Breaking into the boys club: Women encouraged to pursue gaming, tech careers

Margaret Andrews started playing computer games when she was three years old. At 35, she remains an avid gamer.
Photo By: Aidan Haarman
Kate Agnew, a business analyst for Target, is managing director for Girls in Tech, which encouraged girls to follow their technology passions.
Photo By: Jerry Holt
“For a woman, it can be a bit more difficult to feel welcomed and comfortable in a male dominated industry, especially when often you find yourself being the only woman in a conference room." -- Kate Agnew

When Warwick the Blood Hunter is dominating you in an intense match of “League of Legends,” you may never consider that the person behind the computer screen is wearing a skirt.

More women are holding their head up high and proudly claiming the title “gamer.” According to the Entertainment Software Association, 45 percent of all game players are women. In fact, women over the age of 18 represent a higher percentage of the gaming community than males under the age of 17.

Still, females who play videogames are subjected to assumptions on a daily basis. When playing online, most girls are thought to be male, so they’re often called “dude” or “bro.” Upon being recognized as females, they’re treated differently — whether in the form of sexist comments or name-calling that’s meant to discourage women who are open with their gender.

“Boys often tell me to get back in the kitchen or other comments like that, but it doesn’t bother me much,” said Jasmine Dixon, a 20-year-old gamer from the United Kingdom. “They’re usually just frustrated that I’m winning.”

Some women prefer to keep their gender private. Margaret Andrews, a digital designer for Game Informer magazine, said that since she’s playing for fun, it’s pointless to volunteer her gender.

“The fact that I’m a female is totally besides the point of why I’m playing video games. I try to keep it on the down low because I’m not there to get attention and I don’t want to be treated any differently,” Andrews said.

MALE DOMINATED HISTORY

Looking back at early video games, there’s a common pattern that’s hard to miss. Often, there was a male protagonist, a female in distress, and it was the man’s job to save the helpless woman. You didn’t always have the choice to change your character like you often have now, so it’s easy to see who the target audience for video games used to be.

As time has passed, more gaming companies have begun including female protagonists. One of the more popular video games with a female is “Tomb Raider,” which saw heroine Lara Croft raid her first tomb in 1996. “Tomb Raider” games continue to be released; the latest came out in March of this year.

The connection is important because it shows that playing games can pave the way for women to pursue their passions, even if they’re technology based.

“My earliest memory was when I was like, three years old, playing simple computer games and I’ve always loved it,” said Andrews, who owned her first computer in 1980. Even now at 35, Andrews is still an avid gamer and loves working with a magazine that highlights the video game industry.

PURSUING HER PASSION

For Kate Agnew, a business analyst at Target in Minneapolis, embracing technology meant creating her first website as a young girl and developing an appreciation for the popular computer game “The Sims.”

The early exposure to technology prompted her to enroll in the 15-month Technology Leadership Program at Target. She also is managing director for the Twin Cities chapter of Girls in Tech, a social group for women interested in technology careers. The program encourages young girls to explore technology fields and ignore the “boys club” mentality.

“For a woman, it can be a bit more difficult to feel welcomed and comfortable in a male dominated industry, especially when often you find yourself being the only woman in a conference room,” Agnew said.

Girls in Tech hosts several events for women interested in technology careers to connect and talk about what they love. They’re also planning to find mentorship connections for young girls and women already in tech careers.

Whether as gamers, coders, designers or all-around tech wizards, Andrews has advice for girls interested in technology.

“Over the years I have learned that being assertive and confident in what you do helps earn respect,” she said. “When you show your confidence, people learn to respect what you do.”

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