• alexandraruhl25

How you can help grow the VR industry

Updated: Mar 9

<iframe src="https://anchor.fm/alexmakesvr/embed/episodes/Ep-95-How-You-Can-Help-Grow-The-VR-Industry-ers229" height="102px" width="400px" frameborder="0" scrolling="no"></iframe>Hey friend, and welcome back to the Alex Makes VR podcast. Today is a very special day because this episode gets released on the 8th of March 2021, aka, International Women's Day. Now, it's no surprise to any of you listening that I am, in fact a woman who works in technology, but I never really talk about what that means to be a woman in technology in this day and age, what that means to be working in a new industry that is still pretty dominated by men. I don't want to necessarily dwell too much on the negative experiences that I've had, because I have had a fair share over the last years of being in this industry, I'm painfully aware when I am the only woman in the room and I'm being undermined by people on sets, and I'm being patronised by people that think they have more expertise than me or being overlooked by clients, because there is an older man in the room, I don't want to talk about those experiences.

This is a full transcript of the podcast episode. Instead, you can listen and subscribe here:

What I want to talk about is why it's important that we all including the women listening to this, we all do our job to make sure that we are celebrating the women in this industry and how we can encourage and support new voices into this space. Because ultimately having a diverse industry, not just with gender, but also you know, bringing people from different cultural backgrounds and people with disability, people that aren't the majority, basically people that aren't heavily represented already in the technology industry. The reason it's important that we bring these diverse voices into our industry, is because it helps the industry grow. Not only that, it makes us a stronger, more robust, more creative, more excellent industry when we have diverse voices. Why is that? Because when you bring more people in to create content, to create software's and products, to run businesses, to be managers to be involved at the highest levels, what you're doing is you're saying to a whole new generation below us that this industry welcomes everyone and when you bring more people into the fold of this industry, they then create work that appeals to people that maybe look and have had the same experiences as them, which then inspires that generation to feel welcome and included in this space. And as we grow as more people come into the industry, and attract more and more audiences, and reflect more and more different niches, and tastes in content, and show work from a particular lens, a particular point of view, then we get more audiences, when we get more audiences, we have more hardware sales, we have more sales of content, we have more people in the ecosystem, which means there's more funding available. When there's more funding available, we all get more work, it lifts the industry up. There is no negative thing about diversity in an industry as young as virtual reality. And I would say it's actually going to be the thing that pushes us forward and kind of takes us away from some of the downfalls that have happened in traditional tech. We're seeing a lot of problems in recent history with legacy industries with the kind of gender and equality and if we want to avoid those pitfalls, if we want to build the strong foundations, so that we can just build from the ground up rather than having to build the tower and then have to knock it all down and try and redo it and rebuild it in years to come. What that takes is every single one of us doing our part to make sure that we are reaching outside of our current networks and our current bubbles, because that's the problem with the internet right is, is as much as it's done incredible things. It's the most powerful invention that we have ever seen in humankind, I would argue, especially obviously in recent history. For all of the benefits of having the internet, we've all become very siloed and very niched down and very trapped in our own echo chambers and this is how we kind of end up in a situation where people in a position of power tend to all look quite similar. And it's because when you have a similar background to someone, you are instantly connected with them in a way that you wouldn't necessarily instantly connect with someone or you wouldn't think necessarily that you would. It's like, for example, when you go to a foreign country, so I remember distinctly like being in Australia, and meeting someone in a bar that had like an English accent and not only did they have an English accent, they said a certain word in the same way that my mum says it. So I just kind of like had this instinct that this person was from the same place that my mom grew up, so we started chatting and instantly, we had this thing in common, right, we were both in this, you know, in this kind of this new place in Australia, and to hear a familiar voice and then be able to connect over something that we have in common, instantly bonds us and that is kind of analogy for what happens generally, when we aren't conscious of the choices we're making as people in a position of power. I feel like I'm being a little bit elusive, maybe a little vague. So let me give you a specific example. In 2019, I curated a VR cinema for the Phoenix Leicester cinema, here in Leicester and it was funded by the BFI network, which was really exciting because we had money to spend on creators, we could pay them a modest licence fee, we could pay for creators to come and do Q and A's with audiences and it was a really amazing opportunity for me as the curator to be able to bring in new audiences, to be able to select a lineup of VR that I thought would speak to a really wide variety of people that wouldn't necessarily have exposure to VR traditionally. And so I created this strand, and lo and behold, after we finished the strand, I was having coffee with a friend. You remember when you used to have coffees with friends? That was nice, wasn't it? Oh, God...and I remember her saying to me - oh, did you intentionally make it an almost all female lineup? And I paused for a second and thought about all the films that I had programmed, and then realised that she was right that I'd curated probably about 80% women creators, which meant that I'd given the opportunity to showcase women, and I've paid women for their work, which is obviously a phenomenal thing, because it's so often the kind of opposite narrative. But that's not the takeaway from this story. The takeaway was that...I was actually like, floored, because I had done that completely, subconsciously, I hadn't intentionally done that, I hadn't consciously thought - ah, I've got this money, I'm going to make sure that I, you know, really emphasise showcasing underrepresented talent, I'm going to go, you know, I'm going to look for specifically women and people of colour. I didn't intentionally do that, I just kind of done it purely accidentally, because I was just leaning into my personal biases for what kind of content I like and I was just tapping into the networks and the events that I had been to which, you know, had attracted people that look like me and people's experiences, as in their VR experiences clearly were attractive to me, because when you have a similar life story.

