skills and managing talent. These workshops will help you be a better manager as well as improve your diversity and inclusion skills. Have both the leadership and the middle managers attend workshops.

4. Training

Don’t make assumptions based on ‘common wisdom’. Research, interview, assess your own hiring practices and retention statistics to confirm or refute assumptions. For example, one company thought women were leaving mid-career to start families so created family-friendly policies but women continued to leave. They are still trying to identify the cause so they can respond to it.

5. Leadership

Diversity and inclusion need to be seen to be supported by the leadership of the company and not just seen as an HR function. Diversity and inclusion strategies are more successful when the underlying principles are embedded in the values of the company and all staff understand the ‘business case’ or ‘value proposition’ to diversity and inclusion. Diversity and inclusion are seen as factors in the company having the best possible talent, which can be a competitive differentiator for smaller companies.

6. RESEARCH

Don’t make assumptions based on ‘common wisdom’. Research, interview, assess your own hiring practices and retention statistics to confirm or refute assumptions. For example, one company thought women were leaving mid-career to start families so created family-friendly policies but women continued to leave. They are still trying to identify the cause so they can respond to it.

7. Accountability

Make managers and senior leadership accountable for implementing diversity and inclusion strategies. Set goals and reward accomplishment. Adjust the goals for the size of your company but demonstrate commitment.

8. Demonstrate commitment

If your company is not diverse, consider not putting your team photos on your website as that perpetuates the perception of a lack of diversity. Even those with invisible differences, such as the neuro-diverse, will feel that they will not fit into ahomogeneous company. Find ways to communicate on your website your commitment to diversity such as showcasing the diversity of your content or volunteer work in different communities. If your company is diverse, promote it with photos of your team on your website. People will be attracted to companies where they feel they will be welcome and your website communicates that.

9. Diverse staffing

If you are having a hard time finding programmers or designers who are from underserved communities, consider hiring a wider variety of talent in job categories that are easier to fill such as admin, marketing or sales. In an inclusive workplace they will be able to provide different perspectives that will inform the development of the content and help the studio promote the core value of diversity and inclusion.

10. Advisory board

If your company is not diverse, and is too small to easily become more diverse, consider putting together an Advisory Board that is diverse and use them to bounce ideas off of, market test your content, and use their networks when hiring. A diverse Advisory Board can help to demonstrate a commitment to diversity when existing staff do not (see Tip #8 above). Compensate the Advisory Board for their time to be respectful of their time commitment and ensure active participation. Another option is to reach out to underserved communities on gaming forums to attract a diverse range of playtesters. Find a way for people with different perspectives to review your IDM content.

11. Community outreach

Develop ongoing relationships with underserved communities so that over time they will see your company and your sector as realistic opportunities.

12. Inclusion

It is not enough to hire for diversity. Your studio must also be inclusive. If it is inclusive then you will attract a wide variety of talent and they will stay. Monitor advancement and retention to see if staff from particular communities are not advancing at the same rate as others or are leaving the company at a higher rate as this may indicate inclusion issues.

13. Hiring

Consider different assessment strategies when hiring. Some people do not interview well, particularly the non-neurotypical, but can be very skilled and hard-working employees. Can applicants be given a task or test to assess skills? Consider standardized questions in interviews, a defined set of skills required and assessment against a rubric to ensure that the interviewer is not unconsciously, or consciously, incorporating their biases into the interview.

14. Job ads

Review job ads for words that reflect bias (e.g. ninja warrior or rock star). Be open to evidence of skills rather than formal qualifications, which can at times act as barriers to talented candidates unable to afford formal education, or specific years of experience which may not reflect talent. Be realistic about years of experience required, particularly in evolving technologies. See Resources and Appendix “D” for assistance in crafting job ads.

15. Job ad posting

Use multiple sources to post job ads. Use the extended networks of existing staff, community organizations, traditional and non-traditional job boards, social media networks etc. Employees can act as advocates within their community.

16. Internal barriers

Review your common staff practices and consider if they create barriers for anyone. If team-building activities are after work does it then exclude anyone who would prefer to spend that time with their families? Does socializing with alcohol exclude anyone? Is your office fully accessible? Can staff reasonably adapt their work environment to their needs, i.e. work with headphones or with lots of opportunity for movement. The goal is not to change all practices to fit the needs of a minority but to find reasonable accommodations to be inclusive of the most people.

17. Develop the talent pool

If the available talent pool is not diverse enough then work to make it more diverse. Develop relationships with colleges, universities, community organizations and high schools to find and develop talent. Ensure that there are no barriers to diverse talent being hired and being trained and promoted. Ensure that managers are not accidentally creating inherent barriers.

18. Values statement

Even a small company can create a values statement and corporate policies relating to diversity and inclusion. They do not have to be long and involved but state the policy to hire and work with the best talent possible, desire to have an inclusive workplace and refusal to tolerate any form of harassment. Brief policies and values posted to a company website will attract talent who value that kind of a work environment and send a message about the kind of employer you intend to be. Create more detailed guidelines as the company grows and the need develops. See Appendix “E” for examples of brief values statements that include diversity and inclusion.

19. Measurement

While measurement is an important aspect of assessing progress there is a risk that an over-reliance on checkboxes can leave people out, not account for intersectionality (someone being a member of more than one underserved community) or not be fully representative due to an unwillingness to selfidentify. Statistical measurement of progress should only be one of the goals of a Diversity and Inclusion strategy and should be looked at within the context of a more subjective assessment of inclusivity progress (e.g. pulse checks on employee satisfaction).

20. Affinity groups

If a company is big enough (100+), consider supporting the development of affinity groups. An affinity group is a group of employees who share a community of identity (i.e. gay, parents, black etc.). Affinity groups can be an effective tool to share concerns and affect change provided that management supports and engages with the affinity groups. If a company is smaller it could support staff to join industry-wide affinity groups, such as Dames Making Games, or create one. Company support can include things such as meeting during work hours, a budget for refreshments, meeting space, a budget for participating in events or training or reimbursing membership fees.