As hiring for diversity becomes a more visible and discussed issue, Microsoft's Benjamin Williams also wants to address a related problem: once members of marginalized communities get hired into the industry, how do we keep them here?
Williams is the senior community program manager for Gaming for Everyone, an Xbox program that works toward inclusivity both internally and externally. The tagline and ideas behind Gaming for Everyone appear with some frequency in various projects, public statements, and other initiatives at Xbox, but Williams' main job is to coordinate several events at GDC in San Francisco each year to bring together various marginalized communities for talks, dialogue, and networking.
"GDC is always my biggest project and the one that I love," Williams says. "The work we do at GDC is about amplifying the voices of under-represented people to let them know we want them in the industry, we want them to have their projects become a reality, and we want everyone to be able to make awesome stuff so that everyone can enjoy it."
At GDC 2019, Microsoft celebrated six different gaming communities at six different events. Women, blacks, Latinx, LGBTQIA, and disability communities each had their own receptions, with a final event focused on Gaming for Everyone as a whole.
"We've always been here and we've always had an impact, but that impact hasn't necessarily been seen or felt by everyone else"
Although Williams has been with Microsoft and Xbox since 2016 (having joined the company in his current role after nearly a decade in academia), many of the events he now organizes have been around for far longer. Next year will be the 20th anniversary of the Women in Gaming rally, as well as the 15th anniversary for the Black in Gaming Green Room event. Williams says these two long-running examples demonstrate that the communities they celebrate have always been a part of the industry, but he wanted to expand Gaming for Everyone events to other underrepresented groups -- such as the LGBTQIA and disabled communities, which just celebrated their third and second annual GDC events respectively.
"[Marginalized communities] have been a part of the gaming industry since the gaming industry was a thing," Williams says. "We've always been here and we've always had an impact, but that impact hasn't necessarily been seen or felt by everyone else. So while those communities have always been here, Gaming for Everyone is here to help amplify their voices.
"We do that by providing a space for everyone to gather and succeed through networking, professional development, and things like that. We sponsor professional development scholarships through the IGDA and through partnering with other companies who are also interested in this work."
Specifically speaking about the LGBTQIA in Gaming reception, Williams says that some of the inspiration for its focal points came from existing events, such as the social events thrown by Gay Gaming Professionals' founder Gordon Bellamy. While he emphasizes the importance of events like that, Williams also didn't want to step on any toes by copying what already existed.
"We didn't want to just throw yet another social event. So how can we provide added value? Our event focuses much more on networking and providing professional connections, where he provides social moments. I use that as an example to highlight that I want to make sure everyone in the industry -- all the different companies, all the different employee resource groups -- feel a sense of trust and collaboration, that they can talk to each other and make sure we are all able to have the biggest impact in the time that we have available to us."