Having enjoyed a long career in journalism, I soon noticed after joining The Health Lottery that the gender balance in my new industry was very different to my previous one.
While the upper echelons of national newspapers may well still be dominated by men, at the women’s magazines where I spent the bulk of my career, the workforce was very much dominated by women.
As editor-in-chief of New! and Star magazines, I was surrounded by other women in leadership positions. In contrast, in my new role I often find myself at C-suite level meetings where I am the only woman sitting around the table.
Some people might find this off-putting, but I see it as a challenge – I want to help change what these meetings look like in the future.
On the celebrity magazines where I worked, our readership was inevitably mainly women, so it was natural that our staff tended to be female-dominated, particularly on the editorial desk.
But in the gambling industry, that’s simply not the case. The staff might be mostly male, but the customer base is not.
The Gambling Commission’s statistics for gambling participation in the year to March 2023 showed very little difference between the percentages of men and women who had gambled in the previous four weeks.
It’s also worth noting the difference between the sexes has narrowed considerably over the past five years. This is perhaps one reason so many gambling companies publicly declared their support for this year’s International Women’s Day theme of “Embrace equality”.
On a personal level, I have long been a keen gambler and enjoy the experience of gambling as much as the potential thrill of winning. If I’m betting on the Grand National, I’d like my horse to win, but the most important thing for me is that my horse is still in the running at the end of the race. That keeps the adrenalin flowing for as long as possible.
As a magazine editor, I used to take my staff on social outings to the former Walthamstow Stadium, which offered a fabulous mix of fish and chips, a flutter on the greyhounds and a few beers. Nothing could beat the excitement when the lights went down in the bar and up on the track as the dogs set off in pursuit of the hare.
At The Health Lottery, our current player base is split roughly 50/50 between men and women. Since taking up my post, I’ve spent a lot of time making sure our product is correctly tailored to both our male and female players. We’ve made small changes to appeal to our female demographic, such as teaming up with Tastecard from September.
We’ve just undertaken a major relaunch of The Health Lottery, with a new website, logo and identity for the overall brand. Throughout every stage of this, I have thought about our female users.
I know from my experience as a journalist how much true life stories appeal to a female readership and so I’ve overhauled and expanded the section of the website that features stories of people who’ve benefited from the funds raised via The Health Lottery.
And to make sure we’re getting it right with all our players, we’ve asked 20,000 players (split by gender in line with our users) to take part in a customer panel, inviting their views on all of the changes we’ve made to make sure we’ve keeping everyone happy.
Challenges in the recruitment space
But while our player base is fairly evenly split, our male-to-female staff ratio is closer to 75/25 and that’s something I hope to change in the future.
I know it won’t be easy because I’ve already seen firsthand how challenging it is to recruit women. The applicants we’ve had for roles since I took up my post have predominantly been male. There seem to be fewer women both working in the industry and interested in joining it.
We’ve tried to improve this by using a specialist recruitment consultancy and were delighted to welcome a female product manager and lottery specialist to the team recently.
Changing our gender balance won’t happen overnight, but I like to think that by drawing on some of the lessons learned in my former career, I can go some way towards having an impact.
Step by step
First and foremost, it’s important to enable women to progress in their careers by helping them balance their professional and personal lives. In the post-Covid world, the most obvious step is to improve flexible working options to encourage more women to apply for roles.
But it’s also important to have a culture that supports women to begin families in the first place. I was incredibly lucky earlier in my career when I was deputy editor at New! in that my editor and I coincidentally interspersed our pregnancies. This gave me the opportunity to step up into her role while she was off and in turn gave others the chance to step into mine.
Maternity leave should not be seen as a problem to be overcome, but as an opportunity to provide progression for staff.
Also, as the head of a mostly female department, too often I saw how frequently men’s employers assumed it was the woman’s job to jump in when childcare emergencies arose. While I can’t change our gender ratio overnight, I can make sure I don’t make the same assumption when issues arise in my male employees’ families.
Hopefully, by taking such steps I can eventually help bring about change within the makeup of our organisation. If other CEOs in the gambling industry did the same, it would go some way to improving the gender balance in the wider industry.