From Monopoly to Madden NFL

Electronic Arts Chief Studios Officer Laura Miele is one of the few women to break into the leadership ranks in the gaming industry

By Erin Chan Ding

As a young girl, Laura Miele begged her parents to hold family game nights, as she was hooked on games like Monopoly and Battleship. Then Miele began playing video games on Atari and Nintendo consoles. Later, with the rise of online gaming, World of Warcraft and similar games mesmerized her because of their social interaction and shared experiences.

Those years of game playing paid off. Now, as chief studios officer for Electronic Arts, or EA, headquartered in Redwood City, California, Miele oversees creators who work on some of the most popular products in the gaming world, including Star Wars, Battlefield, Madden NFL, FIFA, and The Sims.

As one of two women on EA’s 10-person executive team, Miele is astutely aware of the underrepresentation of women in the gaming industry, as players, creators, and executives. Miele, who has worked at EA for more than two decades, calls herself a “fierce advocate for women in the workplace” and leads EA’s Women’s Ultimate Team, an employee resource group dedicated to an inclusive culture throughout the organization and beyond. She has spearheaded EA’s Star Wars partnership with Lucasfilm Ltd. and Disney. She also serves on the board of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, which encourages and advances philanthropic solutions to challenging problems.

Gaming continues to boom as American colleges now recruit esports coaches and offer gaming scholarships. A study released last year by research firm GlobalData predicts that the video game market will grow from $131 billion in 2018 to $305 billion in 2025. As of March 2020, Electronic Arts, a publicly traded company, had a market capitalization of more than $29 billion, and the share price of its stock has doubled in the past five years.

Miele took time to talk with Diversity Woman about her hardest lesson as a leader, the aspects of an effective meeting, and how she nabbed such a great job title.

Diversity Woman: You’re chief studios officer for Electronic Arts. How did you get such a cool title?
Laura Miele:
 It is a cool title, isn’t it? I’ve held leadership roles across publishing, marketing, and analytics and have always been a champion of transformative innovation. Our studios are the creative heart of the company, delivering next-gen games and experiences for players around the world. I am lucky enough to lead a team of more than 6,000 creators working on some of the most popular video games in the industry. When our CEO, Andrew Wilson, approached me for the role, it was an opportunity I knew I wanted to take.

DW: You’ve been at Electronic Arts for two decades. What first drew you there?
 I have always been a fan of gaming—and play. I’m still an avid gamer. After going to school for architecture, something
I was also very passionate about at the time, I happened to get an opportunity where part of my interview process was sitting at a computer to play a game while communicating (and playing) with someone in Germany. At the time, it blew my mind, and I knew that I wanted to be a part of the expansion and transformation of the gaming industry.

DW: How would you describe your leadership style, especially when it comes to trying to connect with your staff?
 I’m fortunate enough to work with the largest collective of game creators in the world.
I try to allow as much creative freedom as possible, which gives developers the ability to create the best game experiences for players. I firmly believe that the power needs to be in the hands of the most creative groups in games. I also encourage our studio teams to have a bias for disruption. I think that is what will lead to the future of game development.

DW: How big a fan were you of video games as you were growing up? Any favorite all-time gaming systems and games?
 Growing up, I would beg my parents to have family game night and sit and play board games. I also started playing video games when I was very young. If I had to pick a favorite of all time, it would be World of Warcraft because of the social and shared experiences it gave me with family and friends.

DW: Women, especially women of color, have been dramatically underrepresented in tech, especially in gaming. Why is that and how can that be changed? What is EA doing to attract, retain, and promote women?
 There is absolutely more room for all women in every facet of game development. We need more diversity in creative and technical leadership to offer new perspectives—shaping characters, stories, and experiences that reflect the vibrant and diverse world we live in. I have always been a fierce advocate for diversity in the workplace and in our games. I serve as the executive sponsor for the Women’s Ultimate Team, WUT, an employee resource group dedicated to cultivating an inclusive culture where women are given a seat at the table and feel empowered to share their unique perspectives and ideas. More than half my leadership team is female and we know first-hand that games are a powerful platform for inclusion and diversity. This is why we’ve introduced an inclusion framework into our game development process.

More broadly at EA, we invest in attracting, developing, and retaining the best creative and technical talent in the industry. We have developed specialized recruitment efforts designed to reach underrepresented groups. We also partner with organizations to create opportunities for the future by helping girls from all backgrounds learn the skills they need for a career in games.

DW: What kind of personality and character mix do you look for when you’re building a team?
 I look for people who have a bias for disruption—leaders who are not afraid to challenge the status quo.

DW: What’s been the hardest leadership lesson you’ve learned?
 I would say the human factor of being a leader. Earlier in my career, I definitely had moments when I thought steamrolling others was the only way to get things done. Over time, I became enlightened to the fact that bringing people along with you is a much more effective way to lead.

DW: What are some of your favorite books on leadership?
 Two of my favorites are Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World, by retired General Stanley McChrystal, who led US Army special operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, and Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces that Stand in the Way of True Inspiration, coauthored by Ed Catmull, former president of Pixar and Disney Animation Studios.

Team of Teams is a contemporary walkthrough of matrix organizations and focuses on shifting the decision-making from the Pentagon to the field. Creativity, Inc. addresses creating a sustainable, creative culture and emphasizes the balanced role we must play in being a multiplier for creativity and galvanizing the best minds into action.

DW: What do the most effective meetings look like to you?
 Number one would be when people understand the objective and purpose of the meeting, and everyone is on the same page as to why we are there. Number two, that there is a clear driver of the discussion. And number three, that people laugh and enjoy the meeting!

DW: The gaming world is quickly evolving. It seems as if it changes in a matter of weeks. How do you constantly innovate to keep up or set trends?
 Transformation is occurring in the way that people access games and play games and the platforms on which they play. With continuous new and fresh content drops, there are deeper ways to engage with the game and the brand. Live services, which include in-game spending that often attracts longer game play, have really invigorated the way that players interact with us.

DW: How would you describe the culture you’ve tried to implement at EA?
 I view our studios as a tribe of tribes. We all work together to target the same outcomes for the larger organization while staying true to what allows each individual studio to rise up to the best version of itself for players. DW

Erin Chan Ding, an independent journalist based in Chicago, writes about business, people, travel, entertainment, race, and identity for a variety of newspapers, magazines, and websites.

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