When you when you have something, I guess in common, when you see the world through the same lens as someone, you have that kind of bond that you have with the kind of the stranger that you meet in a bar in a foreign country who speaks who you know, who kind of like, speaks with the same accent as you do and so you instantly bond, right? It's like, it's that unconscious familiarity that had led me to programme almost an all female lineup. And I remember saying to that friend, I laughed, I said - oh, I can totally see how the old boys club happened now because if that's my experience, as someone who momentarily had that position of power, to have the purse strings, you know, to have control over the money and the funding for that project, and I was the one who got to, you know, give these creators opportunities and I just pulled from very much the things that appealed to me, and don't get me wrong, I definitely was giving it a thought to what I thought would appeal to the kind of independent cinema audience that would be attending those screenings. But I haven't intentionally done anything other than something that just felt really natural and right to me.

Now, what that tells me is that if the tables were switched, like if I was a man, and I'd done that, that is why you end up with any tech, any kind of tech event, you'll see the panel lineup, and it will be usually at least 70/80%. Men on panels, given opportunities to kind of talk in in a position of thought leadership, you might see overwhelmingly male CEOs or managers, you will see...I think there's a shocking statistic about how few female led companies get investment.

So there's all these kind of different layers, but one saying why I told that story is not to kind of point fingers and be like, you know, we need to do better because, we do we all need to do better 100% but what I'm saying is, it's not good enough to say - yes, I support women creators, I support diversity in the industry, we have to go that extra step, and actually put it to the forefront of our mind, we need to reach outside of our echo chambers, we need to reach outside of our current networks. And yeah, sometimes that means not being lazy and not just relying on, you know, the kind of people that you already trust and I know that's so hard, because I've absolutely been guilty of that when I'm kind of pulling together a last minute production team, it's so much easier to just go with the people that I've always used and the people that I know will get the job done and I've worked with them before and I have rapport with them. You know, I've already done that kind of stuff but the problem is, if you don't give new talent, if you don't reach outside of your network and bring new people in, then how do those people get the opportunity to get the experience to then be trusted? Right? How do you know if you don't give them the chance. And it's not the case that we don't have enough people to pull from, it's just that we don't have...what's the right way to put this...we all just kind of were very siloed in our own bubbles that we don't we kind of forget to reach outside of those bubbles to connect with the kind of artists, creatives you know, all the different kind of creators that there are worldwide that might not have the same resources or networks as you. And so because we're not tapping into those, they don't get the same showcase opportunities, they don't get the opportunities to showcase at the kind of events that loads of decision makers goes to, which means that the decision makers then end up pulling from the same pool of talent.

I mean, you see this time and time again. I know that I feel like in recent episodes, I've been bashing really hard on like the festivals like I don't mean to, because I totally, totally understand that when time and resources are limited, you just kind of have to do what is within your power, but you see the same kind of names, showcasing at big events and big festivals not always like definitely there's, I've you know, I've seen the efforts that go into curating something like... for example, Maria at Raindance Film Festival. I know that she spends literally hours going through every single submission to make her selection fair, and I know that there'll be other curators that absolutely do that, but the problem is when you get a specific kind of showcase opportunity, like a Raindance, like a Sundance, that then unlocks all this other potential opportunity for you. And you know, the kind of grassroot creators that might not have even had the opportunity to make their piece yet because they've never had anything funded, they've never had any experience on a set because they've never been given that opportunity. That person might have an amazing idea and an amazing skill set and just be waiting to be given a chance. But the truth is that they aren't in the right networks, they aren't in the right circles, they don't have the resources to even you know, get a step on that ladder and the only way they can is for the likes of you and I who are in the industry, who are in positions where we can help, we can encourage and support we can offer people opportunities, we can give those people their first chances. We can give people that exposure. We can up-skill people so that they then can go on to create their pieces. They are more likely to be funded, they are more likely to continue creating them, they offer people opportunities and you see what I mean? It's becomes this kind of cyclical, this beautiful, cyclical process that ends up building our industry up. It's like a compounding effect. So, I mean, that was a real ramble wasn't it?

