A new report alleges Valve leadership blocked internal diversity efforts and halted the company from making a statement on Black Lives Matter. Interviews with current and former employees elaborate on Valve’s famously unconventional structure and how that structure can prevent diverse hires and outright political stances.
YouTube channel People Make Games interviewed 16 current and former employees of Valve, trying to get to the bottom of the gaming giant’s opaque worker culture and decision-making. The video then explores Valve’s worker culture and its effect on the diversity of the company. On paper, Valve has a structureless system, without literal bosses or managers and one in which employees can make their own decisions. Valve also uses its own stack-ranking system, by which employees evaluate each other’s performance and, in an undisclosed way, shape the year’s salary and bonus for each employee.
Multiple interviewees claimed the company has a lack of diversity, even by the standards of the often homogeneous games industry. One former worker claimed that more contractors and lower-level employees were women and/or people of color. She said, “While I was there, there was never more than one female programmer at the company.” More women work in HR and finance, but also are locked into more defined roles and so cannot experience the workplace freedom that Valve touts.
According to those interviewed, stack-ranking can also re-enforce the studio’s hierarchies and biases. Because stack-ranking encourages workers to do work that the company and other employees perceive as valuable, diversity efforts can get short shrift. Hiring processes can involve employees from across the company, but since most of Valve’s longtime employees and most of its general staff are all white men, the report says they are biased towards hiring other people that look like them.
These issues came to a head after the murder of George Floyd and the outbreak of nationwide Black Lives Matter protests in 2020. Allegedly, some employees pushed for Valve to make a public statement in support of BLM, while others were staunchly against making a statement. According to those interviewed, senior members at the company ultimately prevented any statement from being made. Instead, employees received $10,000 to donate to any cause they felt was worthy.
Valve didn’t return any of People Make Games’ requests for comment, nor did it respond to one from GameSpot. The full video is worth watching if you’ve ever wanted a look on how Valve’s nontraditional structure works in practice, if you have any interest in labor issues in the industry, or want more details on anything in the above story.
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