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Most Influential Women 2022: Part 2

| By iGB Editorial Team | Reading Time: 8 minutes
Here we reveal the next four women who made the cut as one of iGB's Most Influential Women for 2022.

Hilary Stewart-Jones
CEO, Skywind

Hilary Stewart-Jones is not only one of the most respected authorities on gambling law in the industry, she is also one of the most knowledgeable industry experts full stop. From her industry beginnings in the Ladbrokes legal team, to today where she sits on boards and executive teams, Stewart-Jones is modest about the roots of her success.    

“It was a classic case of right place right time,” she says. In particular, she noted that the Ladbrokes executive team were so inclusive that, by the time she left in 2000, “I felt I was on my way to becoming an industry specialist first and a lawyer second.” 

Stewart-Jones’ story benefits in part from fortuitous timing. By the late 1990s, when Stewart-Jones was busy carving out a niche as an industry expert, the early shoots of online gaming were beginning to bloom. 

“Given that experts were few and far between at that juncture, it enabled a lawyer to carve out a much wider business role,” she says. “It also helped that it is such a tight-knit inclusive industry, where I was very fortunate to have colleagues and clients who promoted and supported me.” 

hilary stewart-jones, ceo, Skywind group

Stewart-Jones believes that her biggest challenge was being viewed as a valuable asset to the business beyond her legal knowledge. But she says the struggle to be seen as a viable executive or board member was “in part… a prejudice against lawyers on boards, not just women.”  

Nonetheless, Stewart-Jones has always been readily involved to help other women along the way. 

“I am a firm adopter of the Madeleine Albright maxim that ‘There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women’,” Stewart-Jones continues. “That does not mean I am prejudiced in favour of women and I hope I have successfully mentored, promoted and encouraged male colleagues too over the years.

“I also think that any women or under-represented group would be mortified to think they were only a token or emblematic hire. Nonetheless, where there have been centuries of race, class and male bias – and not just in our industry – I want to at least do my bit to help with the re-set with conscious positive action, rather than discrimination.” 

With the number of women entering the industry falling between 2021 and 2022, Stewart-Jones proposes a set of solutions that would apply to all industries, not just gaming.  

She argues that industry needs more visible female advocates and spokespeople at senior levels, sensible maternity policies that “positively discourage a premature return to work and address unconscious bias against performance on return to work” and a culture that accepts flexible working.  

More pointedly for the gambling sector, she says that the industry must “continue its good work in eradicating its image that women are only there to promote products or entertain”.

Olabimpe Akingba
Executive secretary, Association of Nigerian Bookmakers

If Africa is poised to become a key growth region for gambling, Olabimpe Akingba is playing a major role in preparing one of its largest markets for success.

As executive secretary of the Association of Nigeria Bookmakers, she is playing a vital role in efforts to change an inequitable regulatory model, which subjected operators to dual regulation and taxation.

Olabimpe Akingba
Executive secretary, Association of Nigerian Bookmakers

To be recognised for her work in making Nigeria’s gambling regulation more sustainable and comprehensive, Akingba says, is “deeply humbling”. 

“I have seen the previous awardees, so I consider it an honour to be recognised alongside other amazing women,” she continues. “I do not take it for granted; it’s a marker that encourages me to keep doing what I’m doing, and even do more.”

Akingba sees “people, dedication and providence” as the secrets to her success. It’s people, she explains, that recognise an individual’s capacity and skills to succeed in the industry, provide the opportunities to serve and cooperate with you to achieve the set goals. 

You then need dedication to maximise those opportunities, she continues. “You also have to be passionate, teachable and trustworthy.”

Akingba also cites providence as key to her success in the industry. 

She’s also clear that for female executives in gambling, these opportunities are not easy to come by. “The perception that women are fragile is a myth,” Akingba says. “In terms of supportive roles, people tend to trust women more, but we need to be given more opportunity to serve in executive positions.”

By taking away biases and celebrating diversity, the industry will surely benefit. If properly harnessed, these, she points out, can be key ingredients to industry growth. “Different does not mean lesser,” she says.

Lucy Owen
Vice-president, commercial, Playtech

For Lucy Owen, there are no secrets to her success in gaming. In over 17 years of experience in the industry, she attributes hard work, supportive colleagues and a passion for people and product as the reasons for her continued rise through the sector.  

lucy owen, vice president, commercial, playtech

“I don’t take myself too seriously, which hopefully also makes me both approachable and relatable,” she says.

