While many women have carved a niche in the automotive industry, this sector still is, typically, dominated by men. Women in high-level positions within the automotive industry are rare; women hold less than 20 percent of executive/senior-level positions. However, in 2014, Mary Barra made history when she became the first woman to serve as the CEO of a major automotive manufacturer (General Motors).
Other women also are paving the way in this industry and within the virtual reality sector, which is now infiltrating the automotive market. The organization Women in Virtual Reality (or WiVR) highlights the amazing work of women within this industry regularly; check out the site and the work of all members to see the impact and contributions of the women within the industry.
Here’s our list of the 10 most influential women to follow in virtual reality, but this list is in no way comprehensive!
- Dr. Jacquelyn Morie
Dr. Morie is the founder and chief designer at All These Worlds, LLC. With more than two decades of experience within the virtual reality sector, Dr. Morie has contributed innovative concepts and designs that elevate the virtual space. She designed a scent collar that incorporates the sense of smell into the virtual reality realm. Dr. Morie was one of the founders of the University of Southern California (USC) Institute for Simulation and Training; at the institute “…she developed techniques to make VR environments more immersive and emotionally compelling, and helped lead a group of innovative students called The Toy Scouts.”
- Crista Lopez
Co-founder of Women in Virtual Reality (WiVR), Crista Lopez was the winner of the Pizzagatti Prize, from Tides Foundation for “software in the public interest.” Lopez designed OpenSim, which is used by many non-profit organizations. OpenSim is free to download, making it readily accessible to these organizations.
- Sarah Hill
Hill tells stories in virtual reality with the company StoryUP and has won the National Edward R. Murrow award and also received numerous Mid-America Emmy Awards for her work. She also created Honor Everywhere, a virtual reality experience for ill or elderly veterans that allows them to see and experience the memorials honoring them. Hill talked about the project to WiVR, stating: “We were trying to find a solution for terminally ill and aging World War II veterans who were no longer able to physically travel to see their World War II memorial in Washington DC. We were doing live streams from Google Glass to laptops in nursing homes and the set up was not too comfortable and so when virtual reality came out, we knew that was a potential solution for some of the men and women who were unable to physically travel….”
- Orchidee Stachelig
Stachelig is a communications manager for Abylight Studios. She manages relationships with the press and handles social media and other marketing initiatives. Stachelig also was a past editor for Gamesauce. In a profile piece for WiVR, Stachelig was asked about the small number of women in the game development sector, which has been largely dominated by men. Stachelig responded that she felt that “…it is changing.” She also noted that in the Ukraine, tech was mostly perceived as an industry for boys, not girls and this was understood in childhood. But she also acknowledged this was changing. Stachelig also gave some advice to women who might be interested in pursuing a career in game development. She told WiVR: “First of all, do not be scared to give new stuff a try. Secondly, you will eventually get where you want if you have genuine interest in what you are trying and others are doing. The third thing is to do a lot of networking. All the contacts that I have who help me go further, I got through networking and 90 percent of my friends are from the industry.”
- Katie Goode
Goode is the Creative Director (and one of the founders!) of Triangular Pixels, a game studio that created Unseen Diplomacy, Unseen Diplomacy 2 and Smash Hit Plunder. Unseen Diplomacy was the first HTC Vive game in history to be nominated for a BAFTA (for innovation). In a profile piece for WiVR, Goode also revealed that she also was the recipient of the Devon Venus Award in the category of PR Works Ltd Inspirational Woman in STEMM.
- Claudia Backus
Oracle, Facebook, Barnes & Noble…Backus has worked for major companies to design solutions in the digital space. At Facebook, she is the Head of the Portal Content Ecosystem. For Barnes & Noble, she took the standard store to the tablet and ereader and created the digital platform for content.
