International Women’s Day 2022: It’s all about equality of opportunity

To mark International Women’s Day 2022, we spoke with a number of leading female figures from across the betting and gaming industry to find out more about their careers, advice that they’d give to news starters and what more the industry can do to make sure diversity and inclusion ‘get a seat at the table’

SBC: What attracted you to the online gambling industry in the first place? 

Victoria Bonner, Chief Marketing Officer for Sportingtech:  I applied for several roles with large poker brands when working in tech and financial communications in London in my 20s. I had solid big-brand PR experience in highly competitive and regulated spaces but was looking to combine my expertise with a genuine passion. Every one of them rejected me for not having enough industry experience and it was a few years later that I picked up a few touchpoints via agency work. 

When the move came, it was a chance message from a recruitment agent that was looking to hire for an industry role based in Gibraltar. As it happened, that job had nothing to do with poker but things naturally came full circle a few years later. 

Sheila Morago, Executive Director of the Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association:  For me, gaming initially gave me the ability to come back home and use the skills I’d gained during my career in the hospitality industry to help my tribe. I came home about a month after Gila River opened its first casino property in 1994 and had no idea I’d found my life’s work. At the time, I’d just wanted to use my skills for the benefit of my tribe.

Ciara Nic Liam, Commercial Director for Gaming at Betsson: Growing up in Ireland, gambling was something we were always familiar with. From days shouting for horses at a Racecourse and being allowed to bet your pocket money on a winner, to getting a scratch card in my birthday cards, it was just part of the fabric of the society I grew up in. 

My first role in the online gambling space was with Paddy Power in Ireland. I had finished my graduate programme with Procter and Gamble who manage some of the largest FMCG brands in the world, but for me, Paddy Power was just as powerful a brand – it was playful, had purpose and meaning and knew how to stand out in a crowded marketplace, not just as a consumer brand, but as an employer. I was told on my induction that they wanted to be the ‘Ryanair of gambling’, but what really interested me was the chance to work with smart, passionate people on customer journeys and user experiences, leading the ecommerce revolution! I haven’t looked back since!

Lisa Karran, Chief Operating Officer at Eminence Holdings Limited: I love the pace, vibrancy and entrepreneurial nature of the industry. I discovered whilst working in an inward investment role in the Isle of Man that I particularly enjoyed working with fledgling and start-up businesses, they just happened to be in the gambling industry!  

SBC: What has been your experience of the industry to date? 

VB: We’re a large (sometimes dysfunctional) family. Probably more so in the closer-knit island locations where company cultures tend to be just as professional but a little less corporate. It’s an interesting dynamic and one that draws you in. Today’s competitor can be tomorrow’s colleague or vice versa and there’s a comradery that’s unique. There’s a vast amount of talent and age is not a barrier to seniority. We’re tech, we’re entertainment and there’s excitement in that.

When you’re new into the industry it can seem that everyone knows everyone but it doesn’t take long to become ingrained yourself. Then more than likely, you’re in for life. 

SM: As a woman, I’ve found Tribal Gaming to be incredibly inclusive. It never matters if you are male or female – if you can do the job, you’ve got the job.

CNL: I have had the most amazing career, and each time I take on a new role I am personally proud but honestly sometimes astonished at how far I have come in 10 years. From starting out as a Product Executive in Paddy Power and needing to learn what an API was and how it worked, to being the Gaming Commercial Director for one of the most globally diverse betting companies in the world is an absolute dream! 

If you love what you do and have a passion for it, coupled with a strong work ethic and people who believe in you, then where you can go in this industry literally has no bounds. I have never reported directly into a woman, but I have always been very lucky with the managers I have had. None of them ever looked at me as less than my peers, and always treated me fairly. In fact, because I was always willing to go the extra mile and could be depended on to deliver on my work, I was regularly given new opportunities and included in projects above my level. That’s how I learned to take on new responsibilities and prepare myself for my next role in each of the jobs I have had.

