Making Space for Women in Games: An Interview with Joanie Kraut, CEO of Women In Games International (WIGI)

By Meredith Murray, 2L

(The following appeared in Esports and the Law, a publication published by Hackney Publications.)

Joanie Kraut is the CEO of Women in Games International (WIGI), a nonprofit organization with a mission to cultivate resources to advance economic equality and diversity in the global games industry. Joanie, a lifelong gamer, has held many roles prior to launching WIGI, including acting as an advisor and consultant for smaller studios, startups, and nonprofits in the gaming space, and as a speaker on a variety of topics from optimizing data for analysis to the inclusion and advancement of women in leadership. Her work with WIGI is helping develop opportunities for women and other diverse communities in gaming by creating resources that can be used to help women reach their full potential as individuals, creators, workers, and gamers. In her quest to increase inclusion and representation in gaming spaces, Joanie believes it is time the gaming industry acknowledges women are here, have always been here, and are part of what makes these gaming communities so vibrant and rich.

Question: How did you get involved with the gaming industry?

Answer: I grew up in a household where my dad was into gaming and technology. We were always engaged with a gaming console, board games, and card games. It was part of my family fabric. My mother was into Tetris so deeply that she called it my ‘lullaby’ music. Falling asleep to Tetris laid the groundwork for my later years.

As I aged out of the crib, my parents divorced, which left us with less disposable income to spend on technology. This greatly impacted my college years when I found myself lost in a computer course, feeling overwhelmed. Conversely, I knew I could not ignore computers as they would be playing a pivotal role in my post collegiate career.

Beyond the classroom, I began playing World of Warcraft with my then boyfriend. It allowed me to get comfortable with a computer while challenging my ‘trouble shooting’ skills when facing lag issues, overheating, and, let’s be honest, user errors. Beyond gaining confidence in using a computer, I truly embraced the feeling of being part of a community.

Q: What was your first gig in the gaming industry?

A: My first real job after graduation landed me in an accounting role. I found myself in a career I was not passionate about. It was then that my mentor told me, “You need to find the thing that you are super passionate about, and you need to do that for a living – whatever that is. What is the thing that makes you happy? That’s where you’re going to be, where you’re going to find your people.”

At the time I just purchased a mouse for World of Warcraft and I loved how the mouse was manufactured. Upon further inspection, I discovered the name of the manufacturer, Steel Series. Coincidence or not, they were a block away from my home, so I searched their careers’ page to see if they needed an accountant. This was my gateway in the gaming industry.

Q: Explain your role in WIGI, along with the goals of the organization.

A: I started off as the CFO, before taking on the CEO role about a year ago. My extensive nonprofit experience steered me toward fundraising, through donation drives and grant applications. These types of funds have allowed us to create the programs needed, delivering opportunities to women in the gaming space.

Specifically, we built out our workshops, created programs, and rebranded our public facing message.We recently received a $1 million dollar grant from Activision Blizzard so have a lot in the pipeline for 2021-22, and I am excited to share it with the community soon.

Q: What is a key take away you would like to share with the women in gaming?

A: Get paid for your time and expertise. We have made it a conscious decision to pay our speakers for their time. If they are willing to put together a presentation and spend time sharing their knowledge, then the least we can do is value their expertise. This allows us to amplify the voice of our resources and provide a platform to somebody who is an expert in that field.

Q: In your estimation, what is the most pressing issue facing women and other underrepresented groups in gaming?

A: I would say it is respecting my space in the industry, regardless of my upbringing. It is critical for all women in the space, regardless of their social economics, to take charge of their destiny. As a powerhouse woman once said to me, “You have to work twice as hard, but you’re going to get there. When you walk in a room, own it, like you grew up with everything.” This completely changed my trajectory and I know it will do the same for others.

One place we can start with is having diversity at the top. Women of color need to be able to say, “Wow, that girl looks just like me and I could be anything – whatever it is.”

This type of vision will normalize the presence of women and people of diverse backgrounds within the industry and demonstrate that no barrier, wall, or glass ceiling should ever exist. This, and only this, will allow WIGI to amplify the voices of those diverse people eager to get into the space.

Q: Where have you seen the most growth or improvement in the gaming industry for women?

A: Having a company like Dignitas in the space, a female-owned company, women only teams, and a female C-suite has provided us with the most growth and opportunity.

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