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Accelerating D&I in the gambling industry

| By Cole Rush | Reading Time: 5 minutes
In part one of this analysis, iGB speaks to various experts who offer their thoughts on how we as an industry can approach diversity and inclusion to grow, learn and make a positive impact.

Gaming companies are modernising their diversity and inclusion practices to fall in line with public trends and to foster an environment where anyone – regardless of gender, race or ability – can succeed. But how can the industry make the most of D&I programmes and embed them to spark meaningful change?

The first step is to establish well-meaning goals.

It’s a point that Laura Da Silva, director at SG:certified – an organisation that provides sustainability, environmental and social certifications for the gaming industry – is keen to hammer home.

“D&I initiatives at gambling companies typically aim to increase diversity and inclusion within the company and to create a more inclusive culture for employees and partners,” she says. “Until now, a focus on gender diversity has perhaps been the most visible part of the D&I agenda for the gambling industry, especially following controversies at various shows.

“The industry must also go beyond gender and understand the value of creating a welcoming, inclusive and high-performing work environment that learns from diverse backgrounds, experiences and voices.”

Laura Da Silva, director, SG:certified

Diversity programmes must encompass all aspects of diversity, as Da Silva notes. It’s important to provide support for all underrepresented communities, especially in an industry that has historically been (and is currently) dominated by a white male demographic.

“As the industry welcomes more and more people from different backgrounds and cultures to its ranks it has never been more important to implement D&I initiatives,” says Ani Akimyan, head of HR at igaming solution provider Technamin. “Companies need to value all employees no matter their socio-economic backgrounds, working experiences, race, religion, disabilities, sex or orientation.”

Technamin strives to do exactly that because its business employs a global workforce with various world views.

“Companies should have diversity policies which are effective internally and reflect our values externally,” Akimyan continues. “Diversity is also about fairness and that includes job safety and transparency. D&I initiatives can also boost innovation in the workplace by being open to different ways of thinking and solutions.”

Christina Thakor-Rankin, principal consultant at 1710 Gaming Ltd and board advisory co-founder at All-In Diversity Project, notes that the shape and execution of a company’s diversity programme is informed by that company’s definition of diversity and reasons for change.

“Some companies may be focused specifically on gender diversity and increasing the numbers of women, especially at more senior levels, whereas others are more focused on the wider definition of diversity and increasing levels of employees from all underrepresented groups,” she says. “Any initiatives will be reflective of this and include anything and everything, from changing how and where they recruit, development of existing employees through targeted learning and training, apprenticeship schemes, employee resource groups, partnerships with D&I organisations, to quota systems and targets.”

Any and all of these reasons are noble ones although, according to Thakor-Rankin, not all companies go about implementing D&I with the right attitude.

“There are also a handful of companies embracing D&I because it’s on trend or everyone else is, but without really understanding what it is or what it involves. This is dangerous. We live in a world where social media rules and it is only a matter of time before they are called out and/or found out.”

Ani Akimyan, head of HR at igaming solution provider Technamin

To better understand one company’s overarching perspective on D&I, and the programmes it runs, we spoke to Penn Entertainment’s Justin Carter.

Penn case study

Carter is Penn Entertainment’s SVP of regional operations, where he covers Louisiana and Mississippi. He also heads up the company’s Diversity Committee, which drives Penn’s D&I strategy.

Penn’s Diversity Committee, formed in 2020, runs various programmes aimed at building community and increasing diversity both within its business and outside of it. Its first ever programme was the Diversity Scholarship.

“It’s aimed at equity in education,” Carter says. “So it’s not necessarily aimed at ethnic diversity, even though ethnic diversity is definitely captured to a large degree. And the programme is really aimed at diversity – whether it be social, economic, or ethnic – and providing opportunities for our team members, kids who may not necessarily have an opportunity to fund their education. So we dedicated a million a year to that programme.”

During the programme’s first year, 57% of scholarship recipients were first-generation college students. Years two and three? 58%.

“It shocks me every year,” Carter says. “It’s changing the lives of families and providing opportunities they haven’t had before.”

Penn surprises scholarship recipients, calling them into the office under the auspices of some logistical detail – missing a line on the application, or confirming some personal info, for example.

Christina Thakor-Rankin, principal consultant at 1710 Gaming Ltd, board advisory co-founder at All-In Diversity Project

“You have one of our employees, the recipient’s mom, who has worked security for us for 20-plus years. She finds out her daughter won the scholarship. We have a band come in, streamers, balloons and the tears start flowing. These people tell you what it means for them, and it’s impactful.”

Celebrating diversity – literally – is part of Penn’s playbook.

The company also runs a leadership development programme called Emerging Leaders.

“This programme is aimed at frontline workers,” Carter says. “If you have aspirations of going into management, the eight-week course provides you all the tools you need to have the best shot at possibly getting that type of job.”

It’s a hard sell when a job requires experience but the candidate doesn’t have any. Emerging Leaders helps fill that gap.

“We help put people in a position to land those first management jobs with skills like interviewing, conflict resolution, paperwork, finance and more,” Carter says.

Since the Diversity Committee began, Penn has seen great progress.

“We’ve helped more than 100 students with our scholarship programme,” he continues. “We have partnered with six HBCUs [historically black colleges and universities], dedicating over $4m to them and forming long-term relationships to drive STEM [science, technology, engineering and maths] and create new opportunities for their students.”

The Diversity Scholarship dedicates $1m per year in tuition scholarships to children of Penn employees. Meanwhile, the HBCU STEM scholarship programme has committed $4m over five years to establish scholarships in science, technology, engineering and maths fields. Penn also has internship opportunities for these students across its organisation.

Justin Carter, SVP of regional operations, Penn Entertainment

Carter says D&I programmes like the ones at Penn go a long way to creating a positive corporate culture.

Penn also created Women Leading at Penn to help women pursue leadership roles within the company. It offers mentorship and cohort programmes to help diverse team members thrive.

“We’re active in the communities, and we’re driving change in the community and making a difference for our people,” Carter says. “That’s what creates connectivity with the company, and being able to provide scholarships [and] provide a true path for you to grow your career at Penn; those are the things that we’re proud of.

“That’s what really makes a difference and that’s why it’s important to have these things in place. It’s really about creating a culture that is inclusive, fair and gives everybody a shot.”

As for the future, Carter says: “We won’t stop until we are unequivocally the best in our industry, best in class at D&I, for sure.”

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