A veteran interactive entertainment executive for more than 20 years, Laura Sturr leads operations for Amazon Games where she oversees operations, scalable infrastructure, external publishing and general management. Prior to Amazon, she has held roles at Sony Computer Entertainment, THQ, Sony Online Entertainment and Robot Cache. Recently, Laura was appointed to the Women in Games International board (WIGI), a nonprofit organization with a mission to cultivate resources to advance economic equality and diversity in the global games industry. For International Women’s Day earlier this month, she participated in a panel discussion with other women leaders across Games and Entertainment at Amazon that explored how women and allies navigate and achieve equity in games today and in the future.
In the spirit of International Women’s Day, we sat down with Laura to hear her insights on the challenges facing women and steps that we can all take to combat those challenges.
Amazon Games: Laura, thank you for making the time to speak with us today. From your perspective, what are some of the biggest obstacles to achieving equity for women, and how can we overcome them?
Laura Sturr: One of the biggest and earliest obstacles women face in any workplace environment starts with awareness of inequity. It’s important to see, define and understand the bias around us all that can lead to less inclusive workplaces and inhibit women from growth and career advancement. While I have faced doses of egregious behavior most often what I’ve seen day in and day out can be difficult to identify directly. But that range of inequities compounds: microaggressions; peers and teammates devaluing contributions or assuming that you don’t have as much value to contribute despite having a similar education and background; constantly having to prove and reprove ability and impact; or leading less inclusive workstreams. It all contributes to a broader culture where It can be harder for women to progress.
The best thing that all of us can do—women and allies alike—is to use our voice to call out these various inequities (in ways that we’re comfortable with) and advocate for change at every opportunity. A colleague here at Amazon, Crystal Daniels, calls it Table Banging! Some advice she gave on the panel is to always check in all types of encounters: are all voices at the table and are all voices being heard?
It can be intimidating and often requires courage, but it’s how we create real momentum driving towards sustainable progress. Oftentimes, people are unaware that they’re guilty of cultivating these obstacles in the workplace, so it’s important that we make the effort to highlight it when it happens. In my career when I’ve done this, the vast majority of the time I have been thanked. I truly believe most people are good and want to be allies for change!
AG: How can we improve equity for women in games?
LS: Games industry leaders need to make Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) a real priority. It’s about recruiting and talent management. Games companies can make a concerted effort to build managers and leaders who value all kinds of people and equally value their diverse contributions. This leads to hiring managers being more aware of bias in recruiting and to ensure that women are sourced more actively when filling candidate pipelines. After all, games are played by 3B people worldwide in an equal amount by men and women. Not only is the right thing to do, but its how businesses succeed by ensuring employees represent the customers they serve and here at Amazon it’s all about our customers (players) as the North Star.
When women succeed, it creates a virtuous cycle. The visibility is critical because it helps aspiring women to use first hand that not only is there is a place for them in the industry, but also that they can thrive in leadership roles they might otherwise have assumed are unachievable. It shows the company they collectively work for value women and their contributions. And then it’s incumbent on those women to lend a hand to the women who are coming up the ladder. Our mentorship and contributions to the cause are at the very nexus of accelerating the progress.
AG: What progress have you seen on gender equality in your life and work?
LS: 20 years ago, I was invited to a boardroom meeting with 120 people in the room and 2 women; one of them was pouring tea and the other one was me. It was extremely intimidating. It was a moment in time where you just gulp and take stock of the immense challenges that women face when it comes to gaining a seat at the table and sharing their voices. I’ve seen huge progress over the course of my career, and we’re, thankfully, much less likely to encounter these exact scenarios today but challenges still remain. Women are a bigger and more respected part of games now: I see firsthand so many more female leaders and peers in the industry, which is fantastic progress. Games are for everybody, and so it’s incumbent on games companies to hire employees that represent the audiences they serve. The more that games professionals understand inclusivity is a core value of their organization, the more they’re likely to speak up when it’s needed. I’m encouraged to say that I’m seeing this mindset increasingly embraced by the industry at large and certainly here at Amazon Games.