I'm so passionate about this, it's so strange that I haven't done an episode like this before and I kind of feel almost guilty that it's taken me until International Women's Day to talk about this extensively, because it is something I'm so so passionate about Aad it is something that I want to turn my attention to more and more in the future because the more I connect with...not just again, not just female creators, but anyone from in a minority group that isn't kind of represented currently in the industry. Every time I connect with those people, they are always so brimming with passion and they are, so you know, they are just like raring to go, they are going to give it their all because they're so grateful, because they haven't been given the opportunity and the truth is that they deserve it, they definitely deserve it. So my mission, like when I think about what I want to do going forward when I think about what and I was speaking to this actually with a friend the other night on the phone, who is

coincidentally another woman in VR and we were talking about that legacy and like that mission going forward of making sure that we make space for new creators and different voices in the world of VR.

So I want to hold on, you guys hold me accountable to that. I want to make space and do my part to help encourage and support the next generation of women to come into this industry and fill that knowledge and skills gap by offering my time because I'm now in a position where I have that luxury and that opportunity to do that and if you're listening and you want to do your part, like I say, I think the number one thing you can do is maybe once a week go outside, I mean obviously more if possible but at least once a week go outside of your comfort zone, go in go and check out some Facebook groups and Reddit threads, some Twitter kind of accounts that are YouTube videos or anything like that, where that you wouldn't necessarily do before. Like for example, when I'm like massively geeking out at the moment learning about finances. The financial world fascinates me because ultimately money makes the world go round but it's not until recent history that I've been paying attention to Wall Street and understanding how the economy works and understanding you know what it means when Rishi kind of outlays the budget for the next year and what the knock on effect of that is and where money...oh my god, okay, right...I'm not gonna get too overexcited about talking about finances, because I can already hear you like, oh god, I turn this off and put a nice album on instead, but when I found out what quantitive easing meant, which for those of you listening that don't know what that means, it basically means when the government or the Bank of England or the Bank of whatever country you're in, prints money, literally, you know how they say when you grow up, there is no money tree, that's an absolute lie, there is a money tree, it's got a fancy word - quantitative easing. It basically means where they make more money and the way they technically make more money is by buying bonds and all this boring stuff I'm not going to go into but essentially it is literally growing money on trees and then there's, you know, the way that they counteract that is inflation. There's this whole shit show. But basically, it's not until you start digging into the surface that you realise, ah, when you understand these concepts, when you kind of become knowledgeable in those concepts, all of a sudden, like it has this knock on effect, it makes you a better business person or makes you make more, you know, responsible investing decisions, or it makes you like a stronger leader. It allows you to have this kind of view of the world that most people will spend their whole lives not having the slightest clue about any of this stuff because they were never given the opportunity in the first place.

