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Gender ‘Diversity’ in Gambling – is it time to change the tune?

This article appeared in February 2017 issue of Infinity Gaming Magazine and was written by our Co-Founder Christina Thakor-Rankin. We launched All-in shortly after this article was published, and looking back, this was the start of a very power conversation and move towards change. At All-In we believe there are very talented people in this industry as well as very talented people who should be in this industry. If we don’t fix the diversity issue, we risk our losing our customers, not being ready for the technology of the future and behind the curve in terms of global sector leadership.

The discussion about gender diversity in betting and gambling has been rumbling on for the best part of a decade now. It is not a new discussion, but one which is regularly re-ignited in the build up to ICE with the promotion of various women’s events. ICE itself of course, where the sight of scantily clad promotion girls amongst what is a largely male audience usually manages to raise a reaction, which then carries through to the Women in Gaming awards and then eases off again for another year whilst we all get on with the business in hand.

Over the years there have also been several initiatives aimed at shining a spotlight on women in the sector. Certainly there is no shortage of interest at the start, but what is interesting is that despite various best efforts to get a proper discussion going and take the conversation forward, since 2010 in fact and the first Women in Gaming Conference, no one initiative has ever really managed to gain the momentum or level of ground-swell support needed to make a real difference or impact.

Given the large number of women and working within this sector, the lack of on-going traction, engagement and momentum raises a couple of obvious questions.

The first and most obvious one is, are we getting our proverbial knickers in a twist about nothing? Is there actually an issue with diversity in the industry or are we just jumping on a populist bandwagon? The second less obvious one is, if there is an issue to be addressed, is the lack of momentum, interest and engagement a reflection of the way in which the industry is approaching the subject?

Starting with the question of whether the problem is real or imagined. Certainly, if we use the ICE show as a visual barometer of the industry the conclusion any outsider would draw is that it is disproportionately male and white. Step behind the scenes into the more serious conference, seminar and smaller event areas however, and it is a very different story. Without exception, all, of the events I attended, including those which I fully expected to have had an audience bias due to the specific subject matter had audiences which were representative of the whole ‘diversity’ spectrum – gender, race, culture, age.

If one takes a step back and looks at the industry as it might be seen by someone who is not involved in it, it could be argued that it is in fact one of the few sectors where ‘isms’ appear to carry less weight. I for one cannot remember the last time I visited a gambling premise anywhere in the world where the staff were not representative of society at large. I would also say that in my experience, this representation is also carried across into the world of operators, regulators, providers, suppliers and social support groups – and as we continue to do more across jurisdictions and borders this blending will continue.

The reason for this is simple. Over the years, and going back to the 1990s, I have had the privilege of managing teams which have been representative of every race, most religions, gender, age, sexual orientation, and differing degrees of outward physical and mental capability. This was not due to of some evangelical pursuit of a diversity agenda or attempt to hit a quota – it was simply the result of a recruitment strategy that sought to hire the best person for the job. And that is what you must do I you want to survive in an industry where profit margin is almost entirely reliant upon having good people on the ground who know what they are doing. Hire friends, family and ‘faces that fit’ to meet quotas at your peril.

The privilege of managing such diverse teams has also brought the realisation that in some circumstances the use of the terms ‘gambling’ and ‘diversity’ are wholly incompatible. Unlike other sectors, very few people grow up aspiring to work in betting and gambling – most of the people I know, myself included, came to it by chance (no pun intended). Conversely, many people do consciously and actively choose not to work in this sector. For a large proportion of the world’s population the concept of betting and gambling is anathema. Whether their aversions are based upon religious, moral, social, cultural or ethical grounds, betting and gambling remains a divisive subject, with more people against or indifferent to it than for it, and broadly speaking the act of gambling perceived to be more of a male rather than female activity. Traditional conclusion gambling is mainly a male activity.

