Saturday, March 2, 2024
DIGIPRIDE 2021Spotlight Interviews

Spotlight on… Jasmine Koolhoven, SEGA Pride

Jasmine Koolhoven is the International PR Manager at SEGA Europe and the co-founder of SEGA Pride, the new employee representation group at SEGA Europe.

With a mission to support SEGA as a company and SEGA staff in LGBTQ+ diversity and inclusion, SEGA Pride is a new group that only launched 12 months ago, but is already making a huge difference to its members both directly at SEGA Europe and also its subsidiary studios.

I wanted to talk with Jasmine to find out more about her background and the groups aims. I also wanted to find out about how the group has been so successful while starting during a pandemic!

Hi Jasmine, thanks so much for speaking to me. Why don’t we start off with you introducing yourself and what you do at SEGA?

I’m Jasmine Koolhoven and I’m the International PR Manager at SEGA Europe. Aside from the day job, I’m also the co-founder of SEGA Pride, our LGBTQ+ employee group.

How long have you worked at SEGA? 

I’ve been at SEGA for three and a half years now. 

What did you do before working at SEGA? 

I’m originally from the Netherlands and have lived in the UK for almost five years. I moved to the UK for love: my partner and I met in Bali in 2016. I was travelling and he was working there. I then moved to London, as that was where he was from. 

Initially, I started working in hospitality, but I have a background as a broadcast journalist. However, it’s quite difficult to find work if you’re from a different country and you don’t know anyone, so I did hospitality.

Then I moved into games QA, and I started testing games or language specifically for Dutch translations, which was amazing. I worked for a couple of agencies and one of the jobs was working for SEGA, testing Football Manager. Then an internal opportunity came up for a PR Assistant at SEGA Europe and because I have a background in journalism, and a degree in journalism I was like… “why not?” So, I applied, and I got the job. I’ve had a few promotions on the way and now I am a PR Manager.

When did SEGA Pride start? 

Suneet Sharma and I started talking about SEGA Pride in May 2020. We discussed the need for a staff representation group for LGBTQ+ colleagues and then later for the wider community of LGBTQ+ gamers. I was completely new to doing something like this, while Suneet was in an LGBTQ+ group at university but had never run one before. 

We talked a lot, together and with other people at SEGA, and decided that we wanted to start this group. Now, we’re a year down the line, May 2021 was our one-year anniversary and we’ve done a lot! I’m proud of everything we’ve achieved.  

T-shirts featuring the SEGA Pride rainbow logo made for Pride month – these were given to streamers and SEGA Pride members
What is its mission? 

The main function of SEGA Pride is to support SEGA as a company and SEGA staff in LGBTQ+ diversity and inclusion. SEGA Pride functions as a creative and inclusive space for those identifying or exploring their LGBTQ+ identity and for supporters of the LGBTQ+ community.

At SEGA Europe we aspire to create a culture where diversity in all its forms is valued, and where our diverse talent is empowered to be their full, authentic selves. We are proud to support each of our employee resource groups, who each celebrate their unique and diverse voices and contribute greatly to SEGA Europe’s inclusive culture.

Why did you want to be involved in co-running it? 

I think for me, personally, I have quite a few friends in the LGBTQ+ community and I’ve grown up with them when I was younger. I’ve seen friends who’ve really, really struggled with their gender or their sexuality, and it can be a tough ride. I know what it means to have that support. I’ve been that support. I’ve been there with friends who have gone through difficult times. But I’ve also had friends who had a good coming out for instance, or a very good experience, because they had a good support network, because their parents were very supportive, because they worked somewhere where they were accepted, or because they had friends that accepted them. 

I care a lot about equality, and I find it extremely important that everyone – no matter your gender, your ethnicity, your background, how you’re raised – should be equal, and they are equal in my opinion. So, when someone doesn’t get the same treatment, just because they are gay, or trans, or black, or whatever, I find that very difficult to accept. 

