In this blog post, we discuss how people belonging to gender minorities experience working life in the Finnish game industry.
The analysis is based on the We In Games X Better Games Together survey conducted in spring 2023. The data includes responses from 130 individuals, of which 38 % identify as part of the LGBTQIA+ community, and 10 % identify with minority genders, including non-binary persons, genderfluid and agender persons, and persons not sure about their gender.
This article continues to explore the experiences of LGBTQIA+ individuals in the Finnish game industry. Earlier this year, we published a blog post about belonging to sexual minorities in the Finnish game industry. For this post, we investigated statistics, and collected and analysed thematically open answers through the material related to marginalised genders.
After closing the survey, we received critical feedback about the use of the word “community” when discussing LGBTQIA+ people. Community can be interpreted to a solid community of similar-minded people, but in reality, such a tight-knit community rarely exists. Some of the respondents were very critical towards certain LGBTQIA+ communities, and some mentioned that they could not feel belonging in the LGBTQIA+ community or did not want to be associated with it, even though their sexuality or gender placed them in one or more of these categories. As we are continue to use the term community here, it is important to read it critically, dodging the idea of one solid group of people. We want to emphasise that these kinds of groupings always include different communities, subcultures, and individuals.
Gender minorities in the Finnish game industry
In Finland, The Equality Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender, and from the year 2015, gender identity and gender expression have been mentioned in the law. This law applies to discrimination in the workplaces, too; also binding in the work-related context is the Act on the Protection of Privacy in Working Life.
Gender minorities and marginalised genders are commonly used umbrella terms that include transgender and non-binary identities. While the terms “transgender” or “trans and non-binary” are often used in everyday language, it should be noted that trans people define their gender identity with more specific terms, such as genderfluid, bigender, agender, transvestite, etc. For polite everyday communication, it is advisable to use the gender and pronouns a person says they are using. It is also good to note that it is seldom necessary to label people as “trans”, despite their transgender background: usually when we are talking about men, we are not separating trans men and cis men.
In the survey, 6 % of respondents were transgender or belonged in the broader transgender community. Some of these people had long careers in the industry, others had just started. The companies they worked with varied from small to large.
Of all respondents, 10 % identify with gender minorities, including non-binary, genderfluid, agender and those unsure about their gender. We wish to note that in addition to above mentioned genders, the survey offered more gender options, and the opportunity to add missing genders.
Experiences of transphobia in the Finnish game industry
On a scale of 1-5, with 1 being “none at all” and 5 being “an extreme amount”, most survey respondents considered transphobia to be quite present in the Finnish game industry. When comparing the responses to the questions on homophobia, more transphobia was reported to exist than homophobia (for the results on homophobia in the Finnish game industry, please see our previous blog post). The open comments referred to transgender as “the new gay”, meaning that attitudes towards transgender and non-binary people were discussed in the same way as homosexuality was a few years ago.
Open comments varied from praising the Finnish game industry as one of the most progressive places to work on the planet, to sad stories of the Head of HR laughing at trans rights. Respondents widely shared their understanding that there is still work to be done, but overall people working in the game industry wanted to be accepting towards trans and non-binary co-workers. There were many respondents with no personal experience or knowledge of transphobia, but some respondents shared hurtful experiences of degrading attitudes on behalf of their transgender co-workers.
Reflecting on the origins of transphobia, it was mentioned that the so-called “bro culture” could be one reason for homophobic and transphobic actions, such as outdated joking. Transphobic attitudes were also linked to wider societal and media discussion, misinformation, or lack of knowledge. It was suspected that some people were transphobic under the surface, with the facade of acceptance.
Over half of the transgender people shared a comment related to the topic, highlighting the lack of knowledge about the issue and how media discussion and misinformation might affect the people’s attitudes at the workplace. They reflected how people said that it is “ok if someone is transgender”, but for friendly and microaggression-free communication, they would have needed education on what it really means.
Acceptance of marginalised genders in the workplace
When asked if someone would come out at respondents’ workplace or school as a transgender, non-binary or similar, almost half of the respondents strongly agreed that the person would be supported. At large, the game industry was seen as more liberal than other industries, and many respondents were happy about the supportive culture of their companies. It should be noted that willingness to come out varies from person to person, and it is good to remember that not everyone wants to be open about their background, even if the environment would be accepting.
At the same time, it was pointed out that the common societal attitudes also affect people in the industry. It was mentioned that the discrimination is based on certain individuals’ attitudes (or lack of understanding), and was not necessarily institutional. As a worker coming out as trans, non-binary, or similar, companies were mentioned to be trustworthy; but there was some fear towards the colleagues’ personal reactions.
