Unleashing the potential of women in our Canadian studios, one team at a time

International Women’s Day celebrates women’s achievements, raises awareness about the issues they face, and encourages everyone to act for an equal, more inclusive world. 

 Championing the place of women in the workplace and beyond is an ongoing commitment for Ubisoft. In 2023, our Canadian studios received their Silver Parity Certification from Women in Governance 

 “This certification reflects both our achievements and the path that lies ahead,” says Erin Roach, director of Diversity and Inclusion for the Canadian studios. “We know we have much more work to do and hope our reflections on the report will guide us towards a more inclusive future.” 

 To further explore the subject, we sat down with Catherine Lemyre, VP of Talent for the Canadian studios. She shares the programs in place to foster the development of women, as well as her goals and vision for the next few years. 

 A turning point

 Despite the gender parity in gamers, women in the game industry continue to be underrepresented. Factors such as a lack of role models, working conditions that are sometimes unfavourable, and fewer girls and women pursuing STEM fields have all contributed to these low numbers. The #MeToo movement and Ubisoft’s respect scandal crisis have prompted us to ask: How can we create a safer, more welcoming environment with conditions that enable women to thrive? 

Ubisoft revamped its whistleblowing system, enhanced management training, and introduced numerous processes and policies to resolve issues and create an environment in which such incidents are not repeated. In addition to these measures, in 2021, Ubisoft introduced new questions related to these topics in the annual employee survey. These questions delved into employees’ experiences related to inclusion, diversity, and respect. 

Catherine notes that “the initial survey revealed a gender gap related to feelings of safety, equal opportunities, and inclusion.” Focus groups were convened to explore the underlying reasons behind these disparities. The recurring theme? The relationship between employees and their managers.  

 We told ourselves that we really need to intensify efforts in educating our team leaders about management practices that foster a sense of safety and inclusion,” shares Catherine. Consequently, our training programs were fine-tuned to ensure that everyone stepping into a management role – whether through new hires or promotions – received training in promoting inclusivity. 

These focus groups also underscored a crucial need: women sought opportunities to connect, share personal experiences, learn, and support one another. Catherine’s team immediately prioritized creating such moments. 

A growing village

The Canadian studios already had several programs that empowered women to discuss their challenges and chart paths toward their aspirations. 

In Winnipeg, for example, the Nova program provided women with professional development opportunities through group sessions and personalized mentoring. 

“The Nova program is a game changer, and experiencing it for the first time laid the foundation for me to grow into a leader. Then, as a mentor, I was able to help build a strong community that connects women in the workplace regardless of background and race.” – Claire Chen, generalist programmer, Ubisoft Winnipeg 

In Toronto and Quebec, Develop at Ubisoft provided emerging talent with paid internships and mentorship opportunities. The program is open to people who identify as woman, transgender, non-binary, and/or Two-Spirit. 

“Develop at Ubisoft has been enriching and a blast! Not only have I learned a great deal about game development, but it’s also given me the opportunity to deepen connections with industry professionals.” – Gabrielle Madden, UI programmer, Ubisoft Toronto 

“Winning Develop at Ubisoft launched me into my dream field before I even had my degree! And now I have the added bonus of working at a AAA studio that encourages learning and growth so that I can continue to develop my skills in a real-world environment.” – Darian Schumacher, game designer, Ubisoft Toronto 

“I had a great experience as a first-time mentor for Develop At Ubisoft. The program offers a much-needed bridge between established professionals and new graduates. It was a blast to collaborate with my mentee and see her project come to life, and she was offered a well-deserved internship at Ubisoft Montréal, so I couldn’t have asked for a better outcome!” , – Juliette Pelletier,  gameplay designer, Ubisoft Québec

Yet, not every studio had these programs ready to launch, and the demand was huge. Catherine’s team started looking beyond company walls for employee programs, while working to extend the programs already in place to the rest of the Canadian studios. She explains that they “decided to go with Chloé Caron, the consultant behind the book Dare to Empower: Women in the Lead.”  

Cloé Caron’s five key shifts

Chloé came to the Montreal studio to test her women’s development program within an unannounced project. For this pilot, Catherine’s team was determined to include all the women from the project, but also non-binary people. 

Despite their shared project, many participants had never met due to the sheer size of the project and remote working. “A sense of trust and vulnerability started to blossom from the very first session,” says Catherine. “Everyone began sharing their experiences. It was beautiful to witness.” 

“The program offered a safe space to express and explore frustrations and fears. It was cathartic to hear colleagues across teams sharing some of the hurdles they’d faced and gaining heart from others who had faced them, too. We discussed how to take action as individuals, but also how to translate our discoveries into best practices that would benefit Ubisoft as a whole.” – Alice Abracen, scriptwriter, Ubisoft Montréal 

 During these discussions, it became clear that the mechanisms put in place after the respect scandal had uprooted the most unacceptable behaviours. Still, more work was needed. “We haven’t mended everything, but the work experience for women has improved significantly,” notes Catherine. “I don’t want to generalize, and I’d rather talk about the unconscious biases that linger and do a better job at identifying and stopping microaggressions. We need to do this through training and by changing our management practices.” 

The program’s participants emerged with more confidence, new skills, and tools to navigate tough professional situations. “The best part was the support network that formed,” says Catherine. “Honestly, I didn’t think this program would have such a big impact.” 

 Changing a culture

Inspired by the triumphs of Nova, Develop at Ubisoft, and Dare to Empower, Catherine envisions a program that draws from the best internal and external initiatives but that reflects the reality of women at Ubisoft. 

This new model will extend to the management teams. Catherine explains that “managers will engage both upstream and throughout the participants’ journey to engage in dialogues about careers and feedback. Inclusive management takes on a whole new meaning when seen through the other person’s eyes.” 

Catherine hopes to leverage the momentum from existing programs to permanently change the corporate culture. “Empowering women in terms of professional development and fulfillment isn’t enough. We must reshape the ecosystem,” she says. “The key to changing a culture is to not spread yourself too thin, but to focus on systemic initiatives around one or two risks present in our culture for everyone, and to act swiftly. Otherwise, it will take forever to see permanent results.” 

Her team is working to rally all the women and production managers in Canada to embark on this new program within the next two years. 

Catherine’s goal is to enhance women’s experience at work, empower them to navigate their own careers, elevate management practices, and eliminate unconscious biases. Ultimately, Catherine says that this boils down to a simple desire to “legitimize women so that they can truly flourish and tap into their full potential. I’m convinced that this will help us craft better games that will captivate a wider audience.”