Historically the technology industry has had a poor track record attracting and retaining women, especially in technical jobs. Virtual reality (VR) might be the one technology that will have less of a gender problem.
The pervasiveness predicted for the technology, gathering diversity awareness, the newness of the technology and greater numbers of women qualifying as electronic engineers are all factors contributing to a greater diversity in VR compared to other tech sectors.
Thanks to the hard work of global institutions like UN Women, The Cherie Blair Foundation, Catalyst, Forbes Women and individuals like Facebook COO Cheryl Sandberg and many others there is a greater awareness of one, the lack of women in tech, and two, the resulting negative consequences for business and society at large. Because of this awareness, the VR industry is primed to make room for women right from the start.
VR is touted as the future of human interaction, the future of work and play. If this prediction is correct, VR will touch every member of society, all genders, all ages, minorities of all kinds, including people living with disabilities. Already a wide range of industries is exploring VR – from entertainment, travel and social platforms to medicine, education, retail, transport and real estate. All these industries have women as professionals working in them or customers using them.
In the words of Christina Heller is the CEO and Co-Founder of VR Playhouse, a creative studio and virtual reality production company: “Everyone consumes media, everyone uses technology, and everyone spends money on it. Particularly when it comes to content we’d be foolish to limit our worldview to that of one gender, race, or economic class.”
Virtual reality is so new that at this point that there are no experts and no entrenched structure or culture. This means that anyone who enters the industry in the beginning has an opportunity to influence it. With the drive to get more girls and women to study computer science, there is now a new generation of female engineers entering the workplace. They are being introduced to the technology at the start of their careers, enabling them to grow with it and influence it from within.
Both augmented and virtual reality are multi-disciplinary technology spaces, and this is another reason why we will probably find more women in this tech sector than others. AR and VR touch many different industries, needing new devices to be designed, new stories to be told, and new virtual worlds to be created. The industry won’t only need people qualified in all aspects of tech as without the skills of creatives, the VR industry won’t exist. The VR industry will always have room for people who are creative, but not necessarily tech-minded.
With the exception of gaming, where female game developers who are critical of violent or sexist portrayals of women in games, have been met with male derision, the VR community has been very welcoming to female developers.
“VR/AR is an exceptionally accepting, collaborative, and forward-thinking community. By having these conversations about gender parity and diversity now, we’re setting the foundation for progress,” says Camille Kanengiser, co-founder and CCO of Freeform Labs, a VR/AR content company focused on inspiring creativity, mastery, and exploration through interactive immersive experiences.
VR is an incredibly powerful medium. Developers are creating powerful, emotional experiences that have the potential to affect people profoundly. That is why it is so important to involve as many perspectives and insights as possible.