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Why we need greater gender diversity in our boardrooms

| By Joanne Christie | Reading Time: 4 minutes

The igaming industry is missing out on potential talent and revenues by ignoring the issue of gender inequality in its boardrooms, says Kelly Kehn.

Now that we've closed 2016 and look forward to a fresh start in 2017, it makes sense to look ahead towards where we, as an industry, can make significant changes in our business.

Gaming is a pretty exciting industry to work in, and there are endless new technologies to consider, new ideas, new apps and new products to offer our customers and new ways of using data to make our businesses better.

Every year at this time, I look forward to the predictions about who and what to watch for in the year to come. But there is something missing in those lists, predictions and resolutions.

It’s time that we turn our focus to asking the tough questions around the lack of gender diversity within our organisations, especially the lack of women at C level and in the boardroom.

By ignoring this issue, we are missing out on accessing top talent to lead our organisations, missing the perspective of a key demographic within our customer base and in turn, leaving money on the table.

By ignoring the issue, we effectively hold our industry back from reaching its full potential.

Here is where we are today as an industry: there isn’t a lot of demographic information around the breakdown of the gaming workforce in Europe.

Playing field starts even, but then diverges
However, we do know that overall, women occupy half of the UK’s workforce in general.

In the US, women comprise almost 50% of the workforce in gaming but only 3% occupy senior management or board roles, according to an article published in 2015 by Global Gaming Business Magazine. It’s assumed that Europe isn’t dissimilar.

There is a good balance of women to men at entry level, but that drops off drastically at the top. Of the 19 igaming companies on the FTSE 500, only 7.6% of the leadership are women, according to London Stock Exchange data.

Gaming isn’t all that different to other industries. Today, university enrollment is about 100 women to 93 men globally, according to Yale.

In fact, for the last 20 years, the percentage of women graduating university has exceeded men.

Despite this wealth of educated talent coming out of school, the number of women in senior management roles does not reflect this.

Looking at the top performing businesses in the US, women comprise 15% of board members.

In Europe, that figure drops to 7% and even further to 3% in Asia. A 2011 government study entitled Women on Boards reported that in FTSE 100 companies, just 12.5% of board members are women.

So if we start with an even gender balance at entry level, where is the top female talent dropping off and why should we care?

The issue of how to achieve gender diversity at the highest senior level is not an easy one.

A difficult problem to solve
Yes, we must review our internal business culture, hiring practices, retention strategies and the way we mentor and empower our leaders of tomorrow. But there are other factors involved.

There are cultural pressures, unconscious bias, and the way both men and women value themselves to consider. This is not a problem to solve overnight.

We are talking about a global paradigm shift in culture that’s best approached by a collective discussion and a wide range of insights.

That being said, there are several glaring reasons that gaming should be working towards equal representation at the senior management level within our organisations.

Gender diversity at the board level means businesses are better able to understand their entire customer base, while benefiting from fresh perspectives, new ideas and a broader range of experience.

In the UK, women form 51% of the total population and 46% of the overall workforce.

Women are responsible for about 70% of household purchasing decisions and hold almost 50% of the country’s wealth.

Having more women at the top level provides perspective and a deeper understanding of this powerful customer demographic.

If we want to market to a certain demographic, that group must be represented at the boardroom table.

Women are an untapped wealth of revenue for gaming, in part because of the lack of representation of this demographic at the highest level of our organisations.

Ignoring the need to have gender diversity within senior leadership teams means organisations are denying themselves access the fullest talent pool available and put themselves at a disadvantage in the war for talent.

That means we are missing out on the best talent, the best ideas and best experience and fit for the roles that will guide our businesses.

We know that diversity is important, but I’m not sure many of us consider why that is or why we aren’t addressing it.

Overall, having diversity of gender as well as ethnicity means companies also benefit from diversity of thought and diversity in the way we solve problems.

This, in turn, leads to better results.

Finally, it’s proven that gender diversity at the top level positively affects corporate governance and business strategy.

This in turn leads to better decision-making and stronger financial results within a company.

The Women on Boards report said: “Companies with more women on their boards were found to outperform their rivals with a 42% higher return in sales, 66% higher return on invested capital and 53% higher return on equity.”

Research by McKinsey & Company in 2015 found that gender diverse businesses were “15% more likely to have financial returns above the respective national industry medians”.

The overarching belief is that when companies commit to diversity, they are able to recruit and retain the best talent, improve customer value and surpass their competition when it comes to employee satisfaction, as well as excel in overall decision-making.

All of these factors contribute to measurable success and financial returns. 

In 2017, it’s time we highlight the need for gender diversity within our leadership teams. Let’s look to thought leaders such as NetEnt, which has committed to a 50/50 balance of its total workforce by 2020 and call on other companies to follow suit.

Let’s observe the top performing companies in our industry led by women, such as Bet365’s Denise Coates and Paragon Gaming’s Diana Bennett.

Let’s celebrate companies like Boyd Gaming, which has more than 25% of its board comprised of women.

We as an industry have a long way to go but we are starting to take the first steps toward progress.

I am delighted to see that this year’s ICE Seminars will host a discussion around how to improve gender diversity at the leadership level in gaming.

We can only achieve equal representation through open commentary, educated discussions around the issue and through mentorship of women currently employed in the industry at all levels to excel in their careers.

Kelly Kehn is an independent igaming consultant who has worked in the industry since 2004 in the US, Canada and the UK. She works with companies on business development, marketing and growth strategy.

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