LK: That inward investment role for the Isle of Man Government about 15 years ago was my first experience of the industry and up until then I’d been working in marketing.    Through the relationships built then I was offered an incredible opportunity to re-join the private sector and help start up a new licensed gaming company for a successful Asian gaming group.  The variety of projects I was involved with over the next 8 years was terrific experience and included Asian and UK facing B2C and B2B projects and even setting up a betting shop at one point.  Following that, I have worked with a start up in virtual environments and also an app which is designed to help dementia sufferers so not exactly online gambling but still technology driven and with that entrepreneurial edge that I enjoy.  

I am now working for a technology company specialising in blockchain solutions and one of our products is CasinoCoin a cryptocurrency designed for use in regulated online gambling. 

SBC: Could you share a particular highlight? 

VB: I’ve specialised for the most part in the inauguration of marketing functions and teams at up-and-coming companies. So every first award win and nod of recognition represents a significant highlight. Seeing that progression and development is a strong motivator and each win in a smaller team is magnified. Marketing doesn’t do it alone, commercial and other teams all contribute but it certainly indicates to me that the team and I are doing things right.

SM: A big highlight was when I went home a few years ago to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Gila River’s first casino. It was like going back in time to where it all started. I saw people I’d worked with all those years ago and realised that they gave me the chance to have a career that I love, and a career that I didn’t even know could exist. It was beautiful to see folks who were literally in entry level positions back then, now running entire facilities.

CNL: I don’t think I will ever forget the day I got to see a game I helped build come together fully. We had signed off the artwork, the sounds, the animations all the way through the project, but when I saw it finished on screen and was able to play it, I almost cried! 

But, in reality, for me, the best highlights of my career have been in passing the mantle to the next generation and paying attention to how I was treated forward. My favourite thing to see is people I have brought into teams succeed and go on to do equally great things. It makes it all worthwhile!

LK: There have been many highs as well as plenty of roller-coaster moments!  Creating something from scratch, nurturing a business to grow and employing people gives me a real sense of achievement. Being involved with Red Tiger Gaming from start-up to the sale of the business to NetEnt was a highlight.  I experienced first-hand the importance of having a clear goal and focussing all efforts on achieving that goal.

SBC: Do you believe the industry is doing enough when it comes to diversity? 

VB: It’s a question that comes up a lot and I believe what I’ve said previously is still valid. The key is in the approach and balance is everything. There are groups that have the right strategy in that they build your network, add contacts, develop that comradery I mentioned and provide support. That’s important whoever you are and as more women come in and grow within the industry, things are changing but it remains true that the majority of senior roles still don’t go to women. Due to the industry being historically very male dominated, men still represent some of the most experienced hires but where career history is equal, everyone should have the same opportunities.

In addition, whether it’s gender or any other under-represented group, it’s important to be respectful in the approach to support, some have the right idea but the wrong delivery. The heavy-handed approach is mostly counter-productive. Women should be privy to the same dinners, private social evenings and networking opportunities that men have and I’m not convinced those events always exemplify that equal opportunity. Teams perform better when there’s a balance, especially marketing teams because there’s a value in representing multiple points of view. But in supporting diversity, the approach should be motivational and inspiring, never condescending.

SM: Yes and no. Tribal Gaming is so different. We are very diverse. When you’ve got a property in a small rural community, you still need the myriad of disciplines in one place to make it work, so you hire a little bit of everyone. I’ll also point out that there are many females in management in Tribal Gaming. Of course, the overall industry can do better, and strides are being made.

CNL: I think the industry still has a long way to go in terms of attracting a fully reflective staff vs their customer base, but gender is a great place to start. This week I have been the only woman at the table in an industry conference and at an Awards show, but I have also nominated a number of the strong women in our team for the upcoming Women in Gaming Awards. Rather than be held back by representation, I use it to drive me forward and ensure that the next level of people coming up under me includes strong women who will continue to grow and shape the industry. If everyone did that, we would all win, more diverse backgrounds in boardrooms, more perspectives in brainstorming sessions, and a broader approach to solutions. Everybody wins.

LK: The industry has not historically been particularly female friendly; I remember wondering what I’d got involved in the first time I went to ICE for example! It has changed a lot even during my time and it’s encouraging to see more and more women working in the industry and in particular in senior roles. 

