Gaming Ladies Who Lunch

Why I went from attendee to organizing team member at Xbox’s Women in Gaming event

The Xbox Women in Gaming Game Changers Mixer

I was packing for the Game Developer’s Conference in San Francisco this year feeling mentally and emotionally exhausted. It was only February and I was already feeling the weight of the news cycles and seeing a spike in the usual, “My experience as a woman in tech” articles. These experiences are not new and absolutely should be shared. But these experiences are also a reminder of the challenges women face every day in this industry, often for being ourselves. For better or worse, I entrench myself in consuming information about society, tech, and gaming. As a woman interested in equity, it was rough. Needless to say I was ready for a break.

How I got involved in Xbox’s Women in Gaming

Before my first year at GDC two years ago, I was lucky enough to attend the Xbox Women in Gaming (WiG) Luncheon. The WiG Luncheon is an annual themed networking event adjacent to GDC for 250 industry women and a panel of expert speakers. While not an official GDC event, I quickly realized that the magic of GDC is often times found at the satellite events running throughout the week. GDC has given rise to a host of supportive events for conference attendees from all around the world.

The WiG event began 17 years ago as a casual meetup at E3. It’s grown into a very popular and important event where women from around the Gaming Industry celebrate our unique community. Two years ago, at my first WiG Luncheon in the grand ballroom at the St. Regis Hotel, I was seated at a table full of women who were all doing amazing, fantastic things. I also saw a panel of five women who inspired me with their take on “The Journey.”

While I was completely blown away by my first year at GDC (upon returning home, I consistently described it as “like Disneyland for the Games industry,”) I was equally moved by the luncheon. It moved me in its freedom to be honest and celebratory. The intention was transparent and the people were supportive and genuine. And while not everyone had an answer to what the “right journey” was, our collective agency fueled each other to pursue our unique paths. The answer was never, this is the exact formula—but more—do what you think is important, do what you love.

Fast forward to 2017

Thanks to colleagues Kelly, Angela, and Nicole, I was fortunate enough to join the planning team for this year’s luncheon. I could not have been more thrilled.

The Women in Gaming crew at the Xbox Lobby Bar

Planning this year’s event

I was excited to see such a large group of talented people at our kickoff meeting. We had dedicated leads for each of the major areas, marketing, registration, Game Changers, speakers, VIP, etc. While we had dedicated leads, Angela and Nicole stressed that nobody would be without support. Everyone was involved and even more importantly, wanted to be involved. There was a shared appreciation that this was no one’s full-time, or even part-time job.

This year’s theme was “Be You”

Our theme was a celebration of everything women bring to our incredible industry every day. My role was to oversee the Emcee and panel of speakers portion of the event. The first step was crafting a call for speakers and reviewing applications with the team. As part of our speaker applications, we asked our potential speakers to consider questions such as:

  • What unique or unusual skills do you bring to your career in gaming?
  • What was unique about your career path and how you got into gaming?
  • Were there any challenges/roadblocks or limitations that you felt made your industry experience uniquely yours?
  • Tell us about how your career in gaming has empowered you to be your true self
  • What advice would you give someone who is nervous about being themselves? How did you overcome your fears?

To get into the frame of mind about what to ask potential speakers to elaborate on, I thought back to what I enjoyed most about being an attendee at my first WiG luncheon. Our theme of “Be You” is not a celebration about having it all figured out and having followed a well-worn path. Obviously, it isn’t about standing on a stage and saying you know nothing. We are celebrating that success has many faces, many paths and that there are many perspectives and responses to the same question.

To recognize an area of growth for the community, we discussed diversity. One of the many topics that would inevitably carry over from my volunteer work, general interest in equity and from being part of the larger Gaming For Everyone community. Not only did we include diversity of ethnicity, gender, age, nationality, ability, sexual orientation, education, and religion, but also, professional discipline. While we can’t push someone to be a speaker we can continually work toward creating an event that is welcoming for everyone. We can also encourage change by evolving our event planning strategy. Change occurs when we do things differently than how they were done in the past.

Change is how I went from attendee to organizer.
Our wonderful speakers: Mariebeth Aquino, Dr. Kelli Dunlap, Maureen Fan, Elizabeth Maler, Jenny Xu, and Emcee Erin “Aureylian” Wayne

Six women. Six stories

The women we selected were wonderful examples of passion, intelligence, perseverance, and most importantly—forged by the fire of their own agency. Hearing these women speak about being challenged in an industry, sometimes by their work, their peers, their parents, by people who didn’t want them somewhere, by the weight of the world, resonated with me. Those stories are not always tied with a bow but they are real stories. They are the stories we all have and stories that deserve to be heard. When communities come together to support each other, the goal is to get through to the other side of the event. And that means walking through all of the experiences we encounter along the way.

This year, inside the Minna Gallery in the buzzing SOMA neighborhood, the WiG Luncheon had taken on an extraordinary life of its own with over 400 attendees. It was our biggest year ever (up 67% for you data geeks).

As an organizer, I was afforded a wonderful new perspective and the ability to make a difference. After the event, I had never been thanked so much in my life. I have also never experienced so much calm in the midst of chaos during a single afternoon. The contrast between what the event’s “behind-the-scenes” looks like compared to what’s “on stage” is absolutely wonderful. I went to GDC looking for exactly what I found. Sometimes, (and again this year for me,) GDC has impeccable timing that renews our faith in our industry, and faith in being ourselves.

Missed the WiG panel or just want to watch it again? Check it out here. (Panel begins at 20:20)

Women in Gaming Luncheon 2017 #WiG2017

Want to talk about event organizing, community, or equity? Find me on Twitter.