In April, the American Gaming Association released a report on workplace diversity based on a survey of manufacturers and operators. Twenty-six member organizations took part, contributing data on gender, race and ethnicity.
The results showed that gaming as a whole is “significantly more diverse” than hospitality overall (61 percent of employees are minorities, compared to 42 percent in the U.S. workforce). Operators have marked a 20 percent increase in racial diversity over the last decade. And on the manufacturing side, 45 percent of employees are minorities, compared to 38 percent in the broader manufacturing workforce.
But there’s still work to be done. When it comes to the executive ranks, it’s still a 70/30 split, male to female. That gap becomes a chasm when it comes to racial minorities. Collectively, Asian, black and Hispanic employees make up fewer than 22 percent of the highest-ranking gaming execs.
‘A’ for Effort
To reach diverse representation in the workplace, organizations have to be deliberate and consistent about hiring policies, inclusive practices and equitable pay.
Aristocrat Gaming “has really been forward-thinking in this space,” says Cait DeBaun, the AGA’s vice president of strategic communications and responsible gaming. The game manufacturer “sets and publicly shares objectives on gender diversity, reports them, and does so on an annual basis.” CEO Trevor Croker has said diversity, responsibility and sustainability “are not only good for business—they’re the right thing to do.”
Geo Comply gets high marks for its IDEA Council (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Action), which offers programs that “support historically disadvantaged groups, (give) back to our local communities and (strengthen) diversity and inclusion,” according to a statement by company co-founder and CEO Anna Sainsbury.
Penn Entertainment is also at the top of the class. In 2021, the regional U.S. casino operator announced it would invest $4 million over five years in a STEM scholarship program for historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) to “create a pipeline of talent,” says DeBaun.
The U.K.-based All-In Diversity Project has released its own rankings, recognizing Sky Betting, the Kindred Group, IGT, Light & Wonder and Penn Entertainment for their efforts to boost diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI).
These companies see the value of a workplace that reflects their communities and customers, says DeBaun. “We know a more diverse industry, whether it’s at the entry level or in the C-suite, is going to deliver a better product for our customers and a better neighbor for our communities.” It will also “achieve the business results investors and others are looking for. And we’re continuing to raise the bar.”
If women and minorities are still hard to find at the top, she adds, the pipeline is getting more crowded.
“Hopefully as we look at the next generation of leaders, that diversity builds. We’ve done a lot to address these disparities and made a lot of progress, especially compared to the broader workforce.”
Blind Spots, Broken Rungs
The continuing scarcity of women and minorities in the executive ranks “has been noticeable and often criticized,” says Jane Bokunewicz, faculty director of the Lloyd D. Levenson Institute of Gaming, Hospitality and Tourism at New Jersey’s Stockton University. “It can most clearly be seen in program brochures for industry-focused conferences, which predominantly feature white men in executive positions.”
The most glaring recent example was the 2021 Global Gaming Awards, which featured a 52-person panel described as “a dynamic cross-section of the global gaming industry.” But photos of that panel—which included just one woman and no black people—prompted a chorus of jeers.
Gary Roudette, of awards organizer Players Publishing, was quick to defend the lineup, pointing out that, fair or unfair, the panel accurately reflected the makeup of the executive ranks at the time.
“We acknowledge how this looks,” he said, “but the sad fact is there are not many women CEOs in the gaming industry’s leading companies.”
Some jobs still tend to be defined by gender: according to All-In Diversity, human resources is still 70 percent female, while tech jobs are mostly held by males. But things are looking up: “The latest results suggest that the industry’s efforts towards greater gender balance in these areas is starting to have an impact.”
Among the logjams is gender bias, conscious or unconscious, starting with job postings. A 2021 report from Glassdoor Economic Research says descriptors like “rock star,” “superhero” and “ninja” can cause women candidates to self-select out of the applicant pool. Other research shows that women are less likely to apply for a job unless they can check off 100 percent of the stated requirements, while men readily apply with 60 percent.
In addition, a 2021 “Women in the Workplace” report from management consultancy McKinsey & Co. describes a “broken rung” that almost guarantees women will not reach equal representation upstairs. For every 100 men promoted from entry-level to management, only 87 women and 82 women of color are promoted. As a result, men significantly outnumber women at the managerial level, which is the pathway to higher leadership positions.
That’s the kind of glass ceiling—invisible but impermeable—that keeps many qualified women out of the corner office.
There’s an old song about working women with the lyric, “I wish the respect was reflected in the check.” Often, it’s not, as shown by the 2022 Nevada Workforce Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Study, which looked at DEI both in the state’s gaming and non-gaming sectors.
Co-authored by Caesars Entertainment board member and former two-term Las Vegas Mayor Jan Jones Blackhurst and onetime Nevada Gaming Control Board Chair Becky Harris, adjunct law professor at the International Gaming Institute at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, the report points out one form of discrimination that’s alive and well, 60 years after it was prohibited under federal law. It was way back in 1963 that President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act, one of the final acts of his administration. But in 2023, women statistically earn far less than men.
Equal Pay Day illustrates the difference. The metric, referenced in the Workplace Study, states that white women on average earn 83 cents for every dollar earned by men. That means they have to work until March 15 of the following year to earn what their male colleague would earn by December 31. For black women, who make 58 cents on the dollar, Equal Pay Day doesn’t come until September 21 of the following year. And Latina women, who make 59 cents on the dollar, must work almost two years to make as much as white males make in a year.
