By Sarah Woods-Killam*
Claire Curtin and Roxana (Roxy) Wolosenko, two women who played a pivotal role in the success of The Sims game, came to 23andMe as part of our Speaker Series for Women’s History Month.
Claire and Roxy shared with us some of the highlights of their careers, experiences, and challenges of working in the largely male-dominated gaming industry.
Changing the game for working mothers
One of the first challenges was finding a balance between raising their children while meeting the demands at work, said Claire. This was especially true for two working moms, in a workplace dominated by men, but it’s what led Claire and Roxy to come up with the idea of job sharing.
“By the time we both had our first children, we went to our HR director at the time, who was a woman, to establish child care without losing our jobs,” said Claire. “We made arrangements to share projects and establish communication to make it seamless, taking turns coming into the office and then together once a week.”
The Sims project continued to be successful and operate smoothly, oftentimes having colleagues mistake them for one another.
For Roxy, the challenges started even before she landed the job. She was pregnant during her interview process, and because there were no laws regarding the discrimination of pregnant people, she worried about telling her interviewer that she was pregnant.
After telling him that she was going to have a child, he said:
“That’s okay, guys get into motorcycle accidents and women get pregnant.”
However, with Claire’s support, Roxy and Claire were able to negotiate maternity benefits and continued working together on The Sims project.
Job sharing during The Sims project, while pregnant and raising children, allowed Roxy and Claire a better work-life balance. But job sharing came with its own challenges, said Roxy. For one, there weren’t many good examples of job sharing to follow at that time. But both women said that working together allowed them to navigate and create a new work environment for working moms.
“My entire career would have been different if Roxy had not been there,” said Claire.
Women in Tech
Roxy and Claire were the only women working on The Sims but they had an outsized impact.
“When we began working with each other there were 40 people in product development and out of those 40, we were the only two women,” Roxy said.
The Sims game was originally built for architecture, but they took it in a different direction when they started working on it. They helped make it gender neutral, which in turn ensured that both boys and girls Sims were welcome.
“The big nut to crack was, ‘How do you get girls to play games?’” Roxy said.
Life after the Sims
After some time working on The Sims, Claire decided it was time for a change.
“I was 49 years old and realized I did not want to make entertainment anymore,” she said. “I asked myself, ‘How many more working years do I have?’”
Claire had other interests, and eventually became a consultant on energy efficiency. She said she was able to do that, in part, with the support of her husband. Her experience also led her to advise women to push for what they want. She tells women that they should speak up if there are any challenges in their career, or when there are individuals with whom you work who are particularly problematic.
Claire said, “The nasty people who are not easy to work with, those that try to wreck your career – you owe it to yourself to tell management since it is not fair to work. You can outlast someone like that.”
After leaving her work on The Sims, Roxy also decided it was time for a career change. Working in software, she was always staring at a screen and working inside. She said she realized that she found joy and therapy in working outside in the garden or with her hands.
“I needed to work on something where I used my hands, something that was organic and in the real world,” Roxy said.
She started her own landscaping business.
“I felt I was making a difference from one beautiful garden to another, helping people connect with nature,” she said.
Words of Wisdom
What resonated the most with many of us here at 23andMe was Roxy’s advice toward the end of the talk.
“I think the important thing as a woman is to feel you are valuable,” she said. “The challenges that women have are legitimate (and) everyone needs to be involved in solving (them). There is no reason why women should be penalized for having children. The only way to do that is to not be apologetic about it and stand in your strength.”
Sarah Woods-Killam an Operations Specialist on 23andMe’s Customer Care, but she’s also an instrumental member of several of our Employee Resources Groups including “23andShe,” the group that supports women employees.