Women In VR: Let’s make VR a fairer place

On social media, I’ve read many times posts praising the role of women in VR: these posts, tagged with #WomenInVR, often asks for more equality inside the VR ecosystem. I support equality, but I admit that I don’t always like these articles, since sometimes they just end up being completely feminist… but I realized that as a man obviously I can’t understand women’s issues

… so I decided to ask directly to women their opinion about VR space and why these feminist posts are necessary for them. I spammed all possible communities, asking to VR women to answer some questions to let me write this article. Surprisingly, I’ve been ignored a lot: I expected big advocates of women in VR movement to answer me to foster equality, instead they never answered… mah. Luckily 3 women accepted to give me their opinion and I really want to thank them a lot. They are:

  • Jacqueline Cooper, VR Compositing Lead and Unity Developer at Deluxe
  • Anna Rosa Lappalainen, Founder & COO at Pixelface Ltd/Vizor
  • Kimberly Cooper, CEO & Cofounder at Spatialand

In the following paragraphs I’ll report you the results of this survey. I hope that this post will help all my male readers to understand better the problems of women in VR and my female readers to take inspiration from this strong women and jump with all their heart into VR!

Just as a full disclaimer: these are the opinions of 3 people and surely can’t represent what all women in VR think, of course. But it will be an interest insight nonetheless.

What is #WomenInVR movement?

Here I got a common answer: a community dedicated to unify all women working in VR, uplift their issues, make them collaborate, share their experiences and encourage each other. Kimberly Cooper added an interesting comment about this movement: “It’s wonderful for all of us (that there have been) women that have felt the gravitational pull to VR and want to share our thoughts and struggles with VR. So I really feel like we didn’t just wake one day and say “Lets go into VR because there aren’t enough of us in the industry.” I think women saw the possibilities and what came next was to answer a calling they felt inside“.

So, basically, some women have envisioned the enormous possibility of this tech and decided to jump into it. Then they realised that they were few drops in a sea full of men and were living the same struggles, so decided to join the forces and support each other. This talking about necessity to support each other led me to ask if VR is a problematic place for women, hence the next question.

virtual reality startup
My friend Francesca trying the Oculus Rift CV1 for her first time… she got a bit of nausea but she was amazed. VR is an ultra-interesting technology for women, too.
How do you feel as a woman working in the VR field? Which struggles you had to suffer?

Of the women I interviewed, no one has had particular issues in working in VR as a women. As I’ve said in the disclaimer, this of course can’t represent the situation of all workplaces (we all remember the UploadVR sex harassment affair), but I admit I’ve been surprised by it. Anna Rosa Lappalainen has even had the opposite outcome from her gender: “As a Finnish woman I feel my gender has been more of an advantage than a disadvantage in my career. But I come from an extremely equal country”. I admit I’ve been incredibly astonished by this answer, but it has been a happy surprise. VR world is not male chauvinist. Wow.

They highlight particularly two kinds of problems in their VR journey:

  • Issues related to jumping into the unknown. Virtual Reality is a risk for us all, it’s an unknown new place, where it’s very simple to fail (do you remember my post about my failed startup?). Kimberly Cooper reminds this very clearly “For me it was a scary to go in a direction with my career where none of my friends or associates where in. This was all together new territory, new people, new technology, new way of designing, and no money from a client to figure it out“. Yes, no money… it’s still hard to earn money working in VR. I know that feel;
  • Male chauvinism of the business world. VR itself seems very fair, but business still is not… this is something that I’ve found in more than one answer. Here Kimberly Cooper gives a great insight about this topic: “It has been difficult to raise money as a female CEO. Many VC’s tend to be more comfortable with investing in a male CEO and team. This is not just in VR, but in our culture. I recently spoke at a technology company regarding VR and took a walk to look around at the all artworks on the walls at the company. I noticed a beautiful photo on the wall of successful tech CEO’s from Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, Google, Tesla, Facebook and many more. There were a total of 12 CEO’s in this photograph. The one thing missing to me was: “Where is the female CEO?””

Business problem is something that I personally wasn’t aware of… and yes, that’s true: all biggest IT companies have been founded by men. Generically men are more interested by tech, but I can’t believe that no woman has ever had a big disruptive tech idea. This means that they had the idea, but didn’t get the possibility to develop it… because as I’ve already said in a previous article, counts more the execution than the idea. So, guys, something we have to work on in the next times: foster more equality in the business world. I’ll begin by giving you the link of Biancorosso, an italian startup focused on interior design, with a little VR touch, that has a woman as CEO (and whose former CMO was a woman too and also took part of our Hit Motion game trailer)

Do you agree that VR is too men-oriented?

