Women’s History Month Spotlight — Jennie Lees
For Women’s History Month in March, Zynga is celebrating female employees who are helping forge a more gender equal world. In keeping with the theme for International Women’s Day, “Will You Help #BreakTheBias,” the women — from diverse positions around the world — are sharing ways in which they’re combating bias, stereotypes and discrimination in gaming.
Today, we sat down with Jennie Lees, Director of Engineering at Zynga in Brighton, UK. Read on below to hear more from Jennie about how we can construct our teams, games and the industry narrative to create a more inclusive ecosystem.
How can we change the narrative around gaming/tech being perceived as a male-dominated industry?
To me, the best way to change the narrative is to acknowledge it is wrong, and then overwrite it with meaningful inclusion and intention at every turn. There are loads of women working in the industry and playing games today, but we will continue to take shortcuts if we rely on dated narratives. Let’s make sure panels are inclusive, that we showcase the women working on titles, that we highlight players of all backgrounds and that we acknowledge the wide range of ways people play today when we talk about games socially and in the press.
Why is it important to have women working on games in addition to appearing in them (i.e., avatars)?
Studies have repeatedly shown that diverse teams perform better. But beyond that, if we don’t have representation from all kinds of players on our teams, how can we make games for all kinds of players? How can we include perspectives such as different playstyles and premium content that speaks to a wide range of people? I also find that it’s important to have women at all levels. Senior women can help shape a team that is inclusive for gender minorities at all levels.
What positive changes have you seen at Zynga, or within your career, that help promote equity?
During my 20-year career I have seen conversations about equity spring up and become front of mind when considering things like hiring, salary, promotions and access to opportunities. I’ve seen the recognition of the issues minorities face and active steps to overcome them. I’ve seen attempts go from the very heavy-handed to actual meaningful change drivers. Honestly, it’s been tremendous to see. I think we still have a lot of work to do, but we have come a long way.
How do you see your role at Zynga helping to “break the bias” within our industry?
I work in a field where you don’t tend to see many people like me — I can count the number of women engineering directors I’ve met on one hand. I hope that by showing up, making an amazing game and trying to make the industry a little better every day, I can help show that women can be successful at all levels and that the sky’s the limit when it comes to our impact.
What actions are you taking? For example, can you tell us how you’re mentoring colleagues to promote inclusion?
To drive inclusion and equity on my team, I’m spearheading an effort to redefine and systemize our team values – and to ensure we are all making them a priority. I’m also working with HR to drive team-wide workshops on topics such as allyship and unconscious bias, and implementing process changes where I can help eliminate bias.
What is something someone else has done that you really saw make an impact, either at Zynga or another point in your career?
At my level I don’t get to see many women ahead of me on the path, so one of the things that really sticks out for me was seeing a senior woman talk very frankly about her experiences in the industry. It helped me to feel seen and realize that there was a path into leadership for me to follow.
What are your favorite games?
VALORANT, Hearthstone, Teamfight Tactics and Unpacking.
What do you like to do in your free time?
I’m a mom to a two-year-old, so my free time is pretty much entirely taken up by creating adventures and memories with my daughter — and with tantrums.