Having decided on my data set : three long transcribed audio interviews and my auto-ethnographic voice transcriptions, one thing really stood out – all my references were from women, all being linked to our collaborative project Coldharbour. Interviews were with an academic, a practitioner working for a broadcaster, and another, a VR director working in the humanitarian sector.
I did some reading to place these female practitioners into contemporary context and tried to get a sense of whether these women are part of a small minority in the field – and I just happened to meet them. Our project itself being co-created by a woman with many contacts in her field of investigative documentary gave me the introduction to one of the practitioners, and the other, my colleague had worked with her in 2D filmmaking and seen some of her VR works at a documentary festival and suggested her to me as a speaker. So in this context two women recommend other women that they’ve worked with before.
Immersive industry technology is growing rapidly in the UK (Tarling, 2018) and this is good news for women working in, and for those including students, who are considering a career in VR.
However the culture of the industry and of the content itself really needs to improve its offer to women and girls. Commercial VR 360 film applications are big in sport, porn and in gaming, an industry known for its sexism and online bullying and abuse of female gamers.
“Women have previously been found to experience ten times the amount of negative comments in chat forums and three times more likely to experience negativity when gaming online.” (Cybersmile Foundation, undated)
An article written by a female American author for Upload VR (Duong, 2016) celebrates the rise of women working in the new industry of VR, noting the challenge but pointing out the possibilities.
“Working in virtual reality, as the intersection of technology and entertainment (two mediums with tremendous gender gaps), these women have demonstrated intelligence, will, and bravery as they face the unknown and a sea of men. However, given how new virtual reality is, there is a unique opportunity to really have an impact in the way the virtual reality industry is shaped… and women are taking it by storm.”
So it was disappointing to read that in the year after Duong’s article was published, UploadVR was itself being sued for: “‘rampant’ sexual behavior in the workplace and wrongful termination, sexual harassment, sex and gender discrimination” and the deposition notes that the virtual reality startup’s SF office was “a hostile environment for female employees.” (Matney 2017).
Whilst admitting it’s difficult to determine how many female creators are involved in the sector, UK national network Tech Nation has recently produced research that indicates low levels of women in the field: Tech directors (22%) and female tech workers (19%). (Tech Nation, undated).
A London based tech company founder Ghislaine Boddington in Tarling, 2018 mentions meeting mostly men in VR contexts, also talks about content of VR work and the need to be inclusive to involve the widest possible audiences, and in particular female audiences.
“A high proportion of VR content is male heterosexual porn,” she explains. “Content creators need to think in a much more diverse way” to broaden the technology’s appeal, she adds”.
Producer and VR creator Catherine Allen says (Faramarzi, 2017)
“VR is an incredibly powerful medium, but no one is a VR expert yet. We honestly don’t know what the hell we are doing with this technology which is why it is so important to get all backgrounds involved regardless of gender, age, or expertise. The stronger we stand together, the more impact we will leave for future generations.”
So my sense from the articles that I can access (due to language and search engine bias) is that currently in the UK, and more so in the US, that there is a small but growing group of female creators and experts, who are committed to developing VR, are engaged in experimentation, and evolving new types of content and are excited about being at the start of what is clearly a growing sector worth billions. However those blocks to the involvement of women, that is, the culture and practices of the immersive industries, (and in education before it), has to change to take full advantage of the potential that female creators and audiences can grow.
Duong, J. (2016) A New Era: Women Working in VR UploadVR . Available at: https://uploadvr.com/a-new-era-women-working-in-vr/
UploadVR is a virtual reality media company based in San Francisco, California. The company is best known for its virtual reality-driven events, digital publication uploadvr.com, and the Upload Collective, a VR focused co-working space in San Francisco
Matney, L. (2017) UploadVR sued over ‘rampant’ sexual behavior in the workplace and wrongful termination
Available at: https://techcrunch.com/
TechCrunch is an American online publisher focusing on the tech industry. The company specifically reports on the business related to tech, technology news, analysis of emerging trends in tech, and profiling of new tech businesses and products. Wikipedia
The Cybersmile Foundation (undated) Abuse of female gamers linked to bullying ‘rather than misogyny’. Available at:
The Cybersmile Foundation is a multi-award winning anti-cyberbullying nonprofit organization. Committed to tackling all forms of digital abuse, harassment and bullying online, we work to promote diversity and inclusion by building a safer, more positive digital community.
Tarling, S. (2018) Why VR is out of touch with reality for women. Special report FT Transform, Financial Times. Available at: https://www.ft.com/content/79066ba0-dd43-11e8-b173-ebef6ab1374a
Tech Nation (undated) Diversity and Inclusion in Tech Companies report. Available at: technation.io/insights/diversity-and-inclusion-in-uk-tech-companies/