Girls Make Games is an organisation aimed at encouraging girls involvement in coding, game design and STEM. They hold a series of international summer camps, workshops and game jams and in 2016 ran their first Australian event in Melbourne. Founder and CEO Laila Shabir spoke about her inspiration behind launching Girls Make Games.
What inspired you to start Girls Make Games?
In late 2013, I was recruiting for my game studio, LearnDistrict, I noticed that 100% of the job applicants were male. I found it hard to believe that women, who make up roughly half the gaming population, wouldn’t want to work in the industry. This thought led to an experiment – a summer camp for young girls who love video games. The first camp was oversubscribed by 400% and emails from parents poured in, “My daughter loves coding and games but she’s the only girl on her Robotics team”. We realized how important a program like GMG was for these girls and haven’t looked back since.
How do you grow talent & help girls push themselves to the next level?
For the most part this comes down to empowering them with the right tools – in our case, teaching them how to code, design and create art to bring their vision to life. They’re thoroughly passionate about creating lively stories and characters. We’re also particular about exposing them to examples of great games across various platforms. The more they play, they more they want to create and share their ideas. Same goes for mentors and role models – you cannot be what you cannot see.
What was your journey like to get where you are? What’s your background?
I’m a Pakistani immigrant raised in the UAE. Being an immigrant in the UAE meant zero access to public education, and my parents spent most of their income on their kids private school tuitions. From a young age, my parents, especially my dad, encouraged me to dream big but to also give back. He would say things like, “When you’re the Prime Minister of Pakistan, you must prioritize education reform in the country” or sometimes, “When you become a successful and famous heart surgeon, offer your services for free to the poor”. These statements may seem ordinary in the western context, but I was living in a society and culture where my girlfriends were getting married in high school and dropping out. My dad often faced rebuke from his colleagues and family for encouraging his daughters to be so ambitious.
Fast forward a few years, I graduated from MIT and worked in financial services, followed by policy research. I continued to dream big, but wasn’t really giving back. I met a wonderful man, now my husband, who introduced me to the world of video games and I haven’t looked back since. We found a way to merge our passions – education and video games!
Why do you do what you do?
So much of it is in my upbringing. With Girls Make Games, we’ve created a home for girls that love games and creative arts. I didn’t realize how important this home could be until we got emails from families of campers telling us how their daughters’ confidence has soared just from attending one summer. While we do teach video game design and programming, this is the essence of Girls Make Games. We want to empower girls to become whoever the want – of course we’re biased towards the games industry because it’s where we are and want more brilliant women to join us!
What is the biggest challenge facing women in STEM today?
There are a couple of things, but I like to highlight the importance of confidence building early on. STEM fields can seem daunting if you have a mental block towards it, reinforced by gender stereotypes, or even your own environments. The second thing, and this impacts women in the workforce, is the nature of office work, particularly the inflexibility in work days/hours and things like maternity leave and support. We’re working hard to tackle the first issue and there are many wonderful organizations advocating on women’s behalf. But the work has only just begun.