Saudi Arabia takes gender diversity up a level in gaming, female executives say

Kingdom's 'gender-blind' industry is thriving ahead of the US, tech panel hears

From left, Dapper Labs vice president of games Fan Shen; venture capitalist Boyoung Kim; Atari board member Jessica Tam; and Kabam co-founder Holly Liu at the Riyadh summit. Photo: Next World Forum
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Saudi Arabia's gaming studios are more inclusive than their US counterparts, according to Atari board member Jessica Tam.

Speaking at the Next World Forum, a gaming and tech summit in Riyadh, the industry executive joined in a panel session on gender balance in the gaming sector.

She told the audience on Thursday how she believes Saudi Arabia is an industry leader when it comes to representation.

“You can see a great example here in the kingdom with Manga Productions, where they have over 60 per cent women on staff,” Tam said.

“You statistically have more gender diversity in your studios here in the kingdom than in the US. Hopefully, that will stay because the government programmes here are gender-blind and data-driven.”

Other leading female gaming executives on the panel included Holly Liu, co-founder of the mobile gaming company Kabam; US venture capitalist Boyoung Kim; and Fan Shen, vice president of games at gaming studio Dapper Labs.

In addition to retracing their steps up the corporate ladder, the group touched upon ways to make the gaming industry more appealing to women.

When it comes to her experience in Atari, Tams said gender parity is reflected on the board level.

"We have two women and two men on the board," she said. "We had an instance where we had a meeting with the whole team and when the time came for questions a woman stood up and she was quite emotional and started crying because she was so excited to be at a company where there were people like her on the board.

"She felt like she belonged in the company. So, when people think about where they want to go in their careers, representation really matters.”

Fen said one of the difficulties she faced in the gaming sector was an exclusionary corporate culture.

“Opportunities don’t come from meetings," she said. "People don't talk about high-visibility projects in that setting. Instead, it’s done when they are hanging out or playing golf. These kinds of social settings naturally fall to men.

“Because many women don’t have access to that kind of information they are out of the loop. By the time they find it, all is said and done and the project has been set.

“Fortunately, some of this is starting to change with western companies promoting more gender-neutral activities.”

When asked about the potential of female-led gaming studios, Kim said general business trends show that kind of leadership is often the best bet.

“If you look at male and female-founded companies over the last 10 years, it is the female-founded companies that have outperformed and become more profitable," she said. "This trend is also represented in some of the biggest companies in the world.

“Data evidence shows we should be investing in women, and they yield successful results.”

Updated: September 01, 2023, 2:02 PM