20 influential women working in the UK VR industry have come together to create a vision for the future of VR. The initiative was announced at new.New Festival.
A vision statement titled, ‘A Vision for Women and VR (VWVR)’, outlines a future where the immersive sector challenges the status quo of gender imbalance in creative industries and technology, and crafts VR into an inclusive and healthy sector.
VWVR brings together the experiences and expertise of women working in this new industry to promote equality and VR as a medium for all.
The project is managed by VR platform Limina Immersive, with funding, research and collaboration from Refig, the University of Brighton and Kings College London. While the initiative has yet to announce who the ‘20 women’ are, Limina Immersive Founder Catherine Allen is likely to play a key role.
The document represents, “a timely challenge to ensure this transformative media is influenced by both men and women, reflects our society, shapes mainstream culture and affects behavioural change. VWVR is a rallying cry vocalising the need for greater transparency and gender balance in the immersive sector. Effective change needs many voices.”
Women in VR
The VWVR outlines key areas where greater equality is needed, going beyond the development of VR hardware and applications to how the industry is covered in the press, as well as how it is marketed and sold. These elements play a key role in portraying VR as a medium for everyone:
The way the industry is presented to the rest of the world will have a huge influence over whether people feel like it’s the kind of space they could envision dedicating their career to. This is the beginning of the career pipeline, where individuals form assumptions and associations that will guide their career decision-making in years to come.
When it comes to roles in the VR industry, the VWVR highlighted that their there is no ‘normal’ template for the VR organisation or team yet. This represents an opportunity for women to be given an equal opportunity based on their skills, knowledge and ambitions. No skills, whether social or technical should be assumed of an applicant based on their gender.
This extends to equal pay and responsibility within organisations. Equality issues aside, homogeneous business or production teams portray a narrow-mindedness and lack of diversity that will often be viewed as a weakness by investors.
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VWVR crucially holds a mirror up to how past media have developed, citing recent movements in film, such as #MeToo, and the lack of diversity in the games industry and the sexism that fosters. The enterprise space shows a similar diversity failing in VR.
Therefore, there is a need to shape the VR industry, from the ground up, as a space for all. As they grow up, young girls should see VR products as something for them, and VR development as an industry they can thrive in.
As VWVR highlights, the transformative nature of VR, its ability to simulate an entire reality, means commentators and researchers have observed it as being particularly good at causing behavioural change in its users. This means it can also transfer and strengthen bias. Therefore, the industry will propagate its own culture, whether positive or negative.
With a new medium comes a new opportunity – a chance to get VR off to a better start than seen in the movies and games industries. Given VR’s potential in both the entertainment and enterprise sectors, it’s vital that women are given equal opportunity to engage in a new industry – one that is created by people from every background, for all.
Not only for the utmost importance of equality, but for the breadth of creativity and ingenuity that diversity lends. This message should echo throughout all science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) industries.
We’ve reported previously on the importance of women in AI. In the broader tech industry, closing the UK gender gap has the potential to add £150 billion to GDP forecasts for 2025, and could translate into 840,000 additional female employees.