Sharon Gao, tech product manager
Sharon Gao is well aware of the doubts and assumptions made about her. People's gears turn, grinding through some roundabout logic or disbelief, when she says she's gamer and a games developer. She doesn't care to explain, and she doesn't need to prove anything about who she is.
‘Men need to care more, and women need to care less,’ she says at one point, laughing, talking about the importance of being fearless as a woman. ‘Guys, please be more aware [of the unique challenges facing women], and girls, don’t let [those challenges] hold you back.’
For Gao, fearlessness comes from having faith in yourself. She compares it to religion, ‘...an unshakeable foundation that you just know and have and it doesn’t have to be based on facts. You know it’s there and you know it’s good for you, so it almost doesn’t matter if it’s true or not.’
In her third year at Princeton University, the CEO of Zynga, the company behind Farmville, recruited Gao for an internship after her questions at a Q&A stumped him. The internship, with lots of on-the-job-training and mentorship, matured into a career in tech product management. Since Zynga, Gao has launched tech products for Anheuser-Busch InBev and Javelin. She now works for Directive Games in Shanghai as a lead producer and product manager, with plans to start her own company one day.
When it comes to being a woman in the games industry, Gao thinks people are wrong to associate games development with the malicious sexism associated with negative gamer stereotypes. ‘The type of sexism in the games industry is more “bro-culture”. It’s the type of thing where they hang out together, they drink together, they tend to give each other more opportunities, more information, and they rise together.’
As for how that can be fixed? More women in leadership positions would be helpful, says Gao, but she also reiterates, ‘Men need to care more. Women need to care less.’
By Kenny Ong