LGBT inclusion at King Digital Entertainment

Employee-led LGBT inclusion activity is strong at King Digital Entertainment, and it's supported by HR every step of the way

Designing a company Pride float presumably becomes somewhat easier when your branding already involves brightly coloured shooting stars and garish confectionery. Add a bubble witch (that’s right) and an anthropomorphised strawberry or two – not to mention plenty of Candy Crush Saga-loving parade spectators – and you have a recipe, surely, for Pride success.

And so it was at this year’s London and Stockholm Prides. Yet what really made the events such successes for games designer King Digital Entertainment, beyond such dazzling imagery, were the number of employees, both gay and straight, jubilantly donning T-shirts and marching to mark King’s second year of Pride participation.

The events also marked a wider surge of LGBT activity at King. Last year saw the establishment of an LGBT employee network, RoyaLGBT and friends, with the group helping to introduce Adam Bouska’s NOH8 campaign to Europe this July by holding photo sessions at its Covent Garden offices and in Barcelona and Stockholm.

Yet despite such high-profile successes, both this and King’s Pride appearances reflected a distinctly employee-led, spontaneous approach.

VP of HR at King, Kingsley Macey, explains why employees self-forming – both here and in the case of King’s working parents’ and its women’s group – is so important: “My fear about a strategy and framework is it just becomes a cobweb document that doesn’t really live. That I feel is what the employee groups bring; they make it live, they’re the ones who will be able to tell if it’s working or not.”

This is not to say that HR doesn’t have a responsibility to formalise and assist. “Our role is definitely as a facilitator,” says Macey. “Now it’s going to come a bit more from the organisation. We’ve formed a working party; I’m leading it with the CEO, COO and the chief people officer to create a framework and a strategy we can hang this from.”

He adds: “It’s about helping them put their agenda across in the best way, so it’s a structured, important role the group can play improving the quality of people’s lives, helping people to come out and making them feel comfortable with who they are at work.”

At a company that, since it was established in 2003, has always prized inclusivity as a core value – and whose quirky, Google-style offices already suggest a laid-back, inclusive vibe – it might be all too easy to assume that people would automatically feel relaxed and comfortable with being themselves at work.

“It almost feels part of the DNA anyway, and with that you can become a bit complacent,” warns Macey, explaining that in fact, in an organisation of circa 1,400 employees worldwide, it’s easy for people to be unaware of King’s LBGT stance.

“Our challenge at the moment is how do we make sure our internal communications about these efforts get to everybody? Because I don’t think everyone realises the extent of the work going on,” says Macey.

He cites the huge number of straight colleagues commenting positively about King’s Pride presence, as evidence of how important it is for all to see LGBT inclusion as just one example of King’s welcoming approach.

“Comments were around how much pride they have in King, the fact that we are representing ourselves in this way,” says Macey, adding: “The more we can allow people to be themselves at work the less inhibitions they have and the more free and able to contribute they are. That’s so important to us.”

Macey cites, too, watching one new employee’s reaction to RoyaLGBT and friends’ presentation at a recent employee induction: “I was there on the day and noticed one guy sort of wake up. I saw that impact happen when he saw he could be himself at work.”

Unfortunately Macey’s recognition of how difficult, perhaps dangerous, coming out can be, and so the need to ward against complacency, is all too personal. He and his husband were victims last year, while working in Stockholm, of a homophobic attack. The attack left both unconscious on the pavement for an hour before they were taken to hospital, with Macey suffering bleeding on the brain in two places.

“I think people have to make their own choices. I feel it’s regrettable if someone doesn’t feel they can be themselves but I understand it’s difficult,” says Macey. “I do think there are prejudices out there that stop people feeling they can be who they are. We might feel like we’re in the 21st century but look what happened to me less than six months ago. It’s becoming less, but there are those prejudices still out there.”

“I catch myself even now sometimes censoring myself, not necessarily at King but when I go to networking events say,” Macey adds: “There have been times in my career I haven’t been out, but I feel those experiences have made me want to make it better for other people to be themselves at work.”

Macey is, then, determined to see the positives to come out of even his horrific experience in Stockholm: “The response from the organisation, and how heartfelt it was, was just incredible. I feel like there was a sense among people of ‘I can’t believe that still happens today’,” he says.

In fact King’s participation in the NOH8 campaign – launched in California in 2008 as a reaction to Prop 8, the legislation barring same-sex marriage, and featuring photos of people with duct tape over their mouths – was largely inspired by Macey’s attack. The company now has plans to support the It Gets Better campaign.

Again, it’s crucial King underpins this employee-led activity with strong HR, says Macey. Key strategies include online diversity training, non-biased interview training for managers, linking with likeminded companies, and an upcoming talk for the senior leadership team from ex-chairman of Shell James Smith.

Macey explains that Smith’s stance, of trusting and championing employer-led activity, is undoubtedly the right one for King.

“He told a story at a talk I attended at McKinsey where his LGBT group was asking him if Shell could sponsor a float. He said: ‘There are just two things I want you to do: make sure the brand logo is impeccable, and beat the competition and look the best.’

“I thought that was the most wonderful, pragmatic response. It wasn’t ‘what’s the ROI?’, they weren’t trying to over analyse it. It was just the right thing to do.”