Iron Galaxy’s family friendly policies shaped by Orlando mother

Alicia Cano’s first pregnancy six years ago did not go as smoothly as she would have liked.

Complications caused by a rare condition known as HELLP made the process especially difficult, with the life-threatening condition characterized by blood pressure spikes, potential seizures and liver rupture.

Thankfully, the staff at Orlando Health Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women & Babies helped pull her through.

“It’s got a not-zero mortality rate for both baby and mom,” the 37-year-old recalled in a recent interview. “I was knocked out for a week at the hospital.”

But as Cano dealt with physical complications, her experience also helped mold what became the first parental leave policy at her employer, Iron Galaxy Studios.

They asked what I thought and then came out with a policy that pretty much matched up with what i said

Alicia Cano, Iron Galaxy Studios

The Chicago-based video game development company, which has about 95 of its 220 employees in Orlando, offers 13 weeks of paid leave for a birthing parent and five weeks for non-birthing parents. Iron Galaxy’s website shows that the company is hiring for 14 positions in Orlando.

Because of her complications, Cano said she needed all of them.

“They asked how much time I thought I’d need,” she said. “They asked what I thought and then came out with a policy that pretty much matched up what I said.”

A 2017 study by the International Game Developers Association found that 22 percent of the industry is women.

Those numbers practically mirror Iron Galaxy’s workforce.

As more women have made their way into the industry, businesses have introduced and expanded policies related to parental leave.

Alicia Cano has worked on ports of large video games like Batman: Arkham Knight for Iron Galaxy Studios.

“Understanding your employees, their needs and what benefits are relevant to them is key to creating programs and policies with real impact,” Iron Galaxy Co-CEO Chelsea Blasko said. “When Alicia became our first employee to give birth, we needed to re-evaluate what we had been offering for parents.”

The result was the more robust parental leave policy, Blasko said.

Cano’s husband, Stephen, also works at Iron Galaxy and was given three weeks off during Alicia’s first pregnancy.

“I don’t know what we would have done if I had to burn my own (paid time off),” said Stephen, 36. “It was great to stay home and support her. They were flexible.”

Stephen and Alicia’s path in the video game industry have been similar.

Both studied computer engineering at University of Florida before pursuing advanced degrees at UCF’s Florida Interactive Entertainment Academy.

Alicia has served in several positions at Iron Galaxy for the last eight years, having done work on titles like Scribblenauts Remix, Batman: Arkham Knight, Diablo 3 and Overwatch.

Stephen, meanwhile, has been a programmer on 14 titles while at Iron Galaxy during the last nine years.

“You work with some of the most passionate people you’ll ever meet,” Alicia said. “Everyone is here because they love games at some level or they love making games.”

Alicia Cano has taken her situation and created something that has been beneficial to the entire office.

The Orlando studio became the first to create a women’s group that serves as sort of a support and advice gathering for parents at Iron Galaxy’s studios.

“I wanted to meet people in my office and I’m awkward so instead of asking people like a normal person, we made a women’s group,” said Cano, who at the time was the only woman engineer in Orlando.

“You work with some of the most passionate people you’ll ever meet” at Iron Galaxy.

The group meets once a month and has a loose membership, with the voluntary meetings drawing about 10 people or so.

Her leadership role in that group has also drawn questions from expectant fathers.

The parents group rose in its importance during the coronavirus pandemic

“We’d hop on and say, ‘What are you doing? Have you heard this? What are the numbers for kids?’” she said.

Stephen and Alicia had to navigate the closing of their daycare, juggling schedules and working from home.

“Basically, one of us had to be a parent and one of us had to be working,” Stephen said. “It was great that Iron Galaxy was super understanding. They knew that everybody was suddenly trying to figure out a new lifestyle.”

“People throw around the word family and it’s a really tight group,” Alicia added.

It helps that the company has traditionally kept its Orlando workforce smaller. However, even with recent surges in hiring, Alicia says that atmosphere has been maintained.

“They really take this idea of building a sustainable company where we can make games with our friends is the tagline and they keep to it,” Alicia said. “I absolutely love it and can’t imagine doing anything else.”