A recent AGA study gave me a new perspective on my own experiences and some thoughts about women in leadership.
The study, titled “The Development and Advancement of Women in the Gaming Industry,” found that “when women are more equally represented in leadership roles… companies report a measurable impact on their bottom line. In addition, equal gender representation results in greater levels of innovation, a better resistance to financial crisis, and higher levels of productivity and satisfaction.”
Furthermore, the study found, “Gender diversity is a critical component to organizational financial performance—beyond an employee development initiative, it is a business imperative.”
Unfortunately, the study also indicates that our gaming industry lags behind other industries in the numbers of women in director roles and above. Gaming women told the researchers that stereotypes, gender differences and perception of work-life balance issues had hindered their ability to move up the corporate ladder.
As vice president of strategic projects, I hold a leadership position at Scientific Games Corporation, a company with more than 5,000 employees, and I am privileged to sit on our executive committee. I work with fantastic people and do interesting forward-thinking work, including working on Scientific Games’ acquisition of WMS.
Management at Scientific Games, particularly President and CEO Gavin Isaacs and Group Chief Executive of Gaming Bill Huntley, are extremely supportive of me, my work and our goals. My position gives me a broad view of the industry—and I don’t see many women in leadership roles. Why?
At age 23, I started at IGT as an international management trainee after I wore out an IGT secretary with nearly a year’s worth of faxes, letters and phone calls meant for her boss in search of an entry-level job. IGT hired me as one of five international management trainees—the only woman. Mary Russell, Bud Russell’s adventurous daughter, became my boss. Mary sent me, a fairly proficient French speaker, to Latin America alone.
My first landing was in Peru, where Fujimori was sending military personnel with machine guns to find the revolutionary Shining Path in the neighborhoods I was visiting. Bombs occasionally went off, sometimes at casinos. And forget about receipts for taxi rides; it was hard enough to find a taxi without rotted-out floorboards. I was once detained in Colombia and spent time in other unstable and unsafe countries with market potential. Three years later IGT had offices in Argentina, Peru and Brazil, and significant presence in new markets.
During those years, top executives from ITT Corporation and Hilton taught me what operators look for in evaluating new casino and hotel projects. Timing was my friend, and so was Chuck Matthewson’s IGT culture. The culture fostered an environment where people were hired and retained for their positive attributes and their team-building skill set to grow the business, and generally enforced a “we grow together” attitude.
Both men and women (more men) served in leadership roles across the company. My career began in this environment, in a defined leadership development program with an influential woman boss who supported my growth.
At age 28 I started a slot machine route from scratch that, over time, significantly outsized its competitors and generated nice cash. Without a mentor, I made mistakes along the way, and it was a lonely journey. I learned some important things:
• Cash flow is king (or queen).
• Competition is tough but I’m tougher.
• Think for today and five years from today.
• Business is fundamentally about people somehow driving revenue or bottom line, so serving them properly is key.
The AGA study found that corporations with 24-hour operations in other industries, such as Ernst & Young, General Mills, Marriott International, Procter & Gamble, General Electric and IBM, have high ratios of female executives largely because of their advancement programs, which include career counseling, women’s affinity groups, formal mentoring, succession planning, sponsorship programs, executive coaching and leadership training.
These programs give women the opportunity to forge strong relationships with male leaders, and also create an environment in which people can succeed through multiple paths. Perhaps as gaming corporations’ employee work forces have grown, the men in control of executive offices and C suites have brought along the people they know, without noticing the women they’ve left behind.
Another factor in women’s advancement to leadership roles is women themselves. Women can be horrible to other women—tearing them down, not building them up. Men generally do the exact opposite.
As women come up the leadership ranks, we should take an active role in bringing other women with us. If you are the only female in a roomful of men, ask yourself: Am I identifying and seeking to involve other women who should have a seat at the table and can also add value? As the AGA study indicates, improved financial performance seems reason enough to actively bring talented women into leadership roles.
At Scientific Games, I work with many talented women (and men). One woman last week wrote me an email sharing that she and three other women in her department signed up for a leadership program after the motivation they felt from GGW’s Power of the Purse event. Fantastic!
Another highly ranked woman recently asked me for advice on how to grow beyond her current role. That was a great moment for me, because she saw me as a person who would advise and assist. I hope I did, and I hope all who read this will consider taking positive action to advance women in their organization in the future.