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Thoughts on DEI and the games industry from Amazon Games’ CFO

29 Apr, 2022

Across the games industry, from the biggest companies to smallest startups, the focus on creating work environments that promote diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) has never been more important.

In late April, Amazon Games’ CFO, Namrata Gandhi, joined other top female leaders for a timely panel discussion focused on DEI in the workplace at the annual GamesBeat Summit in Los Angeles. The lively conversation made note of the progress that’s been made—and got specific on how much more still needs to be done.

To bring further awareness to these important topics, Gandhi shared some of her own experiences and professional takeaways on DEI in the games industry. Read on for a Q&A on the topic.

There’s been significant focus on DEI within the gaming industry. Why do you see the industry as a good place for women, people of color, and other marginalized groups to work?

There has obviously been a lot of attention on this very real issue. However, while people naturally focus on the negative, we have also seen a big wave of change in the last few years, in many, if not all corners of the industry. What I’m seeing is a quickening pace of positive movement.

My career has had two distinct time frames—in the gaming industry and outside of it. By chance, I’ve always worked in male-dominated industries. The roles I held before I entered the gaming business were around analytics, investment banking, tech, and semiconductors, and honestly, diversity in representation there has historically been challenging and a point of discussion for years.

However, in gaming, I see both a push and a pull toward representation. Nearly 50% of the player population is now women, and there is a clear movement toward representation that finally breaks historical stereotypes. We see women gamers, nonbinary influencers, eSports players of all lifestyles, and an increasingly diverse player base. Further, from the industry’s perspective, there is no better way to reach women and any marginalized group than to better represent their interests and needs in products, marketing, and corporate decision-making itself. I’ve found this to be an industry that, at its core, invites and celebrates diversity and authenticity, more so than the prior businesses I’ve been in.

What work has yet to be done in gaming?

A lot of the changes we have seen have been great, but can also be either temporary or feel like items on a checklist. Thus, it’s key—just like making any successful change in inclusion—that you avoid it feeling like tokenism.

Permanent change requires true and permanent structural adjustments. This means a commitment and a concerted effort to make inclusion an authentic part of your mission, core goals, and the DNA of the company. Make it a natural way of functioning, not an item on that checklist. It also requires leadership from the top down to set the tone for how decisions are made, and for those leaders to understand the influence and impact it will have. Change like that isn’t easy, nor can it be achieved quickly through a check mark. It requires investment and dedication, and the gaming industry is very much on that journey.

In addition, the more representation there is in leadership, the more awareness there is of the issues and the hurdles. It also bears noting that this isn’t just about gender—it’s race, it’s ethnicity, it can be how we look or sound.

Why is Amazon Games a good place for women, people of color, and various marginalized groups? How does Amazon support them?

Before joining, I first spoke with several Amazon Games leaders, and I was ecstatic, which is not something I say lightly. I was chatting with industry veterans who had worked on games like Prince of Persia, Civilization, Mafia, EverQuest, Rainbow Six Siege, and I was impressed by every single person I spoke with. I wanted to surround myself with that incredible talent.

That said, [it was] equally important—if not more, even during my early conversations—that I felt I could be myself. I would finally bring my full authentic self to work. As a former banker, hanging up my stilettos for my combat boots was incredibly freeing. I felt like, and feel like, I found my tribe.

When I held my first leadership position within the games industry, I was the only woman amongst a sea of male leaders. At Amazon Games, I am now one of a large and growing group of female leaders, all of whom are valued and respected both as professionals and individuals.

Are there any other experiences that encouraged you?

I believe in your professional life, when people doubt your right to be somewhere, the responsibility falls on you to prove over and over again that you deserve to be there. That sounds exhausting, and can be, but don’t give up, because in a way that’s also how anyone excels in their career.

A couple of other things jump to mind from my own experience. I have two toddlers, and although they can’t figure out how to put on pants, they are fearless when it comes to trying new things, from skiing to biking to just jumping off the couch. They have no doubt in their self-ability. And while this zest or confidence for trying new things seems to dwindle in adults, I would also say every career move that involved taking on something that I was at least 50% new to was a great move that propelled me forward and up. It’s the moves I made where things looked good on paper and easy to tackle with my existing skills that often fell short of my expectations.

Finally, invest in not just finding, but building up allies. Do great work and focus on delivering meaningful results. Don’t just keep your head down. Look up, invest in your allies, and increase your circle of influence so that you’re not fighting bias, for instance, all on your own. Look out for each other. Women, people of color, and any marginalized group, if you want to be a leader, it takes two hands…one to push that door open, and the other to pull someone up with you.