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It's Time to Pay It Forward

Success in business brings responsibilities

It's Time to Pay It Forward

Over three decades ago, I decided to leave my position as a production assistant at CBS television in Philadelphia to take a chance on a career in the emerging gaming industry in New Jersey. I joined Bally’s Park Place as a publicist in 1981, and began a journey that I certainly never envisioned when I graduated with a degree in communications from Temple University. My father George McDowell was the director of the library at the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, and as the oldest of his four children, I was the lucky one who got to visit dad at work.

I remember sitting in the library surrounded by filing cabinets that literally vibrated when the massive presses were operating, and believing that my future would definitely be in a newsroom. My wise father, however, told me the same thing he told all his children—if you are willing to work hard and treat people with respect, you can be anything that you want to be, and do anything that you want to. And he encouraged me not to be afraid to aim high.

For over 30 years, I have been guided and inspired by a talented and diverse series of mentors. They were all very different; they always materialized at just the right time and right place, and I learned many valuable lessons from each of them. They encouraged me to constantly learn, to challenge conventional wisdom, and to challenge myself. They built on the solid foundation provided by my parents, and their wisdom truly defined my career. And now, it’s time to pay it forward.

A few years ago, the Saint Louis Business Journal ran a cover story on the lack of women who served on the boards of publicly traded companies in the region, and contrasted this with the number of women who not only served on the boards of 501(c)3s, but in many cases served as board chairs or presidents. Why was it, they pondered, that women have the requisite skill sets to run very large and very complex charities, but are rarely considered for board seats at public companies?

Women held only 41 out of 453 local board seats—less than 10 percent—at the 49 major public companies based in St. Louis included in the survey. The president of St. Louis University’s Advancing Women in Leadership program noted that more women would be invited to join boards if the companies looked to their non-profit experience.        

“Women serve on vast numbers of non-profit boards, and lead them well, but they are not recognized for it, and don’t get compensated for it,” she said. “Maybe some of the problems that we see on our public boards might not exist if we opened our eyes beyond our comfort zones.”

Last year at G2E, the American Gaming Association launched a new initiative designed to help foster stronger relationships between top female executives and promising young leaders across the international gaming industry. Co-chaired by myself and IGT CEO Patti Hart, our vision was a development program that would enable women in the gaming industry to learn from each other and to share ideas. As part of the launch, I moderated a panel of amazing women who all stepped outside of their comfort zones by becoming pioneers decades ago in the male-dominated world of gaming.

As I listened to each of them tell their stories of how they had overcome the challenges that they faced, the one constant was that they also spoke of the significant roles that mentors had played in their careers. So I was not surprised when the results of a nationwide survey of women in gaming indicated that they were most interested in a program that provided opportunities for networking and mentoring.

I have also not been surprised at the international response to the launch of Global Gaming Women. Hundreds of female executives from all over the world have attended GGW events since then, from ICE: Totally Gaming in London to the Southern Gaming Summit in Biloxi to G2E Asia in Macau. The discussions that have taken place at these events have provided ideas and inspiration for the initiative, and we are currently working on launching two major components over the next several months—a dynamic website, and an online matching tool for mentoring.

The conference at G2E 2012 in Las Vegas this October will feature several Global Gaming Women sessions. There will be numerous opportunities to learn and network, highlighted by a keynote luncheon with BBC anchor and the author of Womenomics Katty Kay.

A survey conducted by the AGA a few years ago indicated that women now outnumber men in gaming industry jobs, yet hold a relatively small percentage of management positions. It’s time for that to change, and it’s vital for the future of the gaming industry that we cultivate the next generation of female leaders. Patti and I are looking forward to developing Global Gaming Women into an effective vehicle to help achieve this important goal.

We look forward to seeing you at G2E in October.

Virginia McDowell retired as president and CEO of Isle of Capri Casinos in April 2016, after a 35-year career in the gaming industry. She currently serves as president and board chair of Global Gaming Women.

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