Here the graph confirms what has been said before: there’s not discrimination in VR. But…

Women In VR equality
Pie-graph of the question “Do you agree that VR is too men-oriented?” shows a pretty unique answer. That actually is a non-answer, that’s why I asked for further explanations…

… but there’s something that they still don’t like. Reasons are:

  • There are too many men. I remember when on reddit a guy made a survey on /r/virtualreality and the results from something like 200 answers were an astonishing 100% percentage of male members. Kimberly Cooper adds that the situation is getting better: “every year I see more and more women joining the industry. Which is very important for the VR market to grow. This is something that we all want and need”, but we’re still away from an equal men:women ratio;
  • Content is too manly oriented. This is cause and consequence of the above point. If the industry is driven by men, they (we) produce content that they (we) like (shooters and other testosterone-filled experiences) and this descourages women from getting interest in VR. So there are still more men, that makes men-oriented content… and so on on this vicious circle. Comments to this answers are like “More men are in it, similar to tech, and make games and content they prefer. C’est la vie.”, “I would like to see more VR content that I would personally find interesting. I am sure many women feel the same way.”

Guys, let’s stop making all those zombie-shooters games on SteamVR! Horror, action games… cool eh, but to me they seems all like the same games repeated 8000 times. Let’s make something different, this would also help in getting more women jump into this marvelous ecosystem.

But… what are women interested to? I’m not a woman and Rachel of Friends has taught me I have to not express opinions on what the other sex thinks. So, it’s better to ask them…

Can you tell us male devs which kind of experiences you as women would like to see more? Something that can make more girls attracted to VR?

Jacqueline Cooper answer has been “Puzzles, games, beauty, good story lines“.

Anna Rosa Lappalainen has remembered an incredible experience she had: “I loved the tree hugging experience I got to experience in Tribeca. And I love Everest by Sólfar. I am not a gamer so this kind of experiences are more appealing to me.”

Kimberly Cooper talked about her company: “At Spatialand, we are currently working on the Linkin Park Destination, which will have the ability for users to create art with Linkin Park music. I think that this is something that both men and women will enjoy. One of the first demo VR experiences we created was a Lady Gaga VR world. This was an internal project because we love Lady Gaga and we would love for Lady Gaga to have a destination to which girls can go to be inspired by her music, art and achievements. I have been trying to get in front of Lady Gaga’s team but it has been difficult to get it in front of the right people. “

Then she continued: “Coming from the creator point of view there is so much more that we can build in VR because the possibilities are endless. We just need time to find them and figure out what they are. I believe that we are doing this at Spatialand. Especially with our latest project “The LINKIN PARK Destination” that we are creating with Intel. This project has been a passion of mine since I got started in VR and I am so glad Linkin Park and Intel believe in what we are trying to create and build.”.

From these answers, I get a common pattern: girls are mainly not interested in hard games, in action… they want more storytelling, they want to get emotional. Furthermore they have interests different from us: beauty, lifestyle… are all things that usually us men hate, but that girls love. We are different, it’s normal… that’s why we all quarrel in our houses to decide if watching on TV a football match or a program about fashion (football is better, of course :D). In part I had already understood this, that’s why when I demo VR to a man I always show him the pure action of Robo Recall (and VR Porn) and to a woman I showcase emotional experiences like Henry or Dear Angelica.

Dear Angelica Oculus storytelling
One scene of Dear Angelica: The main character and her mother, like Thelma and Louis…look at the Van-goghish style of the drawing… it is beautiful. Apart from the beautiful visuals, this experience is deeply emotional and almost moved me to tears (Image by Oculus)

I know what developers are thinking now: it’s hard to earn money in VR while targeting the biggest audience type, that is men… how the hell can we survive trying to target the minority? Well, let’s be honest… this is true. But:

  • Girls are the minority also because they don’t like current content. Maybe making something dedicated to them can open unexpected business opportunities;
  • Targeting women will mean creating an innovative experience, that has more chances to stand up from the crowd and hence get visibility thanks to reviews on Upload VR or Road To VR;
  • We can start with experiences that both men and women like. Kimberly for instance talks about music: we all love music, so more music experiences may attract both women and men and remain profitable.

In my opinion, VR Killer application is an amazing VR ecosystem. And an ecosystem with few game genres is not rich. We must make sure that on Oculus Store or Steam VR there are the most kind possible of VR experiences. And I think that would be cool if Oculus and Valve would give special founding to experiences that are women oriented… to help developers that are risking a lot in targeting a less promising market.

A little provocation: can’t be possible that the only reason for such a men-oriented ecosystem is that women are just not interested in this tech?

Here the answer I got has been a huge NO. They reminded me that the number of women of VR is growing up and that current VR women are paving the way for future women to come in.

I’ve made lots of women to try VR and I can assure you that they are excited by this tech as us men if you make them try the right experience. I still remember when in 2015, at the WTT, one girl came at our stand and then started jumping of joy because she was immersed in an enormous version of Tuscany, so she could see giant sunflowers and butterflies all around her. She could stay in there the whole day. Just make them have fun, the rest will come.

There is the possibility that we can make something to help women in becoming interested in VR? How can we make VR a more fair place?

