Dr Sally Gainsbury
Director, University of Sydney Gambling Research & Treatment Clinic
According to Dr Sally Gainsbury, director of the Gambling Research & Treatment Clinic at the University of Sydney, her inclusion in iGB’s Most Influential Women “signifies that being outside of the industry doesn’t preclude you having an influence on how the sector is approaching [the] hugely important topic of consumer protection.”
The fact she’s included, after player protection pioneer Maris Catania made 2020’s list, confirms how pivotal consumer protection and safer gambling have become for the igaming sector.
Dr Gainsbury, also associate professor at the University of Sydney’s School of Psychology, had her first formal interactions with the sector in 2007, working as a psychologist at a public health treatment centre for individuals with alcohol, drug and gambling problems.
Since then, she has published over 100 research papers, with her work on technology and gambling helping transform policy and pioneering the field of internet gambling research. During the pandemic, she helped fill the conference and convention gap by creating the Technology, Risk and Gambling webinar series.
Dr Gainsbury’s influence in part derives from being one of the few gambling academics in the world to have the respect of all major stakeholders, including those working in the industry.
Her Twitter account is a must-follow for anyone with an interest in tracking safer gambling developments, something she puts down to “being really open”.
“I think that’s incredibly important,” she says. “As an academic working outside of the gaming industry, I’ve always been open to different perspectives and have actively sought to try and understand the priorities and also the barriers to the industry.
“I’ve always really tried to understand the different perspectives of stakeholders, whether those of policymakers, regulators, industry or consumers, and how we can work together to reduce gambling-related harm.”
This mindset is also how the industry can help create a more diverse and inclusive environment to help the next generation of females and under-represented groups follow her up the ranks, she says.
As for the challenges she has faced along the way, these “have been responsible gambling and consumer protection not being sufficiently prioritised, particularly in the US compared to some other jurisdictions”. So how has she conquered these?
“My personal experience of overcoming these has been to always be honest and challenge those expectations. So not to sugarcoat things, but to go to industry conferences and to describe the research that is going on and look for ways to influence change using data, research and stories to demonstrate the importance of addressing consumer protection.”
Being recognised as influential is “incredibly impressive”, says Gainsbury, but “is really a recognition of how important research is for the gambling industry and how important consumer protection and responsible gambling is now.
“And it’s a real honour.”
Laura McAllister Cox
Chief compliance officer, Rush Street Interactive
With years of experience in the gaming industry, Laura McAllister Cox has seen it all when it comes to how and when women are integrated in the gaming industry.
“I have been doing this for 40 years,” she says.
“I certainly spent a lot of time being the only woman in the meeting room, or in the board room.”
This is why she’s particularly pleased to be nominated for this year’s Most Influential Women award.
“I am honoured and gratified to receive this recognition. I think women in gaming have come a long way.”
McAllister Cox began her career as a partner at Cooper Levenson April Niedelman & Wagenheim and has held a variety of advisory and consultation roles since then. When asked what has contributed to her success, points to her career as a lawyer.
“I think my ability to build relationships and to give and earn respect,” she says.
“Both as a lawyer and a compliance professional, I think my role is often to be a diplomat and every day I am working with internal and external stakeholders on any number of topics or issues at any given time.”
In terms of how she has navigated the male-dominated gaming industry, McAllister Cox speaks of how being involved with marginalised groups has allowed her invest in leadership positions.
“I think the industry is doing a really good job creating policies and awareness of the need to create and foster opportunities for women and other underrepresented groups. The difference is, lead by example.”
“I make a point of conducting my business to be mindful of the opportunities to lift others up. Even in my own department that I oversee, I am proud of the diverse group of individuals we have brought together, and always appreciate the varied points of view their different backgrounds add to the conversation at hand.”
Looking at the gender imbalance of the industry, McAllister Cox sees a hopeful future for more equal consideration, where gender has little to do with industry success.
“I think we’re in the ‘do’ phase. We know what we need to do. Now we need to continue to do it,” she says.
