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Pitch from Atlanta to Belgian Princess: Diversity in business is our thing

When Jill Vanparys, an independent video game designer from Belgiumwelcomed the princess of his country to Georgia State University this week she reflected on the type of game that could be created to honor Her Royal Highness.

“It could be an adventure game where the princess goes on a mission to save and heal people while avoiding and disarming landmines,” Ms Vanparys told GSU. Institute of Creative Media Industries, or CMII. “Or it could be another game, a game about three heroes trying to save a princess. But it’s a bit cliché, isn’t it? »

The industry, she said, sometimes reflects these outdated tropes because most developers are male, despite the fact that half of gamers are female.

While the Belgian government Flanders region is embarking on an effort to strengthen the video game sector through tax incentives, industry leaders like Ms. Vanparys hope the industry as a whole will tackle the inherent biases against women, a symptom of its overall deficit in diversity.

“The scandal in the international gaming industry, towards women and minorities over misconduct, sexism and harassment has surfaced repeatedly over the past two months and years. And that’s why we as an industry need to do something about it,’ Ms Vanparys said in a welcoming remark after the Princess arrived downtown.

CMII offers degrees in game development and media entrepreneurship, reaching 800 students so far who have access to cutting-edge technology in film, games, virtual reality, and digital audio and video production . (During a tour with the director of the CMII Brennen DeckerPrincess Astrid had an avatar made to mark her historic visit).

If the record delegation’s itinerary were any indication, Belgium is looking to Atlanta, the birthplace of the civil rights movement, for insight and collaboration on that front.

A longtime magnet for corporate headquarters and an ascendant player on the national tech scene, the city resumes its role as a historic leader at a time of racial awareness in the United States.

This is one of the reasons why he caught the attention of the delegation, said the Flemish Minister-President Jan Ham.

“Atlanta is a mecca for gamers and developers, a home for all areas of digital entertainment,” Jambon said after remarks from Brian Blake, the first black president of the state of Georgia, an institution that leads the nation in granting degrees to minorities. “Flanders and Atlanta have the same goal: we want to bring more diversity to video games.”

Earlier today, during a commissioning visit by a Belgian drug developer UCBthe new research center at its six-building, 47-acre campus in SmyrnaPrincess Astrid heard from many female researchers and corporate executives about how they were integrating inclusion into both the development of therapies and the company’s community outreach.

Lakeisha Parnell, an epilepsy patient and advocate, received a Princess Commendation in a new building that leans more towards a ‘tech center’ than a corporate headquarters, with collaborative spaces, a library, multiple kitchens, a water collection tank 8,000 gallon rainwater tank and a recreation room with a pool table and arcade games.

UCB views diversity and inclusion as part of its long-term corporate responsibility and sustainability strategies, not only in its recruitment, but also in the way it approaches its business as well as community outreach. .

“At UCB, we appreciate our differences and build on them,” Patty Fritz, head of corporate affairs in the United States, told Global Atlanta in an interview. “We have to look like our community. We need to understand each other’s struggles, respect our differences and value them. We don’t want everyone to be the same. We want everyone to look their best – their unique and vulnerable selves.

The company has seven molecules in development to treat conditions such as psoriasis, arthritis and other chronic diseases. Amid a massive drive of digitization, data and personalization, ensuring clinical trials integrate diverse communities is critical to its competitive edge, executives and researchers said.

During the pandemic, UCB launched a Global Community Health Fund aimed at addressing mental health issues among diverse young people in the 38 countries where it works. Dirk Woutersthe former Belgian ambassador to the United States and champion of Atlanta and the South, chairs the fund, which granted 4.5 million euros via the King Badouin Foundation to 99 projects in its first two cycles. Atlanta bands like Black girls smile were among the beneficiaries.

After the princess left UCB, she headed for the National Center for Civil and Human Rightswhere the net benefits of diversity were explored over lunch with Solvay CEO Ilhan Kadria female executive whose Alpharetta the installation had been inaugurated the day before. Ms. Kadri also participated in a panel with women entrepreneurs based in Belgium and Atlanta Organic Amazonia, Omina Technologies, Better and Aquagenicity. If the social media discussions following the event are to be believed, many left the event inspired.

On the first day of their visit, Princess Astrid and other delegates met Jay Baileyhead of the Russell Innovation Center for Entrepreneurswhich sits in the shadow of historically black colleges comprising the Atlanta University Center and quickly became a point of contact for initiatives aimed at increasing black wealth in the city.

“Atlanta is a leader in making diversity and inclusion an engine of growth,” Michel GerebtzoffConsul General of Belgium in Atlanta, said at a press conference before the mission.

The Consul General has repeatedly conveyed this message to Belgian companies, including during an investment seminar organized last year by the Georgia Department of Economic Development. The city is also adept at mixing creative industries and technology, a similarity to Belgium that could help spur a new wave of investment in the city, he told Global Atlanta.

At a dinner reception at the Midtown offices of King & Spalding, Raphael Bostic, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta and the president of Atlanta Metropolitan Chamberhighlighted the city’s civil rights history and commitment to inclusive economic growth.

“One thing that’s really special about Atlanta is its commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion,” said Bostic, the first black and openly gay president of a regional federal bank.

Governor of Georgia Brian Kemp also made remarks at the event, where Princess Astrid granted Mohawk Industries Inc. President and CEO Jeffrey Lorberbaum the Order of the Crown. Belgium is the headquarters of the Georgia-based flooring manufacturer’s research and development as well as its international operations in 120 countries.

“We are very pleased to continue to develop our investments in Belgium,” Mr. Lorberbaum said at the event. “Our associates create breakthrough products to improve our business results. Belgium is truly a beautiful country with a rich history and a long and rich culture. It is also an exceptional place to do business with government policies that promote economic growth for all.

Yet in the gaming industry, this has yet to be the case, said A Ballekens of Gameleon, a business run by women accompanying the delegation that helps businesses localize games for global markets through translation and cultural consulting. Only one in 10 customers is a woman.

“It’s still a male-dominated field,” Ms. Ballekens told Global Atlanta. “It’s changing slowly, but not fast enough and not in Belgium.”

Ms. Vanparys, the freelance video game designer, started out as a graphic designer, but was fascinated by the power of games to tell stories and explain complex concepts in a simple and engaging way.

She acts as an advisor to the Howest University of Applied Sciences in Flanders, which has signed an agreement with the state of Georgia to share best practices in the gaming sector, including attracting more women and minorities to the industry.

“We tackle the same problems and find the same ways to solve them. We can learn from each other as an industry,” Ms Vanparys said.

This is why Howest, in collaboration with the Flemish Games Association Where Flegahired a gaming ethics coordinator two years ago and incorporates diversity, equity and inclusion training into its curriculum, putting the subject on par with the technical skills needed in the industry, Engineer Defour, who leads the school’s programs in digital arts and entertainment, the Princess said at the CMII event. Howest also shines a spotlight on its women, positioning them as mentors and role models at events like the economic mission due to go New York and Boston after Atlanta.

As an extension of this visit, Mr. Dicker from the CMII is due to go to Belgium in a few weeks, with a stopover in Larian Studiosone of the biggest game developers in the country.

Rodney N.

The author Rodney N.