At the beginning of the week the former head of the Windows Division at Microsoft, Julie Larson-Green, was selected to take the helm of the Xbox division of the company.
Notably, Larson-Green is a woman, and it’s unfortunately still pretty rare to see ladies in this kind of managerial position in a male dominated industry. That’s why I decided to team up with our Staff Writer Allisa James and have a little heart-to-heart conversation about it all.
So, How do you feel about it Allisa?
Alllisa: At first, it was pretty refreshing to see them promote a woman to such an important position, but then of course it hit me how sad that train of thought is.
We want to see women as equals but then when a woman becomes a prominent figure, we act so surprised like it’s some kind of side show attraction. I think all of us, the internet feminists included, need to take a step back and stop giving special attention to women who work hard and achieve, putting them under a spotlight only because they are women. What did you think?
G: Don’t get me started on that. Did you know that here in Italy we actually have a law that mandates that at least a third of the board of directors of any publicly traded company must be women regardless of their actual ability or competence? Don’t get me wrong, I think there should be plenty room for women in that kind of position, but I don’t really think that should be mandated by law, but I’m digressing now…
In the case of Larson-Green, her career looks rock-solid, having climbed the ladder from a simple tech support representative to where she is now in a relatively short period of time. She taught herself programming and she won awards for design and technical leadership. So yeah, I’m quite confident that she won her place fair and square, and it’s a nice success story to hear….
Photo: Scott Eells/Bloomberg
A: That is very true. She’s clearly a very talented professional who has many years of experience programming and working with PCs, and I always found it charming when anyone in their field starts at an early age, like she did. It really conveys a strong passion and drive for their chosen profession.
However, the problem I have with her experience is that she has absolutely none in the gaming division. When filling a seat like the one Don Mattrick left behind, a company would usually strive to promote someone with many years of experience in that particular area, in order to ensure a smooth transition and hiccup-free management. I wonder why they chose Larson-Green, who until now, was mainly working on programming and leading the development Operating Systems and utility software for PCs.
G: I’m not sure about that. Admittedly the lack of any specific experience in the gaming industry is a cause for concern. If you look at the ones she has to fight against in the Sony camp, like Andrew House, Jack Tretton, Jim Ryan or Shuhei Yoshida, they are all old shrewd foxes with decades of specific experience working in the gaming industry….
A: Exactly and that’s the scary part. Microsoft right now is at a critical junction—they are bracing for a new console release and trying to establish a new install base for that new console. Not only that, they have also been the recipient of a lot of criticism and bad press until very recently, and a good chunk of gamers are still skeptical, which is apparent since the PS4 outsold the Xbox One in pre-orders.
She is coming into all of this, with her competition having far more experience than her in this industry and she must guide Microsoft’s gaming division to success with all eyes on her as the new head. That’s a lot of pressure. What’s more surprising, though, is that not many in the media are bringing up any of these points. I would think it would be more cause for concern among these publications….
G: Right, but looks like certain “publications” seem more interested in trying to paint gamers as a whole as sexist because of a widespread negative reaction to Larson-Green’s appointment. Of course, the fact that a portion of the gaming community isn’t happy about the former head of Windows that was at the very forefront of pushing that trainwreck which is the Windows 8 UI must have to do with her gender, and not with her past work, right? When I read headlines like “Gamers Can’t Handle the New Female Head at Xbox” by Rebecca Greenfield at The Atlantic Wire, my face and my palm suddenly get affected by an irresistible gravitational attraction.
Greenfield cherry picked a very limited selection of sexist comments among hundreds on N4G.com and other websites in order to blanket the whole gaming community as sexist, and that’s disingenuous and politically weighted at best. The gaming community is a large group, and of course it includes a percentage of sexist imbeciles, exactly like every other group in the world. That doesn’t mean they are the majority or that the “gamers” aren’t too keen on Julie Larson-Green just because she’s a woman.
A: Yeah and it’s funny because you read almost any comments section on almost any website, you’ll also see racist, homophobic, politically-driven and other really bad comments (but not one of these writers bring up that). This is nothing new. The fact that when Greenfield, the writer of that article you mentioned, saw a few sexist comments here and there, she decided to grab them and make a sensationalistic piece that paints an entire community a certain way, just for extra drama and pageviews. And she’s not the only one.
This is the sickness of the recent feminist movement in the gaming industry. Instead of media outlets being responsible by having intelligent conversation and trying to address real issues, they take every opportunity to abuse the movement for more hits on their sites. It’s absolutely deplorable. And the worst part is, these writers completely ignore her lack of gaming industry credentials and applaud her promotion only because she’s a female. I wonder who the truly biased ones are here…
G: Exactly. While I don’t agree with the standpoint that she can’t do her job well if she’s not a “gamer”, there are very valid reasons to see her appointment with a critical eye, and her lack of experience in the gaming industry is the most evident and widespread one, alongside the fact that her leadership on Windows 8 didn’t exactly bring too many positive results, especially on the UI side. The OS was evidently steered radically towards casual users and I dread the idea that the same treatment could be applied to the Xbox One–that has been shoehorned in the casual camp way too much already.
I find appalling that between all the valid comments, some “journalists” feel the need to cherry pick only the ones that can be defined as sexist to hide the real issues and pursue a political agenda aimed at coloring the whole gaming community sexist.
A: I completely agree. You don’t really need to be a gamer to run the gaming division successfully—I mean look at the various other heads—so that type of criticism is poorly thought out and invalid. But the main problem is that people actually see the issues with Larson-Green’s credentials (both her arguable failings in her previous work with Windows 8 and the lack of industry experience) and these writers, instead of examining all of those valid points and going “yeah I agree with this” or “I disagree with that because…” they just figure “oh shoot she’s a woman and gamers are criticizing her? Better make the entire community out to be sexist to try and ignore their arguments.”
That attitude right there, of not treating Larson-Green as any other executive, her appointment of which can be criticized regardless of her gender, is in itself the very definition of sexism.
G: Precisely. The funny part is that those writers didn’t even care to check the kind of comments that her predecessor Don Mattrick received before he packed his bags and left Microsoft for Zynga. A lot of gamers hated poor old Mattrick with a festive passion, and the sheer amount of negativity and hate he received over the last few months put the few sexist comments thrown at Larson-Green to shame. I wonder why not one of those self professed feminists cared to defend him… oh right. For a moment I forgot that he’s a man.
I’m definitely not discounting or justifying those comments, as they are definitely disgusting, but we have to remember the very simple fact that the position Miss Larson-Green now occupies inspired and still inspires quite a lot of negativity in itself and that has absolutely nothing to do with her gender.
Other than that, I’m quite sure that gamers can totally “handle” a lady at the helm of Xbox One’s development. What we’ll have to see is if she can handle Xbox One herself, and that’s a question we’d ask ourselves even if she was a dude.
She’s in a delicate position handling a delicate product that is in a delicate stage. She’s an industry professional with experience, but that experience has not been accumulated in this specific industry. Personally, I’m cheering for her, as the industry needs strong competition to thrive, and I think gamers should and will give her a chance. She’s obviously here to stay and Steve Ballmer isn’t just going to send her back to Windows because some don’t doubt her new position. That said, she’ll have to clear the questions about her ability to lead Xbox One to success on her own.