March 30, 2021

WHM Spotlight – Kate Stavola

Zynga continues to celebrate Women’s History month as we spotlight some of the amazing women that work at our studios around the world. We are excited to feature Kate Stavola, the Senior Creative Director on the Words With Friends team!

Kate has been working in the gaming industry for about 20 years. As an avid Words With Friends player, she was eager to join Zynga when an opportunity to work on WWF came up in 2019. She is currently responsible for providing creative guidance on game features, working with CI and analytics to assess our players’ needs, building product visions and roadmaps, and working with the design team.

Enjoy learning more about Kate and her career journey below, including how Women at Zynga’s (WAZ) mentorship program supported her when she was moving into a leadership role, the importance of prioritizing personal growth, how she is using her position to empower the women on her team, and more.

Tell us a little bit about your background and what brought you to Zynga.

I’m a lifelong gamer, and I’ve been working in games (of one sort or another) for about twenty years. I got my start in hobby gaming (physical card and board games), and I moved over to working on mobile games in 2012 because I was interested in working on experiences that were designed for a broader audience. As a longtime player of Words With Friends, having the opportunity to work on a game that has touched so many people’s lives was something I couldn’t pass up.

What is your current role and responsibilities at Zynga?

As the Senior Creative Director on Words With Friends, my primary focus is on delivering the best possible game experience to our players. Depending on the day, that can mean doing a number of different things, including providing creative guidance on features in pre-production, working with CI and analytics to advance our understanding of our players and what they want, setting long-term product vision and short-term roadmap priorities, giving feedback on design, and managing the UX and game design groups.

Tell us about joining WAZ (Women at Zynga) and what the group has brought to you & your career.

When I originally joined Zynga, I had never worked at a company with an employee resource group like WAZ, and I was surprised by what a difference it made in terms of how I connected to the broader Zynga community. I’ve had the opportunity to meet a lot of amazing people through WAZ events, and programs like leadership coaching were invaluable to me when I was initially working on moving up into a leadership role.

How have mentors/leaders helped or inspired you throughout your career?

Throughout my career, I’ve had a habit of going entirely heads-down doing the work of whatever role I happen to be in. There’s a lot of good that comes from being so engaged with my work, but the mentors who have done the most for me have been the people who have said ‘stop for a minute, pull your focus away from where you are now, and think about where you want to go’. The encouragement to think about my personal growth, and help in setting goals and plans to reach them, that my mentors have provided over the years have contributed a lot to my professional success.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Believe in yourself, and don’t let your fears hold you back! I spent a number of years early in my career holding back from sharing my thoughts and opinions in group settings (anyone who works with me now may have trouble believing this, but I promise it’s true) because I was afraid of being wrong, or afraid that people wouldn’t take me seriously. It took me several years as a professional to get comfortable with the idea that being wrong sometimes isn’t the end of the world, and that contributing to the discussion is often the right thing to do even in cases where I’m not certain that what I’m going to say is correct. Letting go of those fears unlocked so much for me, and I wish I could tell younger me to do it sooner.

The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day (IWD) is #ChooseToChallenge (collectively, we can all help create an inclusive world. We can choose to challenge and call out gender bias and inequality. We can choose to seek out and celebrate women’s achievements. From challenge comes change, so let’s all choose to challenge). How have you chosen to challenge? Or have you been inspired by a leader or mentor in your life who has chosen to challenge?

One of the ways that working on cross-functional teams in a male-dominated industry can be difficult as a woman comes up when it’s time for the work that a group has done to be presented to an audience. Early in my career, I was often frustrated by the fact that it was typically men getting tagged to speak in those situations, even when the work was mine. Since I started working in leadership roles, I’ve worked to make sure that the women on my team have the opportunity to present the work that they have done, both to get credit for what they contribute and to get experience with that kind of communication.

What is your favorite Zynga game (past or present) and why?

I feel like it’s cheating to say it’s the game that I work on (even though it’s true), so I’m going to say that my favorite non-WWF Zynga game is Toon Blast. I’m at around level 2700, and it’s a game that I go to when I want to relax with something that’s engaging and fun with a good flow to the gameplay. Also, on a professional level, I’ve got a lot of respect for their level design.

Tell us a surprising fact about yourself.

I’m very into knitting, mostly socks, sweaters, and lace shawls. I learned when I was very young and then picked it back up as an adult, and it is a big part of what has been keeping me sane (sane-ish?) during the past year.