- Catherine Allen
Allen has been hailed as a VR Hero of 2016 and is the founder of Limina Immersive. She served as the Head of Marketing for Disney Animated for the iPad, which won a BAFTA for Best Children’s Interactive Experience. Allen also served as the executive producer for No Small Talk 360 for the BBC, a VR experience geared to women. No Small Talk was especially groundbreaking, as it was “…the first time a major broadcaster has released VR aimed at a primarily female audience.”
- Jannick Rolland
Jannick Rolland is the Brian J. Thompson Professor of Optical Engineering Professor of Optics and Biomedical Engineering and Professor in the Center for Visual Science at The Institute of Optics and Rochester University. She co founded LighTopTech and serves as the company’s Chief Technology Officer (CTO). In 2014, she was awarded the OSA David Richardson Medal. Her research primarily focuses on three areas: “…(1) optical system design for imaging and non-imaging optics with a current focus on freeform optics, (2) physics-based modeling, and (3) image quality assessment.” In February, Rolland received the Optical Society’s 2020 Joseph Fraunhofer Award/Robert M. Burley Prize, which “recognizes significant research accomplishments in the field of optical engineering.”
- Malia Probst
Known as @TheMalia on Twitter, Probst is a founding partner at VRScout and a cofounder of the WXRFund. Probst hosts VRScout Report, which gives updates and provides the latest news about the virtual reality and augmented reality industry. She also was cited as one of the Top 20 Most Influential People in the VR/AR industry, is one of the Top 20 Women in VR in L.A. and also is among the Top 100 Digital Influencers in the world.
- Christine Cattano
As the Global Head of VR and an Executive Producer at Framestore, Cattano is one of the most influential women in the industry. Cattano was the co-founder of the company’s virtual reality studio, which released the augmented reality experience Game of Thrones “Ascend the Wall.” In 2015, she was named in Business Insider’s 30 most creative people in advertising.
A Look into the Future of Women in the Industry
Orchidee Stachelig mentioned in her profile piece to Women in Virtual Reality about the perception of women in the industry. There still exists in many countries a stereotype about women and the industries in which they might excel; these gender-specific stereotypes often dismiss any female interest in technology or STEM careers. As Stachelig mentioned, tech may be perceived—wrongly—as a sector for men.
Schools have come to understand the low number of women pursuing STEM careers, and many have looked for ways to encourage young women’s interest in technology, sciences, math and engineering. While site after site and publication after publication will release a list regarding who they feel are among the most influential women in virtual reality, perhaps the true reality of this virtual tech sector is that any woman who crosses into this space, occupies it and leaves her mark is, in her own way, influencing the future. Not just the future of the industry, its creations and innovations, but the future of women in this industry, too.
Young girls—young people, in general—need to see progress, they need to see leaders, and they need a mentor. There needs to be someone who goes first, someone who paves the way, who takes the lead. Those people, the individuals who blaze a new path, are the leaders who will help shape the generations that come after them. Girls in elementary school can look to Cattano, Probst, Allen, Goode and every woman on our list and every list of women of influence and see a story of someone who did what maybe they hope to do.
The future of women in virtual and augmented reality is every girl sitting in a classroom, learning math, loving it. It’s the girl who is sketching, whose drawings may one day end up in 3D, as part of an explorative virtual adventure. The future is the girl who is gaming with her friends, beating every level, and wondering what could come next. It’s the young girl who is enamored with science, with exploration, with a curiosity that refuses to burn out.
So this list, the list of 10 women chosen among so many (who need to be listed somewhere, too!) isn’t a comprehensive catch-all, but, quite simply, a reminder that women hold a place in this industry, that women have left a solid mark. They’ve all done it differently, perhaps even within different segments of the industry. But every woman has, in fact, left a legacy.
The automotive sector is still male-dominated. But someone always has to come first to break the mold, to change the tide. General Motors realized that person was Mary Barra. When she became the first female CEO of a major automotive manufacturer, she shattered a glass ceiling into a million shards for girls and young women who were eyeing a place at that table. So the future in virtual reality, in the automotive industry, is a young girl, dreaming of her future. And, one day, that girl won’t just make a list…she will make history.