Blackhurst, known as a champion for workplace diversity, ironically takes a dim view of some DEI programs, which can be more about PR or even appeasement than documentable progress.
“Companies always make diversity and inclusion an initiative, but it isn’t an initiative; it’s a change management strategy,” she says. “And unless they’re really willing to see it that way and measure where they are in the process, they’re never going to be successful. They’re just going to keep throwing out the data that make them look good.”
She envisions an employment platform that guides female job applicants through the hiring process, then matches them to companies committed to fair gender representation. And it’s all about facts, not feelings.
On the company side, “it would rate businesses as to their workplace environment,” says Blackhurst. “Have they done a pay-equity analysis? What’s their representation? What’s their turnover? How many women are in the C-suite? How many are vice president? Then it would come back with a pretty representative cultural score that says, ‘OK, here’s a good (employee) match for you.’
“If they can build eHarmony, they can build this.”
Unfortunately, women are sometimes reluctant to champion other women when it comes to career advancement, believing only a chosen few will be admitted to the inner circle.
“I was on an elevator once with two other women talking about this very topic, pathways for women specific to the gaming industry,” Harris recalls. “And one woman said, ‘I never do anything to help other women, because there’s such limited opportunity. If I were to mentor or support another woman, she would become my competition.’
“I don’t buy the argument that we’re all fighting to acquire our sliver of a single pie,” she continues. “The possibilities are infinite, and it’s so critical that women in leadership positions think of their responsibility to help bring others along on the journey. It’s really lonely being an only, and it’s much more fun to build a collaborative pathway.”
JoyceLynn Lagula, associate principal and studio leader at JCJ Architecture in Las Vegas, faced three strikes early in her career: “I’m a woman, I’m a minority (Filipina), and I could be considered quite young. For me, those were difficult portals to move through; I had to learn how the game is played to navigate it better.”
She recalls a close friend, also a minority, who told her, “‘I’ve had to work twice as hard and prove myself five times as much because of where I am and what I am.’ She’s part of the LGBTQ community as well, so for her it’s even more difficult.”
Diversity at work and especially at the top is pivotal for those still climbing the ranks, she notes. “I’m proud to say that in the Las Vegas JCJ office, 65 percent of employees are minorities and women. It’s a good opportunity for my team to see that they can actually grow within leadership here at the firm.”
In her view, the gaming industry is “doing better, but it could be better still. It’s still an old boys club, because people trust what they know,” and often don’t recognize their own implicit biases.
Ruchika Tulshyan, author of the book Inclusion on Purpose, wrote a 2019 article in the Harvard Business Review which said, “It’s important to accept that no one is pre-loaded with inclusive behavior; we are, in fact, biologically hardwired to align with people like us and reject those whom we consider different.
“Undoing these behaviors requires moving from a fixed mindset—the belief that we’re already doing the best we possibly can to build diverse teams—to one of openness and growth, where we can deeply understand, challenge and confront our personal biases.”
The Covid Effect
The Covid-19 pandemic may have thwarted DEI efforts across the board, on the front lines of employment and farther up the chain. McKinsey & Co. documented “an exodus of female talent during Covid,” says Harris, “so much so that we basically undid all the gains we’ve had for women in the past decade, because they were suddenly thrown into multiple roles at once. They had to maintain their employment, they had to work from home, they had to be their child’s school administrator, and they often were caring for a parent or another family member.” A schedule like that can and did lead to burnout on the part of many working women.
Kristen Shockley, associate professor of psychology at the University of Georgia, found that women shouldered most of the responsibility on the home front during the pandemic. “Something had to give,” said Shockley, in an article posted on the website of the American Psychological Association. And given the pay gap between men and women, it was often the woman who gave up her job to take on a caregiving role.
More than women leaders were affected. Lower-level employees in retail, leisure and hospitality were especially vulnerable to layoffs and elimination during Covid. Per McKinsey, workplace-automation trends are expected to “take a greater toll on women and minorities… Avenues for economic advancement will continue to be a challenge for them.”
The AGA report states that the gaming industry is “on a path that will hopefully lead to true diversity at every level… But it will take all of the determination and commitment expressed in the report, as well as hard work and persistence among industry leaders.”
DeBaun calls the study a benchmark “to understand our strengths and our areas for opportunity, and how can we as the AGA can convene our membership to address these opportunities and drive forward.”
Harris says, “It’s nice to see upward and some momentum in addressing underrepresented populations in employment and promotion. It’s great that they’re making a concerted effort to find more diversity where it’s appropriate, and have it on the radar that those are their goals.”
Bokunewicz agrees the industry is inching ahead, albeit in fits and starts. “It’s refreshing to hear industry leaders express their commitment to DEI and to hear directly from CEOs who show pride in positive results where they’ve been achieved,” she says. “By building on the success achieved at the low/mid level and continuing the strong focus on DEI, it has the opportunity to achieve progress at these higher levels, moving toward more equitable and visible representation.”
All-In Diversity has marked “a noticeable shift from passive policy to active awareness and practice.”
Speaking at the Las Vegas Sands’ In Focus DEI Conversation Series in March, Blackhurst called on the gaming industry “to be very intentional about achieving equal representation. There’s an opportunity for us to be leaders. We can make a very conscious commitment to having equal representation by women, say by 2030, and then aligning to do it.”
Meanwhile, companies that want demonstrable results “will do themselves a great favor if they create the metrics by which they can judge their efforts at the end of the year,” says Harris, “to see where they’ve come from, how they’ve progressed as they continue this journey.
“Because this is a journey, not an event. And so no one ever fully arrives.”