I just wanted to help and be the helping hand, or a person that people can reach out to. Not necessarily to be the face of the group, but to be the support. It’s difficult to know exactly why, but I love doing everything with this group. Everything we’ve been doing over the last year has been extremely rewarding, especially when you hear what it means to people.

Some of the articles SEGA Pride members wrote for the internal company intranet
Launching during a pandemic must have been tough, what have you been doing virtually to keep things going? 

We set up an intranet page on our internal communications system, where we have now about 15 articles written in the last year. These are original articles, so all written by staff, about different topics that people find important, like raising awareness or talking about specific days such as National Coming Out Day, or Lesbian Visibility Week, or Trans Awareness Month. 

We organised webinars with different parties, to raise awareness, and we had good attendance. For each of these activities, we invited our studios as well. So, we sent out an email to our partners at Creative Assembly, Sports Interactive, and all the other studios to say SEGA LGBTQ+ Network, as we used to be called, is hosting a webinar next week, we would love for everyone to join us. We also recorded them so staff could watch them in their own time. 

We’ve also done some quizzes and it’s been really, really nice to have people from the different studios on that as well. 

One of the longer-term goals we set is that we would really like to work together more with the studios on different initiatives and we want to work together more closely with SEGA America too. 

Screenshot of the final livestream for Pride Month fundraising efforts with two incredible streamers (Miabyte and Thormungandr) alongside Charlotte Rouget-Murphy and Jasmine from SEGA
You’re 12 months in, what does the next 12 months look like for SEGA Pride? 

Our first 12 months’ goal was to raise awareness within the company, make sure everyone knows we exist, and that we are established within the company before we actually go out there and say we exist, because we felt that we don’t didn’t really have the pillars to stand on otherwise. 

The next 12 months is about reaching out to our studios more, I think that’s one thing. We want to find ways where we can collaborate, especially with the ones that are in the UK, like Creative Assembly, Sports Interactive, Two Point Studios and HARDlight. 

We also want to attend the Pride Parade in London, as one big SEGA family. We’d love to be able to go and celebrate who we are and that we’re proudly supported by SEGA. 

We are also signed up to the Diversity Champions Programme from Stonewall. We want to work together with Stonewall and get that advice, get that support and have them look at our policies, because that’s a big thing.

You say that SEGA fully supports you, are we talking about the parent company SEGA from Japan? 

Yes absolutely. I work for SEGA Europe, but we inform SEGA Japan of everything we do, and they are aware of our LGBTQ+ group. In fact, our beautiful rainbow logo was designed by someone at SEGA Japan, because they celebrated Pride last year in Japan too! So yeah, they’re super supportive and they check in with us regularly to see what we’re doing. For instance, a couple of weeks ago I got a message from someone at SEGA Japan asking ‘what are you guys doing for Pride month? Is there anything you need help with?’ So yes, they’ve been really supportive of everything we’re doing.

Do you think having diversity groups positively affect the games you make? 

Yes absolutely, and we’re excited to get more involved with the development of SEGA’s games going forward to help drive more LGBTQ+ representation in-game. Although there’s some fantastic work happening there already in games like Football Manager.

What more do you think the wider games industry should be doing to support LGBTQ workers? 

Such a big question! I think by continuing to talk about it and by publishers and studios actively coming out and saying, we support this community. And I’m not only talking about the LGBTQ+ community, I’m talking about all sorts of representation like women in games, people with disabilities, people of colour and more.

The only way to make the industry inclusive is to hire people from all these different backgrounds and to actively make that your number one priority as a hiring policy. There’s lots of people from LGBTQ+ backgrounds, BAME backgrounds, and people with disabilities that would love to work in the industry, but we need to get them to apply for the jobs. I think having these Employee Resource Groups can help spread that positive message and prove that people who work at SEGA are happy to work there, that they feel supported and that they are listened to.

Robin Gray

[He/Him] Robin is the Founder of Gayming Magazine. He's on a mission to fly the LGBTQ flag proudly over the video games world and drive forward authentic representation in the industry, in the press and in the games we love.