Trans and non-binary respondents had different views on acceptance. Some indicated a lack of support by selecting the option 2, while others found their workplaces supportive and selected options 4 and 5. There were both transgender and non-binary people who had encountered zero problems in coming out at the companies they were working for, but also those who were hesitant to believe. Despite the liberal nature of the game industry, the workplace culture differs from one company to other, which might affect their experiences.
People who did not identify as LGBTQIA+ often said that they wanted to act as good allies. In their answers, it was hoped that the overall reactions of coming out would be positive, and possible coming outs were seen as a positive learning experience. Both transgender or non-binary respondents and the respondents not belonging in these groups mentioned situations in which, after coming out, they had returned to their work and felt relaxed – so that the coming out did not stay as an active discussion afterwards, but became kind of normalised. Alongside these stories, there were also respondents who felt frustrated by the issue or the wider discussion of gender diversity.
Applying for better positions or better wages was seen as something that trans people don’t have courage to do, whether it is because of discrimination or proactive self-discrimination. Some non-transgender respondents were concerned that their transgender friends felt uneasy about applying for certain positions because of their background; some transgender respondents said they were closeted “just to be sure”, because they didn’t know if the disclosure of their background would be a problem for their career development.
Similar responses to the question about acceptance of coming out were received when asked about the general acceptance of openly transgender and non-binary people in the game industry workplace the respondent worked. In open answers to this question, a significant finding was that the active discussion about the topics was recognised by most of the respondents. It should be noted that many non-transgender persons seemed to be thinking about the topic too, for example, through their own company practices or experiences of seeing how their colleagues were met. It was mentioned that there is a lot of work to be done, that there are differences between companies, and that while institutional safety is felt to be good, there can be bad experiences of not being accepted. These experiences included, in addition to issues on using one’s pronouns, for example hearing people say mean things about gender minorities outside the workplace, or even someone telling one to leave the workplace rather than (the speaker) learning to be accepting towards the person.
Workplace approval for pronoun usage
The context of the English-speaking industry in the Finnish working life has heavily influenced the discussion about gender pronouns. In the Finnish language, there is only the neutral pronoun “hän” to describe all genders. Some survey respondents mentioned this as the reason why the discussion about gender pronouns felt irrelevant or difficult for them. Others reflected that the discussion about pronouns was something “imported” rather than something that “belonged to us”.
The majority of the survey respondents said that in their workplace or school, using one’s pronouns correctly would be taken seriously. The use of personal gendered pronouns is usually one thing that becomes especially important. While it may be seen as a small thing from the outside, using the right pronouns can be a significant act of expressing acceptance for trans and non-binary individuals.
On the other hand, many respondents who were not transgender or non-binary had experienced situations of accidentally using (or seeing someone else use) the wrong pronouns, forgotten to use the right pronouns, or had corrected them. The most common experience was that these kinds of mistakes happen sometimes, but the shared attitude was that these situations were mostly unintentional.
In the open comments, the so-called shallow diversity work was criticised, as it was seen “more as a threat than a possibility”. Respondents felt it was important for the company to create organisational practices, such as the option to write your pronouns in Slack, since especially in a big company it is impossible to know everyone personally. The experiences of someone coming out were sometimes seen as a good point for development. It was said that after someone came out, for example, the company thought more carefully about its organisational communication and gendered language.
According to this survey, the game industry in Finland was seen as safer and more liberal than other industries regarding the acceptance of gender minorities. However, being transgender or non-binary was said to be “the new gay”, meaning that the discussion is somewhat similar to what it was about sexual minorities some years ago. The wider societal discussion was also mentioned to affect this industry.
When comparing the graphs presented above, people evaluate their personal work habitat’s acceptance higher than their overall estimation of the industry’s acceptance. While it is possible that people answering the survey worked at workplaces better than average, it is also possible that the comparison was made to the negative public image the game industry has.
As the industry was mostly said to be safe for coming out as transgender or non-binary, the individual attitudes were a reason for worrying. There were some very negative experiences, experienced both face to face, or from a distance. People were said to be usually accepting, but they wouldn’t necessarily know what that should mean in practice. Also, it was mentioned that professionals belonging to gender minority groups tend to hesitate more when it comes to applying for better positions. More education was seen as an answer to solve these issues.
Supporting the systematic use of gendered pronouns was mentioned to be a positive act of good organisational practices, which also reflected acceptance. Supporting trans healthcare was seen as something that could be considered a strongly positive act towards trans people.
Concluding our findings from this and the previous article, the Finnish game industry was seen as quite a safe industry for queer or LGBTQIA+ people. We hope that the results of this survey will provide information and further the discussion where LGBTQIA+ people’s issues are taken seriously, which will develop the whole industry forward in Finland and globally.