In recent years, women have made great strides in the workplace as a result of the increased focus on mentorship such as the Global Gaming Women initiative and other efforts. But we all know there is still a long way to go. In addition to supporting one another in the workplace, we can look at life in general for everyday mentorship opportunities to learn from.
My first mentors were my parents, both members of the Tohono O’odham Nation. They never had the privilege of education and were employed in manual labor jobs all of their lives, but the lessons they taught me shaped my whole outlook on life. From a young age, I learned the value of hard work in overcoming adversity. One of seven children, I was raised in a single-bedroom house in Tucson, Arizona.
I began working at age 13. My parents were very conscientious, hard-working people, and they instilled in me the importance of a strong work ethic and a good education. I promised my father that I would get my college degree.
It wasn’t easy. I attended Stanford University for two years on scholarships from the university and from my tribe, the Tohono O’odham Nation. The culture shock was enormous. I remember one particular Sunday night when everyone was going to the movies where a ticket cost $1. All I had to my name was $1, and I really needed to do laundry. I ended up doing hand wash and going to the movies, but promised myself I would not be in that position again, and that this situation would not be my life. It was definitely one of those “As God as my witness…” moments.
After two years at Stanford, I returned to Tucson and worked for 13 years at the University of Arizona, starting as a secretary and rising to business manager. During that time I also completed my bachelor’s degree and kept my promise to my father.
In 1995, I was asked to interview at my tribe’s Desert Diamond Casino by then-Casino Manager Ned Norris, Jr., who currently serves as the chairman of the Tohono O’odham Nation. I was hired as a shift manager. It was quite a learning experience, going from an academic institution to the gaming industry, but my management and business skills were very much utilized and appreciated by the enterprise.
Ned helped me adapt to the culture shock of transitioning from an academic to corporate environment. He taught me key lessons in leadership and how to operate successfully in this different workplace.
It wasn’t all smooth sailing. When I was promoted to poker room manager, I was not welcomed by the players, management staff or employees, each for different reasons. I asked that they give me a chance to prove myself, and after three months I can say that I had successfully transitioned into an environment that was primarily male-dominated.
During this time one of my strongest supporters was a poker dealer who told me that bets had been made on whether I would succeed or not. She told me her money was on me!
As these few experiences illustrate, mentorship opportunities come in all shapes and sizes—whether it be a family member, a supervisor, a poker dealer or even a situation. What is most important is that I was willing to be receptive to them. I had made the decision at a very young age that I wanted a different life; I wanted more and I wanted better. So now I realize that I was paying attention and being receptive to these informal mentorship opportunities, which have dramatically impacted my career and my life.
I absolutely love the opportunities and challenges that come from working for a dynamic and non-stop industry such as ours. I want to encourage women, particularly Native women, who are considering a career in gaming to know that they can succeed in a gaming environment and that they will have the support they need to flourish.
It’s been a tremendous pleasure to witness the strong reception to the Global Gaming Women initiative, and to see so many great women leaders come forward to embrace the values of mentorship. Although each of us has her own journey to travel, it is only by supporting one another that we can truly succeed.