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Diverse Definitions

What diversity really means in corporate America

Diverse Definitions

When we hear “diversity” used in a general sense, it evokes a picture filled with faces reflecting various ages, genders, races and ethnic backgrounds. What do we envision when it’s used as part of a corporate mission statement? That depends on whom you ask.

While most of us agree that representation from various groups in all sectors of the gaming industry is good for business, we need to focus on representation in positions of influence. How many female leaders and minority groups are represented in the top tiers of a single gaming corporation? How much decision-making power do these individuals have? Do they have a say in providing new opportunities and promoting diversity in business practices?

I don’t pretend to speak for every minority group. As a black woman who runs a government-affairs consulting practice for gaming clients, I believe we’ve made some progress. As an industry, however, we’ve still got a lot of work to do beyond the smiling multi-colored faces that appear in the corporate annual reports.

While many gaming companies have established entire departments dedicated to addressing diversity needs, there are still some misperceptions about what real diversity looks like. When I first took a job in the government affairs department of a major gaming company in 2004, it took me more than a year to persuade people in the surrounding community that I had been hired to handle government relations and public affairs, not diversity in the workplace.

When politically organized minority groups and representatives of initiatives like Global Gaming Women interact with corporations, they typically find themselves dealing with high-level executives from the diversity department. If corporations truly want to promote women and minorities in this industry, diversity should not be relegated to a departmental conversation but be a discussion that happens at every level of the organization. Otherwise, isn’t diversity just tokenism?

The executives at the helm of the largest gaming companies in the country seem to understand the difference. MGM Resorts International continues to collect top honors from national diversity publications and watchdog groups, while other major companies are following suit.

The philosophy must extend beyond the designated office space housing a company’s diversity department. It should permeate every department at every level and extend to outside contractors, consultants and vendors. In fact, most companies now offer periodic reports that outline their diversity goals, numbers and achievements. Obviously, the conversation about diversity has grown, but has the advancement of women been a part of this discussion?

As an example, the Congressional Black Caucus Institute will host its annual Tunica Policy Conference in Tunica, Mississippi, August 15-17. In conjunction with this event, the American Gaming Association will host its annual Diverse Vendor of the Year Awards, honoring the industry’s top minority-, women- and disadvantaged-owned business enterprises. In addition, the AGA will also host the first Global Gaming Women breakfast in Tunica, which will help female leadership continue the dialogue with their personal insights on career and business issues.

This is where minority- and women-owned businesses can really do our part to help realize the goals of true diversity. We need additional venues, similar to the events taking place in Tunica, to collaborate on these ideas and help diversity become an integral part of the conversation. Many companies are looking for professionals who seize these types of opportunities to grow their business potential and connect with others in leadership on these topics.

If you’ve stayed on the leading edge of your profession and the latest industry trends, many of the better gaming companies want to get in touch with you. I started my government-affairs consulting practice in 2010. I’m pleased that my former employer, a major gaming company, is now one of my clients. I attribute it not only to maintaining a good rapport with past employers and clients, but remaining a relevant part of the conversation. If potential clients don’t know minority consultants are there, we can’t expect to be included.

Looking forward, there are many questions that arise when attempting to continue the conversation about diversity in the gaming industry. How do we keep diversity at the forefront in a changing gaming environment?

The proliferation of casinos throughout the United States and abroad presents us with new challenges. Diversity numbers should increase based on filling positions in areas along the Eastern seaboard and in the South, where there is a higher concentration of minorities in the workforce.

How do these numbers translate to influence and dollars for minorities? States like Pennsylvania have included diversity requirements in their laws, giving the Gaming Control Board unspecified investigative powers with regard to applicants. Should diversity plans be included as part of the requirement for gaming licenses in all new jurisdictions? And where do women fit in this conversation overall?

When all of gaming has truly embraced diversity, legislative mandates and internal quotas won’t be necessary—but we haven’t quite gotten there yet. Progress isn’t always linear; we need to keep a watchful eye and do our part as minority and female business professionals to ensure true inclusion.

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