There is also the fact that for those on the operational side of things – it’s damn hard work. Long unsociable hours, constantly shifting regulatory landscape, increasingly competitive market and narrowing margins, very specialist skills and knowledge, and the need for 24/7 vigilance real commitment and dedication. Irrespective of gender, race, age, or anything else, this industry is not for the faint-hearted, and business and professional success can often mean being married to the job and having to make personal sacrifices such as children or family. Traditional conclusion women can’t have it all, unless it’s a 9 to 5 job in admin or back-office role.

Finally, and irrespective of our own often self-inflated views and perspectives, betting and gambling is, and for the greater part, and with the exception perhaps of lottery, always will be a minority interest activity. Compared to say, retail, banking, health, education, hospitality, tourism, etc. etc. the gambling sector is relatively small.

This means that it employs fewer people than other industries, has comparatively fewer opportunities for progression, and in the case of gender and diversity quotas, is going to be reflective of those jurisdictions which have a regulated sector and the culture and levels of diversity prevalent in those jurisdictions. Traditional conclusion there’s a waiting list for the top jobs and the men have been queuing longer than the women.

Of course the conclusions are nonsense. Evidence of diversity within the industry can be found at all levels – from gaming room floors to back-office teams, to the heads and boards of the world’s most influential and forward thinking regulatory authorities, the heads and boards of some of the world’s most successful operators and suppliers, and some of the most recognisable individuals in the realm of social responsibility are, or include women.

My experiences with the sector in most parts of the world, and especially within some of the emerging jurisdictions is that diversity is not an issue, so why is it that it constantly comes up as a discussion topic? Is it a case that this is a legacy hang-over for those established jurisdictions where gambling has existed for some time and where its origins are founded in a time when more traditional attitudes prevailed – or is the industry simply jumping on the political correctness bandwagon?

The answer in my experience is no.

Gambling in terms of product and consumer appetite may be different to other sectors, but the way in which gambling businesses operate and organise themselves is the same as any other sector or industry. This means that gambling is as no different from those other sectors and industries currently engaged in the gender debate – namely that there are not enough women at the top.

ICE may not be a true reflection of the industry and the attitudes of men who work in the industry, and there may be valid reasons as to why some aspects of the sector have greater appeal to one or other gender, and yes there are exceptions to the rule across all areas – but really when it comes down to it, a graphical representation of the number of women who work in the industry to the number of women who make it to the very top is still very much a trapezium – and not the pyramid it should be.

The fact that there is a gender balance at the lower levels and notable exceptions at the top shows the huge disparity between capability and opportunity. There will be some who suggest that the fact that some have made it to the top indicates that the opportunities are there for those who have the capability, but in that case the geographical shape would not be a trapezium it would be a gently stepped pyramid.

To be fair to the industry, attitudes are changing. Some of this is down to the fact that the industry is now global and growing, attracting a new generation who have grown up with a different set of values and views. Some is down to the fact that the product and the consumer has changed and evolved. The advent of online gambling and an increase in female players brought the realisation that women might be better at understanding what a female customer wants than her male counter-part, or that an operations team where half the employees are women might benefit from having women within the management team. Some of this is down to the fact that the role of women in life and the workplace has changed, and that people within the industry are willing to challenge traditional attitudes, and be seen to support initiatives which look to address the imbalance and force open discussion and debate.

And whilst there has been change there is still more to do, for this is very much at the coal-face, where the benefits of women in the workplace are tangibly visible. For those who sit at board level or operate strategically or at a distance the value of women in the workplace is not always fully understood or appreciated. And this is the challenge, and the point that needs to be made is – if the inclusion of women has made such a positive difference at the bottom, just imagine what impact their inclusion at the top could have.

As we move to a more competitive digital global economy, businesses will naturally need to focus more on what an individual can do rather than where they are from or what they look like. That, together with more enlightened and progressive legislation and view will bring change whether it is looked for or not.

This being the case, and given the lukewarm reception previous initiatives have had should we change our tune and sit back and wait for the inevitable (- we could, for change is almost certainly coming whether it is wished for or not) or do we continue our efforts to continue to champion the cause of not just gender diversity but raise our voices to champion diversity in all its shapes and forms.

The same old tune – just a little louder.

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