KPMG’s #weallwanttoplay, Clarion’s Code of Conduct for ICE and The All-In Diversity demonstrate momentum in the right direction but of course there is always more that can be done.  I’m also pragmatic about how industries naturally grow and mature, the industry is an adolescent and it could be argued more progressive in terms of diversity than some more mature industries!  

SBC: What more could be done to attract additional female talent to the industry? 

VB: Women are still under-represented in dev teams and that will only change at grass roots as the skills required need to be developed. It would be interesting to understand why more women don’t consider it as a career option. Perhaps I’ve been fortunate but my most recent experiences have been of companies that had a good balance so my perspective and experience has been positive. 

At Sportingtech, which is a provider of sports betting and casino platforms to operators worldwide, our C-level is 50/50 for instance. Making sure that there’s opportunity on the table and an appreciation for the value diversity brings is really the key to making it happen. At Sportingtech, we have a number of roles available at present across different business units. We’re always eager to hear from talented, passionate and hungry individuals who are keen to take their career forward and push the boundaries within sports betting and casino.

SM: Tribal Gaming does an excellent job of recruiting, hiring and promoting females. It’s an example the rest of the industry should follow – it’s time for the industry to stop talking about it and do it. Recruit women, hire women and promote women.

CNL: I think that companies are now actively working on this and training hiring managers on selection bias etc, but also seeing strong female leaders in our industry is a huge factor. As we see people like Jette from Entain and Shelly from Casumo out there covered in the press and achieving great things, you normalise the thought of a female CEO. 

Likewise, seeing great startups lead by women like what Karolina is doing with Beyond Play shows people that being a woman in the industry doesn’t need to hold you back. When you go to a tradeshow, seeing these high profile women speaking on panels and leading meetings and less women in bikinis handing out flyers shows you as an industry we are succeeding in resetting the baseline of how a woman belongs in the space.

On top of that, I think fairer policies around maternity leave and more flexible working conditions like hybrid or fully remote setups will suit some women as they progress in their career. From what I have seen, there isn’t a shortage of women entering the industry, it’s ensuring we support, mentor and grow them, retaining them in online gambling that we sometimes struggle with.

LK: Women need to see other women, in leadership roles, on podiums and panels, receiving awards and being featured in editorials et cetera. Research has shown that role modelling is a key factor in influencing girls in their career choices and I honestly think the same is true for adults.   

In my experience women are less likely to put themselves out there publicly and therefore are less visible as potential role models, they are less likely to accept (or ask for) speaking opportunities for example, and this needs to change.  Women have a role to play in helping other women up behind them no matter what level they are at, or indeed what industry they’re in and their male colleagues have a role in encouraging and supporting their female colleagues to put their head above the parapet.  

SBC: What would you say to other females considering entering the gambling industry?

VB: To absolutely do it. It’s quirky, hard-working and ultimately a rewarding and light-hearted industry – despite how heavy the regulation and requirements are. There’s something about the sector that is immersive and offers a lot of opportunity, as well as talented peers. There’s a vast variety of roles and segments to get involved in so there’s really something for everyone. 

SM: Know your worth. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes because that’s how we learn. Never be afraid to level up in your career. Just jump right into the deep end, whether you’ve got floaties on or not!

CNL: Probably the same as I would say to anyone, hold on, learn everything you can and don’t ever be afraid to put your hand up and offer to go the extra mile, that’s where you learn the great stuff!

LK: I’d ask them what is stopping them? The gambling industry is like any other, there’s the good and the bad and everything in between.  People need to look at the opportunity itself rather than stereotyping an entire industry; who are the people involved, what is the company track record; is it a step towards what you want? There are some incredible opportunities within this industry so think about what you want, get out of your comfort zone and go for it!  

I believe that having a great support network is a big factor to success, that includes solid friendships as well as surrounding yourself with inspiring colleagues, peers and role models.  We know that success for women is unfortunately reversely correlated with likeability (reverse is true for men) so make damn sure you have ‘your people ‘in place who know and support you behind the scenes.    

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