Now why have I gone on that ramble? Let me rewind. When I started getting into the finance stuff. This is where I was actually go with that story and what I've noticed is like most of the resources that I have been paying attention to, for the last couple of months have all been white men. Now that's not a problem. I love white men. I've got you know, I've got two brothers, I've got a strong father figure, like, I'm not, I'm not saying this to discriminate against white men. But what I noticed is that all of the Youtuber's that are big in the space and all of the bloggers that are big in the space of personal finance, are white men. That's not a coincidence, right? And so I was like, crap, this is not good. I am not practising what I'm preaching here, so I went out of my way to kind of like ask some people, whether they had any other resources, specifically, I wanted to be to find some maybe like finance influences that were that were women. So I started going down this rabbit hole of like, finding, you know, like women that are venture capitalists, and looking up some kind of like YouTube channels of some, some women that gives similar kind of finance guidance and same is the same stuff, it's like...they've got the same knowledge set these kind of millennial money, guys that have got millions of subscribers but all of a sudden, I realised that, well, because I'm paying attention to those bigger influences, that then tells my algorithm that that's the kind of content I'm watching that kind of content, that means that you get the same kind of content recommended, and all of a sudden, again, you end up in that echo chamber, but after just a couple of days of consuming content from I'm trying to think what the channel was called now it's terrible, but I don't can't remember the name of it. To be fair, I don't remember the name of anything that I watch, really, I jumped around constantly, but this fantastic black woman was giving this like, amazing speech about investment, and basically seed funding and stuff like that. And now because I've watched her video, the recommended videos, funnily enough, have now been more women, more people of colour, more kind of like queer, like finance, kind of like people all providing the same kind of information in an entertaining way, as these dudes with millions of followers and they've got maybe like 10,000 subscribers, if that. But now my algorithms kind of trained to like, show me those things and now I can show my support and if those channels grow, then do you see what I mean? It becomes this, like snowball effect and it's, that was a conscious choice. That was a conscious decision, because I had to like, stop and recognise what was happening and what echo chamber I was getting myself into. And so you do have to reach outside of that. So I challenge you, maybe once a week, maybe twice a week, look at the sources that you're consuming. And think let me just go and see what else is out there, let me just go and consume this information from someone else. Let me just see what else is out there and just because then you are opening your poll, you are supporting diversity, and you're supporting other creators, and you are kind of, again, encouraging that cyclical process of the more you support them, the more then they can like climb to a position of power, which means that they can then empower more people that look very different from you and I. Everyone absolutely has their role to play in this is what I'm saying and that's one easy way that you can start. And so on days, like today on International Women's Day, that's why it's really important, especially if you are a man to take that time to not think like oh God, another post about, you know, specifically about being a woman. But take today to maybe like go and see out, go and look at like...if you're a music fan, if you're a film fan, if you're a YouTube fan, like basically take this opportunity to go and see if there's someone in the niche that you like, that isn't someone that you currently follow, that isn't someone's work, because that's the thing, it's not like, it's not like the point of this is to go and just find a creative and you don't really like them, but you just do it, you're just supporting them because they're a woman, or because they're a person of colour because they were like that's not what this is about. This is about the fact that their will for every one person that you follow, there'll be 5000 other people that are doing exactly the same thing that you would probably equally enjoy, that just don't happen to look like you. And so that that's really important, because again, the more you kind of reach outside of your own echo chamber, the better you are as a person, I genuinely believe, that I believe that when I can even feel it like being trapped at home for over a year and not be like normally my year will be packed full of going to different countries, meeting new people from different backgrounds, connecting with people at events, getting to speak to kind of like, you know, different high schools and getting to speak at different events against different companies. I'm constantly on the go, I'm constantly meeting new people. My brain feels better for it. I have a much more expanded horizon, I have a much more open mindedness toward the world. I feel

like a better person, when I'm expanding, but for the last year, I've just been stuck in a bubble and it's taken me actually having to intentionally reach outside that bubble, listen to podcasts, I don't normally watch documentaries, I don't normally watch, you know, doing all these things that a kind of like the artificial digital version of expanding my horizons. And even that makes you feel a lot better it gets you out of your creative rut. It exposes you to new ways of thinking, exposes you to new ideas exposes you to new voices, and you might end up finding like some creators that you never would have stumbled on, if you hadn't taken me up on that challenge, but they go on to really influence your life.

So, my goodness, 25 minutes, I'm going to leave it at that. I have absolutely loved being part of the VR industry, and I owe it everything for where I am in life, but literally, I can trace back my success to a woman every step of the way in my career, sharing her knowledge with me, and exposing me to a different community and vouching for me and entrusting me.

And so I want to do that for well, the current but also the next generation of women and I really, really hope that you do too, because whether that be the women in your life, just in general, or whether that be like I say online, the influences you follow, or whether that be if you're in a position of power reaching outside of your current network to offer someone new, that doesn't look like you. Or that is from a kind of more minority background, offering them the opportunity, because then you get to be that kind of person in their life, but I cannot tell you how rewarding it is when someone says to me - oh my god, I listen to the podcast and it changed my life. I've like quit my job, and now I've got like this full time like freelance career as a 360 photographer and that wouldn't have been possible if I hadn't come across your information, or if you hadn't been shared on this, or if I hadn't seen you talk at this thing.

So when you're in a position of power, like you do have that opportunity to reach new people, and to have this huge impact on people's careers and so yeah, I would just highly encourage you, I highly, highly, highly encourage you go out today on International Women's Day, go and find some amazing female creators. Reach outside your echo chamber because together we need to build a powerful, diverse, amazing industry that will go on to represent all people from all corners of the world if we want this, this medium to be successful.

Wow bloody hell 28 minutes, guys. I guess I should finish by saying if you liked this episode, it would mean the world to me, If you shared it on social media, just take a screenshot of the podcast and share it and tag me @alexaakesvr on Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, all of the socials and as usual if you want to sign up for the newsletter, I send out emails every Monday. You can sign up for that on

www.alexmakesvr.com. Until then, happy International Women's Day everyone, and I'll speak to you next week.

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