Owen rose through the ranks at gaming technology business Playtech to become the supplier’s vice-president of commercial. She says that her long tenure in the gaming industry has been mainly defined by positive experiences, citing her biggest challenge as finding a good work-life balance, “which I think only now is close to being right!”.

Throughout her career, Owen has mentored and guided many colleagues both in a formal and informal capacity who are now flourishing in their careers. She also works “closely with [Playtech’s] HR and sustainability teams to help inform and support Playtech’s diversity and inclusion strategy and plans”.

In terms of continually encouraging women to enter into the industry, Owen believes that diversity and inclusion needs to become a core and strategic value for all operators, and should come from the top by improving the balance of “diverse, relatable and approachable people in board and senior management positions”.

She also believes we should invest in the next generation of talent by providing opportunities, mentoring and training and supporting development. More than anything, Owens advises that the gaming industry needs to “talk to women, find out what they need and want”.

Ciara Nic Liam
Gaming product director, Entain

Ciara Nic Liam’s journey into the ranks of iGB’s Most Influential Women can be seen as tracking her own career trajectory in recent years, underpinned by, above all, hard graft and determination. “I think everyone here would say [that]! Is it boring if I said the same?”

She was first brought to the attention of the judges in 2020 while gaming product director at Betsson. That year she narrowly missed out on the Top 10, also making it to the longlist in 2021 following an internal promotion to commercial director for gaming. Then in May this year, she was recruited by the behemoth that is Entain to the position of gaming product director, responsible for global product roadmaps across casino, live casino, in-house bingo, gamification and personalisation.

A lot of the hard work it took to get there, Liam reveals, went into meticulous preparation for every potential outcome or eventuality. “I never wanted to go into a meeting unprepared or get caught out unexpectedly. I put time into my preparation, memorised performance statistics, sat back and watched how the more senior people around me led and how people reacted to that, and I decided the type of leader I wanted to be.”

Another driver from early on in her igaming career, which started back in 2013 in Dublin as a product exec for Paddy Power, was “to be ‘in the room’, wherever that room is”.

As Liam points out, to get there, someone “has to see you, appreciate your value and decide they want to take a risk on bringing you into ‘the room’. My advice: make that an easy decision for them!”

With the benefit of hindsight, she realises she used to try too hard to get noticed, often in counterproductive ways. “To add value, you don’t have to be the loudest person or know the most. There is a real skill in listening and spotting the right gap that you can fill. In the early days I think I missed that, trying to speak up and be heard for the sake of it.”

Ciara nic liam, gaming product director, entain

Of course now she has earned her place at the top table, the onus is now on Nic Liam “to find the right time to bring the next wave of people in”, a responsibility she feels very keenly.

“I have been fortunate enough to see some incredibly strong and talented women lead the way… To now be listed among some of those is an incredible feeling and I am proud of it and grateful to them for setting the way. The feeling of responsibility comes in ensuring that I continue to make myself available for the next generation of leaders, to inspire, support and encourage them.”

As for her style of mentorship, this is strongly imbued with the community values she grew up with in a small village in Ireland, values she says that can be summed up in an old Irish phrase: “Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireann na daoine”. The literal meaning is “People survive in each other’s shadows”, which Nic Liam takes as illustrative of how at work we all need and depend on each other in order to be successful.

“I have made a real effort to spot talent within not only my own teams but in the teams I work with across the entire organisation. I have had the chance to really spend time with people, pass on my own words of wisdom, sponsor and include them in important projects, ensure their voice is heard and try to give them feedback that would help them. Knowing that you can and have helped people, inspires you to continue doing so.”

Beyond her immediate sphere of influence however, the latest All-Index showed the female share of new entrants to the industry fell below 50% for the first time in the history of the benchmarking survey. So how can the sector create a more welcoming environment for women to enter and climb the ranks like she has?

“This is about flexibility. I genuinely respect when someone, male or female, tells me they can’t make a meeting because it’s at the time they do the school run, or that they need time for a family event. Flexibility has always been a key deciding factor for me in assessing any potential company or role I have applied for.”

Liam adds that she believes she is within the right organisation to effect further change, as she sees Entain as taking the lead in creating a diverse, equitable and inclusive workplace. “It’s also about having the right role models around to support women and help them thrive in this industry. Entain’s executive team is a good place to look for these role models, with the most diverse board we’ve ever had, including a female CEO and chief people officer. We also have an internal Women@Entain network which gives women – wherever in the world they are – the chance to connect, collaborate, celebrate and, of course, inspire each other.”

Part 1 of our rundown is published here.

Profiles by Robin Harrison, Zak Thomas-Akoo and Stephen Carter

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