Some Thoughts Following Our 15th Women in Gaming Luncheon at GDC

It’s no overstatement to say I’ve been to my fair share of GDC events over my nine years at Microsoft. I really love being here and am always amazed by the incredible people, innovations, panels and networking – both with old connections and new.

This year’s GDC was particularly rewarding for me, as I had the honor of hosting Xbox’s 15
th Annual Women in Gaming Luncheon, an event celebrating all of the women in the gaming industry who have made an impact on the development of successful games and products and the industry overall.  But here’s the thing…and I’m a little embarrassed to say this: Yesterday’s, event was my first time attending, and that’s in my nine years at Microsoft!

I am so energized by this experience and what I learned yesterday. And I’m thrilled to share a few thoughts with you, now that I’ve had a chance to collect them. First, the sheer diversity of the 250-plus attendees was humbling: from a young neuroscientist to aspiring game designers and from industry veterans to high school students wise beyond their years (be nice—they’ll be your boss one day!). You couldn’t help but feel the excitement, energy and support in the room. It was packed with real women, in the real workforce, making a real impact.

We kicked off the Luncheon by hearing from four dynamic and influential women, and I took from each of them something special and memorable. I encourage you to watch our full video of the talks below to get a taste for yourself: 

  • Colleen Macklin – Associate Professor in Design and Technology at Parsons School of Design in New York City and Co-Director of PETLab: Right off the bat, Colleen had us in good spirits with photos of adorable dogs in unique costumes. As she shared her experiences and photos, it became clear she was addressing a very real psychological condition called imposter syndrome in which some of the highest achieving individuals often feel like an imposter. But that’s ok, Colleen stressed. Anxiety and challenges and feeling you don’t belong or don’t deserve it—these are natural…it’s ok to feel vulnerable sometimes. The talk was very powerful and hit home for so many in the crowd. 

  • Abby Lee – Studio Manager for LXP, an incubation team within Microsoft Studios: Abby talked innovation and disruption. She shared personal stories about her work on the Incubation team at Microsoft and their mission to “Create Without Fear.” It was a good reminder about what it means to ‘fail…fail again…fail better.’ We even took a moment for all attendees to raise their glasses and toast to their fears and failures. 

  • Amy Robinson – Executive Director of EyeWire, a game to map the brain, in collaboration with Princeton University: Amy gave a speech about the importance of science and discovery and constant learning. You can see true curiosity and enthusiasm in her eyes – it’s contagious. She reminded us of the importance of constantly connecting dots in the work we do, making connections not only in our brain (I leave that work to her!), but also to other industries and disciplines. The spirit of learning comes through in everything she does. 

  • Robin Hunicke – Co-Founder of the independent San Francisco game studio Funomena: Robin’s talk was about the meaning of advocacy. She raised great points about how we are always advocating by the very work we do and the choices we make. She also reminded us that there is no such thing as a professional or personal label. We are many things at once – creator, mother, advocate, connector, storyteller, friend – on and on. Don’t pigeonhole yourself. You are many – not one.

After those four excellent talks, we took a moment to share a video about the Girls Who Code nonprofit organization. I shared that – thanks to feedback we’ve heard from event attendees last year – Women in Gaming decided to forego the gift bags normally given to attendees and instead made a $10,000 donation to the organization. I was so pleased to have Salleha Chaudhry from Girls Who Code share more about what this contribution means to the organization and the future women of our industry, as well as hear from Paige Knef, who was a recent Girls Who Code graduate.

Head of Xbox Phil Spencer then gave some parting words about the huge growth of the Women in Gaming Luncheon as well as his own passion for diversity in the industry. I’ve had many conversations with him in the past and I know these efforts are very important to him.

Finally, as I was getting ready to leave the ballroom, I was approached by a young woman who introduced herself as a relatively new member of the Microsoft family. She shared how much it meant to her to see a woman (me) on G4 over a decade ago, talking about tech and gaming. Hearing from her reminded me how seeing women in the industry – and making real connections with one another – can inspire more young women to pursue careers in gaming and technology.

As I head back up to Seattle, I have renewed energy – thanks in large part to the many women and men I met yesterday. And even though this was my first Women in Gaming Luncheon, I wouldn’t think of missing another one. The conversations we started at the event must continue in the weeks, months, and years ahead. I look forward to having those with you.