Charlotte Cook, Global Head of Commercial at Team17 and Women in Games Ambassador, responds to the reports of abuse and harassment at GDC…

GDC remains one of the most significant events in our industry you can attend. I also believe it can be immensely important for career advancement and increasing your visibility. As a woman working in the commercial side of games, I have always found GDC to be one of the most rewarding shows for business and networking, and I look forward to it every year.

And 2023 was no different – however, a dark cloud emerged towards the end of the week as stories surfaced of alleged sexual abuse against women. There were terrible stories of drink spiking at parties and an incident of sexual assault in a hotel suite, where two women had been invited under the guise of a business meeting.

On hearing the news, I felt sick to my stomach. I also felt angry and fearful. I’m already used to the safety considerations we all have to bear in mind as women – care walking home alone, or being in a taxi alone late at night. But it was a saddening reminder that an industry party or a business meeting could also pose a threat to my/our safety.

The fact is it shouldn’t. It is totally unacceptable, and something no woman should have to consider or worry about when we are simply doing our jobs.

The hotel suite story was particularly jarring. It made me think of the times I had been in a hotel suite on my own for a meeting. Often, I was the only woman in the room and hadn’t met the other party before.

I vividly remember my first GDC, walking the long corridor of a San Francisco hotel for an important meeting and realising, as I got closer, I’d been invited to a suite, not a hotel function room. It made me feel uncomfortable and on my guard, but I just accepted it, and ever since have continued to do the same as it’s just the manner in which these events are sometimes conducted.

Thankfully, I have never experienced anything like the awful situation the women at this year’s GDC did; I have always been made to feel at ease and experienced nothing but professionalism, exactly how it should be. But it did make me reflect about the suite setup at conferences and offer some considerations we can all make to ensure nobody is ever put in an uncomfortable situation.

So here are a few tips to consider before your next conference…

Does the meeting need to take place in a Suite?
Consider if the subject matter requires your meeting to be behind closed doors. It goes without saying if unannounced code, product demonstrations or highly confidential information are being discussed or presented then the W Bar is not the place! But if it’s a general catch up perhaps this can be done in a more public setting?

Private spaces over suites
I have noticed a trend in recent years with companies hiring private spaces in bars, restaurants, or hotel function rooms for their meetings. Although not completely private, it does remove some of the awkwardness around being in a hotel suite. As an organiser of the event, it also allows you to set the tone for your company with branding and potentially adds networking opportunities for clients, such as mixers or coffee hours. All of this can be done in a much safer environment for women.

Ask the question
If the only viable option is a hotel room suite then, when scheduling meetings, ask the attendees if they are happy to meet in that space. You should also check if the guests are happy for the door to be closed and are otherwise comfortable with the space in which you are hosting the meeting. If they are not, it gives you an opportunity to make alternative arrangements or perhaps ensure you discuss any confidential points before or after the show.

Share your schedule
If you are attending as a team, I would suggest having a shared schedule where you can see where your colleagues will be having their meetings. As a manager, if you notice someone attending a meeting in a hotel suite alone, perhaps check if they are comfortable doing so and, if not, make arrangements to attend as a bigger group.

Check on your team
Another WhatsApp group? I hear you! But it is a good way to keep in contact throughout the conference and get in touch with other team members to quickly let them know your whereabouts.

Speak Out, Report it
If you experience any kind of inappropriate behaviour or uncomfortable situations then raise it with your manager, colleagues, friends so that an appropriate course of action can be taken.

It deeply saddens me to know of several instances where women have been afraid to report or speak out for fear of reputational damage, which is exactly what the perpetrators rely on. However, you are not alone, and Women in Games offers a safe environment for you to share your experiences.

Conferences are great and a huge perk of working in this industry, and I genuinely hope no woman has to undergo such awful experiences in the future. However, in light of the alleged reports emerging from GDC, and with a busy summer ahead for conferences and trade shows, it remains sensible (and a little disheartening) to remind ourselves of some of the considerations we could make when planning our meetings.

If you see me at trade events and would like to discuss this or related issues further, please feel free to reach out.