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Women, Gambling and Glass Ceilings

The below opinion piece was written by our Co-Founder, Christina Thakor-Rankin and appeared in an issue Infinity Gaming Magazine. We believe that it’s important for both men and women to be judged on the quality of their work, and not on their physical or social characteristics. Our favourite line from the article speaks loud and clear to this point: “Like Mrs Thatcher I tend to take the view that if you have to have a go at me on the basis of my gender, age, race, dress-sense, appearance, life-style choices, what I have for lunch, etc. it’s because you have nothing negative to say about my work – which I take as something of a compliment.” We can all take a page from this one.

This is a subject which I have been asked to reflect on a number of times over the last few years, and which if I am totally honest irks me somewhat – not least that I find the concept of any barrier, glass or otherwise, to be fundamentally damaging and unhelpful, whether it’s in relation to gambling or just life.

At best it highlights issues which would be better tackled with diplomacy rather than full on confrontation, at worst it provides an easy out for those who have not yet realised their ambitions.

That said, one only has to visit gambling’s must attend annual love-in, ICE, attend industry conferences and seminars and pick up any publication to understand why the question of women and gambling has not gone away. To a layman stumbling into this arena much of this does give a strong impression of an industry led and dominated by testosterone – in fact if I am completely honest, and a regular visitor to ICE one could be forgiven for thinking that aside of a few more visiting women, and a few less top-less models, the only notable change at the event in the last few years has been a move from the traditional hand shake, to the business man-hug – that rather odd combination of handshake-cum-shoulder bump.

The fact is however, that for such a large industry which employs as many, if not more, women as men overall, the ratio of females at the top does seem to be grossly disproportionate and perhaps does beg the question – why are there not more women at the top?

Before we come onto that prickly question, let me first share with you my views of the sector generally. For me, the gambling industry has always been shaped, influence and driven by life, events and socio-political mores, ethics and values – as such provides a capsule snap-shot of real life at any given point in time.

Whether it be as early adopters of mass technology, such as the internet and mobile applications, adapting to changing environments, legal or otherwise, such as using the smoking ban in bingo halls to push online bingo, acting as a litmus test for the state of the economy (– historically, most moves towards regulation and legalising the market have been linked to raising tax revenue), or a yard-stick for changing moral, ethical and religious values in society – gambling is a socio-political window on the world.

In this context the question is not so much what is the role and position of women in the gambling industry, rather how does the gambling industry reflect the role and position of women in today’s society, and how have things changed?

To understand where we stand today, there be some small value in tracing back the events of the last few decades. The 60s onwards have seen women challenging their role within society but the changes which have seen more women moving into the workplace were not driven by feminist theories and bra burning ceremonies, but by life. The economic and social events of the 70s drove women into work, whilst the growth of the economy and the service and leisure industries in the 80s actively encouraged women to work and ushered in more stringent sex discrimination legislation.

There are some who would say that much of this progress could be attributed to the fact that a female Prime Minister for much of the decade would inevitably result in a hearts and minds shift in the attitude of women in work.

Whilst these decades saw more women enter the workplace, society was still solidly patriarchal – interestingly Margaret Thatcher may have been the first woman Prime Minister but during her historic three terms only made one appointment to her Cabinet, and that arguably a low profile role.

Whilst Mrs Thatcher and her compatriots around the world may not have it been either the result of or pioneers of the feminist cause, the fact is they were there, and irrespective of how they got there, they inspired a generation of still impressionable students to believe that there was more out there than just a part-time job when the kids were at school, or a career restricted to teaching or nursing.

Add in the fact that mainstream media was getting wise to this shift in dynamic and started to embrace a new female demographic and its aspirations – compare the early days of Dallas dominated by the size of men’s oil-wells to the Spelling stables second string some years later where success was now measured by the size of shoulder pads, and Charlie’s Angels to Moonlighting.

More importantly still perhaps, all of this started to prepare a generation of young men who had in the main grown up with clear domestic role models, but were now surrounded by women who had grown up on a diet of Thatcher, Madonna, Maddie and Alexis Colby-Carrington, for the changing tides of the 90s when these young impressionable women started to come of age.

It was the age when we started to see women who had started their careers in the late 80s start to take on more senior roles throughout life: politics, business, media and, of course, gambling. Was there resistance to this? Of course, for this was a transition period where the new world came into direct conflict with the old world – a world where young men did not know whether to support their career minded girlfriend or their traditional minded men only middle-aged boss.

The 90s was also when I started working in the industry. Did I encounter negativity? Yes of course I did – but no more or less than in any other aspect of life, and where it happened in the work-place it was often far less to do with the Company and the industry and far more to do with the fact that my detractors were also my fiercest competition. Like Mrs Thatcher I tend to take the view that if you have to have a go at me on the basis of my gender, age, race, dress-sense, appearance, life-style choices, what I have for lunch, etc. it’s because you have nothing negative to say about my work – which I take as something of a compliment.

I have in the past been cited as a role-model who has succeeded in a predominantly man’s world. This is not entirely accurate, as there were women in managerial positions when I started work in the industry, and there have been throughout my career. Where I have been slightly different perhaps is that I have dabbled in an area which is traditionally, solidly male – sports and betting – but this is simply because that is what I am interested in. And that is the key – if you want to work in sports and betting you have to be really, genuinely interested in it. The reality is that many women are not, which explains the lack of women at senior levels in this area.

But this is not so of other areas. Many of the most successful bingo operators have women at the fore. Many of the land based casino operators and providers are led by women. Many of the world’s regulatory bodies are dominated and often headed by women, the UK included, and most HR, marketing and affiliate teams include a healthy gender balance.

Undoubtedly some of these will have experienced resistance – but the resistance needs to be contextualised. Often the resistance to women is less about sexism and more about preserving a status quo and maintaining a comfort zone for those who fear exposure and challenge.
There will still be those who say that compared to other industries, gambling still has comparatively less women. This may well be true – but this is the gambling industry – a moral and ethical Marmite-esque mine-field, so cannot be treated in the same vein as less controversial sectors.

For me there are no barriers, glass or otherwise, to women working in this industry – only the usual challenges one would expect to encounter in life; the jealousies, the insecurities, the inadequacies, the ignorance, the –isms, and the ambitions of others.

So going back to the start and what events such as ICE say about the industry. I think that in the broad scheme of things it actually says very little. ICE is a show-piece event, a place to see and to be seen – the high gloss cover of the Big Book of Gambling – and we all know about books and covers.

 

— Christina Thakor-Rankin

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