Equality: How the online gaming industry can #PressForProgress

In an exclusive in-depth article for EGR, Karolina Pelc, casino director at LeoVegas, looks at what the industry can do to close the gender gap

Given the overall buzz worldwide, and press coverage during ICE, the role of women in our industry was a natural pick for me when asked to write an opinion piece for EGR. I did consider writing about something less predictable, such as the ever-repetitive matter of the “next big thing in casino” or “how to attract millennials”. But it made me realise that the way I felt is actually linked to the very subject I initially had in mind.

I assumed that the majority of the readership was male and would expect me to engage in a diversity-oriented dialogue, so I wanted to write a tech piece and prove them wrong. Ironically, I exhibited an unconscious gender bias and almost got held back from giving an opinion on something I am deeply passionate about. Almost.

But before you – whether you are a man or a woman – dismissively mumble to yourself: “another self-appointed preacher calling for the ban of promo girls!” – hear me out. Although I believe there should be some boundaries within product promotion at B2B trade shows, fighting the old-fashioned perception and stigma is just a small part of the picture.

Our industry, as exciting and welcoming as it is, and despite massive improvements over the years, is still largely male-dominated and suffers from a slow adoption rate for women. As a product director, I long for the day where I have a larger ratio of women in my development team. The European Parliament estimates only 9% of developers and 19% in managerial positions in the IT sector are women. How many in the gaming industry?

State of play

Some argue that this situation stems from the past and that women have less interest and access to emerging technologies, but isn’t that the exact gender bias we are trying to fight? To attract more women, we need to make sure they see a future for themselves and a professional trajectory, while our industry’s efforts in investing and developing women leaders could also do with a boost.

Yes, we see more women walking the corridors of the trade shows as delegates and more working the stands as sales reps, but how many women hold CEO and director positions?

You might challenge me for having limited data on the matter. And you’d be right, I have none. But doesn’t the lack of research initiatives demonstrate that the movement for change isn’t strong enough yet?

Diversity past entry-level and into more senior positions practically doesn’t exist. It’s a sad reality experienced by many others, yet, for a young, fast-paced and tech-oriented industry such as egaming, we should feel a shared responsibility to change, especially when you consider the endless vacancies generated by our rapid growth and the niche skill sets we are after.

According to Google reports, search for “female founders” reached an all-time global high in October 2017. Let me ask you, how often do you come across a female founder within the online gaming industry? Shouldn’t there, looking at the proud heritage of women such a Denise Coates, labelled as Britain’s most successful self-made businesswoman, be more women with the drive and the confidence to seek a similar success story?

Could it be that the fear of having to give up work-life balance is stronger than the appetite for success? As quoted by The Guardian, Denise herself described her early days as: “You start a 24/7 business, and you work 24/7”. Should we not do more to create awareness of how nowadays, you can make it to the top while still leading a fulfilling family life? Or perhaps first ensure that is actually the case?

Our problem isn’t discrimination; it is the lack of empowerment and mentorship. And by mentorship, I don’t just mean guidance on how to progress through the steps of the corporate ladder, but also how to deal with various pivot points in life and throughout one’s professional career.

Moving forward

The solution? Among many other things, let’s collaboratively create a work environment where women, despite their life stage or circumstances, feel more comfortable to ask for raises, strive for C-level positions, take comfortable seats in boardrooms and gain confidence to nurture their entrepreneurial side all the way to founding the next awesome start-up.

The industry presents tremendous opportunities to both men and women. However, no matter how many examples of fantastic diversity ethics we see as insiders, the real change won’t happen without raising the awareness on a mass scale. Women who enjoy a successful career in the industry need to make themselves visible or better yet, provide the mentorship to those who need it. And men, who are still the primary decision-makers, need to drive this change with equal passion and determination.

Looking at my LinkedIn newsfeed on International Women’s Day, I was thrilled to see companies like LeoVegas, Kindred, The Stars Group and Paddy Power Betfair using the opportunity to host truly inspirational events, celebrating women’s achievements in their employment fields. Chocolate and flowers gifts are a sweet gesture, but not exactly the right fit for the times of #PressForProgress and gender parity becoming an essential element of employers CSR.

Initiatives such as Women in Gaming Diversity Awards and the activity of organisations like Girls in Tech or All-In Diversity Project are an excellent statement of the change in attitude towards women in our industry, yet I can still think of a few areas that could be addressed better.

When it comes to employment, publishing a statement of your diversity support only becomes meaningful when underpinned by action. “Female applicants welcomed” featured on a senior role job advert together with the requirement of 120 days of travel per year, does not add up. With an extensive choice of tools and stats showing remote workers to be outperforming office workers, roles, where such extensive travel seems unavoidable, are not better suited for men or the women who are up for it – they are designed poorly without the strive for gender equality in mind.

If you want to appeal to women at entry-level and to retain them for long enough to grow into future leaders, show them your respect for a ‘family-first’ life philosophy. Why not go all out on competing on maternity benefits if Facebook and Google are already doing it?

Or take it even further… Four-day rotating work week? Six-hour work days? The possibilities are endless and I am confident if we set up an industry think tank, we could address many other areas where there is currently a disconnect between what women want and what employers offer.

Projecting the right image

The industry projects an image of a male. Fun-loving, social and intelligent, but a male. Facing a massive talent shortage across all areas of business, we need to make sure to maximise our talent pool. We also need to appeal to those women who might not find it that easy to fit in as just “one of the boys” and take the gaming industry in with all “entertaining aspects” it used to and often, still comes with.

As my career progression is an example of equal opportunity, I will always be an ambassador for the industry, in the same way, as I plan to advocate for diversity. I was lucky during the very early days of trying to break into online gaming for someone to spot potential, look past the gender bias and open the door for me, which many have slammed shut before.

The CV review could have ended at “What can a girl know about online poker?” – but it didn’t. Having recently had a baby, I am yet again lucky enough to find myself in a company championing inclusion and helping me navigate with ease through a new life situation of holding a position of leadership at work and adapting into a new role of a parent without having to compromise my commitment to either. However, I hope to see that treatment to be a matter of women’s rights, not luck.

I dream a quiet dream of one day running a niche online casino-focused organisation building on the vision of the likes of Women in Product or Women Who Code and helping other passionate women getting into a specialised tech career.

I also hope to one day make it to that C-level position without my gender standing in the way, but I most definitely don’t want to be given advantages as a means to close the gender gap. I want to be considered as the best person for the job, not because I am a woman, nor despite of it.

We are now in the era of digital revolution so let’s help to shape the next generation of women and mould our still maturing industry into one where gender gap does not play a role.

Karolina Pelc LeoVegas

Karolina Pelc, casino director at LeoVegas Group, heads up casino operations and product development teams across Malta and Stockholm offices. She holds over 12 years’ hands on experience within all areas of the gaming industry including five across brick and mortar casinos. Prior to LeoVegas, she held a variety of both product and marketing roles for well-established industry players such as Betsson, InterCasino, Paddy Power and Royal Caribbean. She holds a particular interest in the areas of mobile innovation, live casino and product development.

Denise Coates | Karolina Pelc | LeoVegas | Strategy | Women in gaming