“We need to be mindful and find and raise up talent so that we get to a goal of recognition not being about gender, but where recognition is about doing a great job in the industry.”
Maria Naveira Sund
SVP engineering, Kambi
For Maria Naveira Sund, the importance of a senior colleague recognising your potential and helping you take that first senior step-up can never be overestimated. She says “after working and struggling for many years” a female colleague identified her talent and helped her secure her first managerial position.
Prior to joining Kambi in March 2018, where she has since enjoyed a stellar rise with two promotions to oversee a department of over 350 people in offices across the globe, Naveira Sund admits she experienced discrimination at different stages throughout her career.
“At the time it was challenging but in the long run it has made me stronger and more determined,” she says.
That experience has informed how she approaches management. “I always keep my eyes open, because there are people, perhaps in a minority group, who have great potential but may not have been given the chance to prosper yet.”
The significance of receiving this recognition for Naveira Sund is that “hard work, being yourself and maintaining your values are the right things to do and these are what I always strive to do each day.”
She also hopes to serve as a good example for other women, showing them it is possible to assume senior roles in technology.
So aside from seeking out other senior people she felt could help her develop, what does she see as the secrets of her success, particularly at Kambi, which she credits with providing her with some “incredible opportunities” over the last three-and-a-half years?
“A passion for my work, a passion to constantly improve and a passion for making a difference together with other people. I believe you should always be honest about what you want in your career and to learn and understand how to get there.”
She calls for more effort by companies to communicate the progress of under-represented groups, and to help those that may be less likely to air their opinions: “they may just be shy, previously ignored or even intimidated.”
Companies should also aim to challenge the women they employ and help them to see that whatever they want to achieve is not impossible, she says. “I remember when I had worked at Kambi for only a short time a colleague said to me, ‘You will be in the management team one day – you would be great there’.
“I did not believe it at the time but the fact someone else thought that about me gave me that extra bit of confidence and self-belief I probably needed.”
VP of interactive, Inspired
Claire Osborne believes that industry standards have played a part in the lack of female inclusion in the workplace, but she is thankful this has improved over the years.
“When I started in the industry all those years ago, the only way to succeed was to be one of the boys — but thankfully these days, good managers see the benefits of diversity and appreciate it,” she explains.
“The number of women in senior positions is growing, and they succeed by being themselves rather than trying to fit in with the old norms. To be recognised as part of that group makes me proud.”
Having worked in different aspects of the gaming industry, Osborne has a wider perspective on how women have been treated in industry practices.
“I’ve been in the industry since 2005, working on both the operator and supplier sides, and have seen so many changes along the way,” says Osborne, who oversaw a 143.2% increase in revenues to $5.2m from Inspired’s Interactive division in the last financial year, alongside a rise of net income from $0.1m $2.6m.
“I’ve also seen so many talented women come and go because of the lack of support and flexibility over the years, which are issues I’m very aware of and keen to help change.”
When asked what challenges she has faced along the way, Osborne mentions a critical point in workplace gender inclusion debates: having children.
Osborne stresses how fortunate she was to experience a smooth transition back to her career after maternity leave.
“I believe I was lucky to have my son later in life, when I had already established my career and reputation in the industry — so despite a maternity break, I was able to get back in and not have to take a step back,” she says.
“Not everyone is so lucky however. I have many friends whose careers in the industry stalled significantly after they had children.”
She believes that allowing for flexible working conditions can harbour a more inclusive environment, benefiting companies as a result.
“An accommodating environment encourages diversity and sharing, and leads to a more cohesive and effective team,” she says.
Looking at the industry from the bottom of the ladder to the top, Osborne is thankful to see an improvement in the treatment of women on the first few rungs and hopes this can migrate higher up.
“The majority of the very senior execs in this industry are still white men, and are likely to be for the foreseeable future,” she says.
“The picture is improving at lower levels, though. We need to be better at spotting and championing talent in whatever form that comes.”
Profiles by Stephen Carter and Marese O’Hagan