As a girl growing up in the Midwest in the late ’60s and early ’70s, gender equality was just beginning to impact the educational system. As a rising junior, I met with my high school counselor to discuss my classes for that year.
Although I had not particularly distinguished myself as a math student, I had taken the advanced classes offered at the time and asked if chemistry might be an option. Although I don’t recall the exact words, her reply was to suggest that journalism might be a better option for a woman.
The makeup of the chemistry class my junior year strongly demonstrated that I was not the only female student given that advice. I regretted agreeing with that counselor many times over, as I shied away from college math and science classes.
What a difference a few decades have made for young women seeking a good education. In 1970, approximately 8 percent of women were college graduates, compared to 14 percent of men. By 2009, women were on par with men attaining a college degree, at 28 percent—more than tripled in 40 years. Equally gratifying is the increase in the number of degrees in science and engineering—from 36 percent to 50 percent over the same time period.
Graduate school degrees tell an even better story, as approximately 11 percent of women aged 25-34 have two or more years of graduate school compared to 8 percent for men. Clearly, women have recognized that the best path to a desired career most often requires a college degree or more.
Unfortunately, while women have made great strides in education, these advances have not fully transferred to the workplace. In 2010, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor figures, women’s earnings were 81 percent of men’s on average (an increase of more than 27 percent from 1979, however).
There are many often-cited explanations for this disparity. While variations do occur from state to state and by race and ethnicity, and while women are well-represented in the professional occupations, they are not as well represented in the higher-paying fields. Professional women make up a large part of the work force in education and health care, for example, but are underrepresented in computers and engineering, which traditionally pay more. (I guess that high school counselor has not retired yet!)
A headline from a 2011 article in USA Today shows how accepting we have become of this disparity. Although the article was entitled “Number of Female ‘Fortune 500’ CEOs at Record High,” that record high number was 98 females out of 3,049 publicly traded companies. Only 15 females of the top 500 companies had attained that goal. We clearly need to work harder if a record-high 3 percent makes news.
The gaming industry without question has offered significant opportunities for minorities and women. Just more than half of the workforce is made up of women, and there is increasing attention on the part of gaming companies to have the workforce mirror the customer base. Where the industry has room for improvement is in the ranks of managers, directors, CEOs and corporate boards. The leap from manager to director or director to CEO can be a big one.
The desire to do better is one of the reasons Global Gaming Women (GGW) was created as a program of the American Gaming Association. The mission of GGW is to support the development and success of women through networking and mentoring opportunities. Another major focus is education, which is supported by a dedicated subcommittee of talented women.
To assist them in their work, GGW has hired McClain Resources, an independent consulting firm with expertise in human resources, to conduct a research-based assessment of the educational needs of women in the gaming industry, to identify best practices in the gaming industry and within other industries, and, ultimately, to recommend the most effective model(s) for professional education that grooms the female leaders of tomorrow.
Among the questions we hope to answer early this year through this project are the following:
• What are the optimal skills and knowledge for women during the different stages of their careers?
• Are there pivotal points in a woman’s career where different skill sets are required?
• What is an optimal work environment for women to grow and thrive?
• Are women not reaching their full potential because of the lack of professional development opportunities or the wrong types of opportunities?
GGW clearly has a very big agenda with significant challenges ahead of it. It will take the talented efforts of our co-chairs, Patti Hart and Virginia McDowell, our committee members, AGA staff and many others to see measurable improvements from our efforts.
But I think we can all take inspiration from President Obama’s recent inaugural challenge that “it is now our generation’s task to carry on what those pioneers began, for our journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts.”