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With a new head of diversity, can Twitch fix its discrimination problem?
Women and nonbinary gamers of color are hopeful, but no one is holding their breath.
Last month, Katrina Jones made headlines as Twitch’s first hire for its head of Diversity and Inclusion. In addition to her 10 years of experience at big names like Accenture and Vimeo, Jones has developed company procedures that promote inclusive workplace interactions, like creating the video-hosting site’s first-ever diversity strategy. But probably the most brow-raising thing she brings to Twitch, a social livestreaming service for the gaming community, is her identity not only as a woman, but as a woman of color.
— Katrina Jones (@Katrina_HRM) September 13, 2018
Diversity-related positions are a budding area for tech companies, often implemented to repair prior company mishaps or a general lack of race and gender representation in employment that trickles down to how consumers are treated. It also helps that diversity is associated with positive business outcomes.
And yet in 2018, only 45 percent of companies in Silicon Valley reported a formal diversity and inclusion program—a figure no higher than national averages. It wasn’t until January, after a damning report, did Uber hire its first head of diversity; meanwhile, Facebook has seen only ever-so-slight incremental changes in diversity over the past few years.
At Twitch—which on average has more than 15 million daily active viewers and over 2.2 million streamers a month—Jones’ presence has the potential not just for greater intra-company diversity (employees gave Twitch a C+ for diversity on Comparably) but for wide-scale change in the gaming industry. (The Daily Dot reached out to Twitch for comment about Jones’ hire but has not responded as of this posting.)
But while insiders look forward to her impact, they also fear it will do little to disrupt the hate-filled environment women, especially women and nonbinary gamers of color, experience on many streamers’ channels and chats. Like the rest of the internet in general, the anonymity of the gaming industry makes it a cesspool of racism and gender-based insults. If you want any further proof, peruse the Reddit threads dedicated to the topic.
Tanya DePass, director and founder of I Need Diverse Games, experiences a double dose of this discrimination. She is not only a gamer but also employed in the industry. There have been many times her experiences gaming while Black and female have left her physically and emotionally exhausted.
“[Black women in gaming] aren’t rare; we just don’t get a chance to show up and out often without dudes acting like we need five Ph.D.s and a dissertation on every bit of minutia on a game before they believe we actually play them,” she explains.
While DePass is supportive of Twitch’s decision to hire Jones, she is waiting to see if Jones is even given the tools to be effective. The optics of a diversity hire doesn’t always reap related results: Facebook’s and Uber’s decisions to promote diversity have had little impact on company culture or demographics.
An anonymous Black gamer who has also experienced harassment on Twitch told the Daily Dot that she is also hopeful for change under Jones but echoes similar fears. “I know it’s supposed to be good news that we have a visible, female, Black face in charge of things, but it really depends on if they let her do her job,” she said. “Also, we’ve seen diversity hires before, and I’ve been burned, so perhaps I’m just being pessimistic.”
She believes a great first step for Twitch would be increased visibility of Black and other minorities on its homepage, which shows mostly white male streams and a handful of white women, but few images of anyone else. “I wish Black women were given more spotlight on Twitch. There are way too many white men and women sitting on the front page, and I know there are more of us out there.”
For DePass, signs of Jones’ success would also include a diverse front page of Twitch, along with prioritizing the stories of marginalized gamers outside of specific months (i.e., Black History Month or Women’s History Month) and giving more opportunities to those individuals.
“Success like that can only be achieved by collaborating with those communities and reaching out to members in those communities to see what it is that they need for success, giving us better tools to manage our communities and streams so we can connect with each other,” she said.
She also says Jones should “make IP banning a thing,” referring to a security measure so people who are banned can’t continue to watch the stream, nor can they just make a new account to continue to harass people. “Also, better anti-harassment measures need to be implemented, and we need transparency,” she notes, referring to the importance of Twitch publicly condemning popular streamers who are in violation of its terms of service, instead of refusing to comment.
DePass believes another way Jones can help Twitch’s user population is by banning problematic streamers. In fact, DePass has already begun laying the groundwork for change in the gaming industry on her own. DePass actually gave a talk at Twitch HQ on safety as a marginalized streamer, in which she mentioned it is the fear of harassment that limits individuals from streaming, and that building an inclusive community will help marginalized gamers feel welcome.
In the end, improving the experiences of women and nonbinary gamers of color will take multi-level change. None of these changes are possible overnight, and all of them will require substantial culture shifts to the gaming and technology industries. Hiring procedures will have to be tweaked, and inclusion initiatives will have to be formulated and implemented. But above all, change will require an increase in accountability for the individuals who not just participate in bigotry, but also those who sit back and allow it to persist.
Jones’ appointment is noteworthy for Twitch, but for women and nonbinary people of color, it won’t truly matter until they feel comfortable on the platform.