Fe/male Switch's Startup Video Game Aims to Close the Gender Gap in Tech

Solving the gender gulf one simulation at a time

Key Takeaways

  • Fe/male Switch is a Netherlands-based startup that intends to increase the share of women in the tech startup world.
  • Gamified technology continues to become more common as enterprising industries attempt to modernize their approaches.
  • The startup plans to develop its mission of gender equality beyond tech into other industries through first-hand simulators.
Promo image for Fe/Male Switch video game

Fe/Male Switch

The tech world is getting a much needed makeover thanks to the developers behind the new role-playing video game simulator, Fe/male Switch

No-code website builder Tilda is teaming up with Fe/male Switch to help end gender bias in the tech industry. The Netherlands-based simulation game seeks to give users a first-hand, virtual look at what it takes to create, manage, and lead a successful startup.  

"The idea came to us during the [last two years of lockdown]. We thought of things that could add value to being an entrepreneur. Companies were looking for more females in technology and startups, so we decided to come up with this gamified, educational platform," said Violetta Shishkina, co-founder and CEO of Fe/male Switch, in a phone interview with Lifewire. 

Built with the consumer in mind, Fe/male Switch will teach future female tech leaders how to develop their brands' influence, create profitable businesses, and gain investor-side know-how. The second pilot program will open on March 7. 

Disrupting an Industry

Only 32 percent of the tech workforce is female, down from 35 percent in 1984, according to a research report by information technology firm Accenture. A major reason for the lack of female representation in tech, research finds, is pervasive gender bias filtered through "bro culture." Even female entrepreneurs cite trouble finding funding, with only 2 percent of venture capital going to female business owners.  

"Women can be intimidated by this industry. But they are not afraid as much in this gamified way. Here, when you put the label of a game on it, you're going to lose, and who cares," Shishkina said. "With the gamified experience, your brain still thinks it's real because you're learning something and creating something. We're hoping this will raise their confidence level, so they'll try the same in real life."

Like real life, the game has deadlines and the potential for failure. But like video games, it has quests, rewards, and replayability. Creating a product as enjoyable as it was educational was important to Shishkina and her team. This is a new take on video gaming as praxis, similar to military operations using video game simulations to train soldiers in combat. Fe/male Switch provides mentorship services to the game's students and is one of the first games of its kind. 

Stella Friaisse was one of the original 15 users for the game's initial pilot playthrough in 2021. Now, she works in partnership development for the Fe/male Switch team and hopes her story will inspire others with doubts. 

"It's very modern. Everyone is curious because they haven't heard about anything like this. That [we got] to experience startup life from different perspectives is something you can't really get anywhere," Friaisse said in a phone interview with Lifewire. "I was nervous in the beginning, but it taught me a lot about the way the work is in a startup."

Turning The Switch 

The official release for Fe/male Switch is set for 2022. The purpose of Fe/male Switch is to help close the gender gap in tech, but the video game will be available to people of all genders to participate. 

Technology is one of the leading job markets worldwide, seeing a boom since the onset of [working from home]. Certain sectors of tech are projected to grow faster than the rate of traditional occupations through 2030, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Teaching would-be tech workers from the comfort of a video game, where risk-taking and failure have no real-world drawbacks, is a modern take on mentorship and on-the-job training.  

three woman working in an office on their laptops

Flickr / wocintech (microsoft)

And it doesn't stop there. In an attempt to stay up-to-date, the startup simulator has taken to non-fungible token implementation. The very controversial tech will be integrated to allow users to create their very own NFTs of their avatars, complete with an ownership certificate.

Shishkina and the team at Fe/male Switch hope to leverage the game's success into a multipurpose platform beyond the tech industry. With ambitions of a gamified STEM version and the foundations of a grade school version currently in development, Fe/male Switch is more than a gimmick, Shiskina says, it's a revolution.

"You don't need an idea to join. You don't need anything to start the game. We'll show you how to be creative and how to brainstorm. We will show you how to do the technical and creative side," she said. "It's always better when you understand it takes time, like a real startup. The one thing we request of you is your time."

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