Extended reality (XR) encompasses augmented reality, virtual reality, and mixed reality, and it’s lately been a hot topic in the tech industry. With AI technology, 5G, and visual screens becoming more impressive than ever, together with computing on the edge and faster connections, VR innovators can now deliver the kind of immersive experiences we want most.
While it’s difficult to put an exact number on it; our research at Evenness showed that less than 10% of all people visible in the Media who are actively creating content related to XR are female at present.
With some of the earliest founders of VR being male, the lesser-known history includes an extensive number of women who made significant contributions to the field.
Jacquelyn (Jacki) Morie, a pioneer in Virtual Reality (VR), a former VR scientist at NASA and the Founder All These Worlds, LLC,, has researched the creative VR experiences between 1985 and 2007 where as much as 70 % of those creators were women. In her interview with Vice answering to the question if that ratio holds up today, she said:
I think not right now. You still have some of these women artists that never stopped working in virtual reality, like Margaret Dolinsky and Brenda Laurel. Others didn't create anything because it cost so much to make these things, but I did a little informal survey. Oculus is running this Mobile VR Jam, and 1,700 people signed up for it. I went through all of them and found every name that was remotely female and my best guess estimate is that 6 percent were women.
So here is our blunt question - WHERE ARE THE WOMEN who are constantly shaping the future of VR and the future for all of us? We think it's time they had a voice.
Many of today’s most revered creators and pioneers in XR are women. Here is our list of 15 inspiring women behind the very many innovative XR practices:
Nonny de la Peña - VR journalist and CEO of Emblematic who pioneered immersive journalism. Today Nonny is widely known as the godmother of VR.
Beth Marcus - inventor and founding CEO of EXOS, a start-up acquired by Microsoft in 1996. She was responsible for the Dexterous Hand Master, one of the most sophisticated input devices available for VR. Now, Beth is Sr Principal Technologist, Halo Health & Wellness at Amazon.
Carol Shaw - former Microprocessor Software Engineer at Atari and the first female game developer. Carol developed the game River Raid which became an instant classic that earned $500,000 by 1985.
Brenda Laurel - a video game designer and researcher, an advocate for diversity and inclusiveness in video games, an interaction design consultant, founder and chair of the Graduate Design Program at California College of the Arts.
Margaret Dolinsky - an artist, research scientist and Assistant Professor at the School of Fine Arts at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana. Her work involves digital painting fused into projections for opera and experimental film.
Ann Lasko-Harvill - Director of Product Design at VPL Research. She designed new user interface paradigms and devices for networked virtual reality including the DataSuit™, a full body system for capturing a person’s movements.
Sylvia B. Wilbur, a British computer scientist who helped develop the ARPANET, and a leading researcher on computer-supported cooperative work, whose work included 9 research papers, such as "A Framework for Immersive Virtual Environments (FIVE): Speculations on the Role of Presence in Virtual Environments" and “Virtual Social Clubs: Meeting Places for the Internet Community.
Jessica Outlaw - a culture and behavioral researcher who released a qualitative study of the experiences of 13 women in social VR (2017) and released a survey (2018) of 600 users on harassment in the early days of social VR.
Mary Lou Jepsen - a technical executive and inventor in the fields of display, imaging, and computer hardware, PhD. She was the co-founder and first CTO of One Laptop per Child (OLPC). She founded and led two moonshots at Google X, reporting to Sergey Brin, and was an executive at Facebook / Oculus VR, leading an effort to advance Virtual Reality.
Cathy Hackl - a book author and an influencer in the XR field. She is a futurist who talks about how AR and VR can be used as the new medium of communication for marketers.
Anna Zhilyaeva - a modern day artist who uses Google Tilt Brush to create magnificent virtual artwork. She recently recreated the famous “Liberty Leading the People” at the Louvre in virtual reality.
Gaby K Slezak - co-founder and Head of XR at Evenness, who is one of the leading European female VR & The New Media landscape pioneers out there paving the way forward.
There are many more examples out there, but it’s clear that women have begun to find their places in VR long time ago. Now it is time to let the world see their achievements!
=> TOP 10 list of European women innovators, researchers and creators in XR [Coming up!]
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