Again, here it is interesting reading the answers as they have been written:

  • “Keep promoting women funded startups and speaking opportunities”
  • “Sometimes I feel that men with technological backgrounds do not appreciate people with other kinds of skills. People less tech savvy but with other kind of skills and backgrounds can have a lot to contribute to the industry. Not necessarily all of them women, though. I would like to see more and better scriptwriters for VR experiences for instance, it’s a role you should not skip.”
  • We need more VR content and experiences created by women. We also need more women speaking at VR conferences. I see this happening especially this year since many more companies are wanting to build VR experiences. As a result more and more women are being hired to design, art direct, produce, and write for these projects.”

So, more content to attract more women (as I’ve said above), more women creating content and more women speakers. If women see other women talking, they feel more involved into this technology… and we men start giving more importance to women, too. I remember that day when i talked with a woman working at Amazon in an event here in Turin. In 15 minutes, she understood what our startup did, all its weak points, all its strength and gave us lots of advices. I was quite shocked from the intelligence of that person. That day surely my opinion on tech women improved a lot. So, the more talented women we meet, the better.

What are YOU doing to help the VR ecosystem? What are your concrete actions?

Mostly they agree that their concrete actions are working hard in their company and create a workplace that encourages equality. Sometimes this requires some choices, like Kimberly cooper underlines: “At Spatialand it really is never about if the person is male or female. We hire the best people for the job. But I do try to balance out the team and not have it all male. I think it’s important for the culture and it seems to make things run smoother.”. This is important because a workplace with both women and men is more “inclusive”: men and women provide different point of views on how to solve problems and this is vital for a company.

Also the type of project of the company is important: “We at Vizor are building a platform that enables anybody to create VR content” says Anna Rosa Lappalainen and this highlights one more time how much is important to create a product that interests men and women.

Vizor VR creations
Vizor interface: with it it is possible for everyone to create innovative content (Image by Vizor)
Sometimes I get irritated by #WomenInVR posts stating that I should praise women working in VR or I should promote them. I think that the real goal is equality, so that gender of people doesn’t matter anymore. I think that I should promote someone because he/she is valuable, not because of the gender/race/whatever. What’s your opinion on this?

They agreed with me. The final (and also present) goal should be a complete equality. So, promoting talented girls as we promote talented guys. Jacqueline Cooper has anyway added “I’m neutral but often the pendulum needs to swing the other way to promote awareness first.” and that is an interesting point of view. This is what is post is trying to do: promote awareness on a problem.

In your opinion, which are most things we men do in the work place that unwillingly offend you women?
  • “The men’s club. Men like to congregate together in a man’s culture. It’s hard to get in that as a woman.”
  • “In Finland all the business soirées still involve going to sauna. I don’t do naked saunas with my colleagues so when that happens I feel excluded. I don’t want to be against a tradition, though, so I just wish there were more women to have a women’s sauna as well. :)”
  • “The number one thing that could offend a woman in the workplace is leaving the toilet seat up. Just from my personal experience.”

About the first two points… well, I get it. I do this, too: between men we often have common interests like sports and… well, let’s be honest, women themselves. So we like commenting on the latest soccer match and how Beyoncé is beautiful… and this creates a bit of “men’s club”… and this bond then extends to our professional life, too. But… this happens also on the other side when women talk about babies or fashion.

The third point is a big nope from me. I’ll always leave the toilet seat up!! 😀 😀 😀 If I can take it up, you can take it down!

There is a lot of talking about VR Killer App. In your opinion what’s women’s killer feature that may really boost the VR ecosystem? So, why inclusion of women is so important?
  • “In general women’s nurturing caring nature and desire for win win situations (with women properly polarized as women and not trying to be a woman in a man’s world)”
  • “Including women will bring more variety to the VR content being produced. That will attract more women and maybe also children as viewers. That will be very helpful in boosting VR industry as a whole. Producing content mainly to techie men will only take the industry so far.”
  • “This question makes me laugh a lot. LOL! I think you should look at it like… what would the world look like without women in the ecosystem. There you will find your answer to our killer feature”

As I’ve said, a VR world without VR-women is an incomplete world. VR ecosystem should include all people. This will make it really rich and truly pervasive, enabling the metaverse. If we want VR to become that universal technology that includes us all, we have to make everyone interested in it. Smartphones are everyone’s tech and so has to become VR (and AR). I think that VR has started as a male tech, because it has born inside techies community… but if we want it to succeed, we have to make it exit from the techies’ realm and enter into consumers’ one.

virtual reality effects kids sickness
Let’s take women in VR since when they’re little girls!

I thank again the kindness of Jacqueline Cooper (Deluxe), Anna Rosa Lappalainen (Pixelface Ltd/Vizor) and Kimberly Cooper (Spatialand) because they let me understand better the world of women in VR.

I hope with this article to have given you an insight on the pink side of VR and its thoughts, struggles, dreams. If you liked this article, share it on your social channels to promote awareness!

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Skarredghost

AR/VR developer, startupper, zombie killer. Sometimes I pretend I can blog, but actually I’ve no idea what I’m doing.

I tried to change the world with my startup Immotionar, offering super-awesome full body virtual reality, but now the dream is over. But I’ve still not waken up…