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Women in gaming aim to break glass ceiling

MIAMI — At the National Council of Legislators from Gaming States (NCLGS) meeting Jan. 5 in Miami, guests attended a special discussion focused on how more women can break the glass ceiling and what states can do to assist those efforts. Jan Jones Blackhurst, executive vice president of public policy and corporate responsibility at Caesars Entertainment, and Holly Gagnon, president and CEO of Seneca Gaming Corp., led the session.

The reason for the conversation stems from statistics surrounding female leadership in the gaming industry, as well as the gender and racial wage gaps. As Blackhurst explained during the session, studies have shown white women earn 78 cents on the dollar compared to males. Latina and black women earn even less on average, at just 58 cents and 68 cents, respectively. While she said that these numbers haven’t changed in around 25 years, what has changed is the number of women getting degrees in higher education – 58 percent of BA’s, 60 percent of MBAs and 50 percent of law degrees are awarded to women.

Seneca Gaming Corp. President and CEO Holly Gagnon, left, and Caesars Entertainment Executive Vice President of Public Policy and Corporate Responsibility Jan Jones Blackhurst, right, discuss how women are climbing the corporate ladder in gaming companies during the NCLGS meeting in Miami last month. (Li Cohen)

This growth in females in higher education is part of the reason some companies have established more gender-balanced leadership. Those companies with more equal representation of men and women have seen an increase in productivity and success, according to Blackhurst, some having a return on sales 30 percent better and a return on equity that’s 50 percent better. Despite this, leading many people to question why female seniority isn’t a standard practice.

“The high performance of these companies are not numbers that are being made up; they’re numbers that are being ignored,” Blackhurst explained. “I don’t think it’s intentional misogyny, I think it’s a lack of intentional leadership. If you keep accepting an environment that’s OK, then it’s going to perpetuate itself.”

One attendee, Georgia state Rep. Derrick Jackson believes that the lack of females in executive positions is in part due to companies not wanting a feminist label. He explained that the people and companies who don’t want this label often just don’t understand what the term really means, which is just saying that all people should be considered equals.

“Women are simply fighting for equality and if someone is afraid of having that label then it really tells who they are on the inside, what their thoughts are, what their policies are,” he said. “No company should be embarrassed for doing the right thing and I think that’s what this is all about – doing the right thing in the end, making sure there’s fairness, equality and opportunity regardless of gender, race and ethnicity. When you do that your organization will look like America.”

In an attempt to establish this equality, Blackhurst spoke about Caesars Entertainment’s latest initiative to have 50-50 equal gender representation within the company by 2025. Within this effort however, Blackhurst also said they are focused on getting any women represented, and are not focused on ethnic or racial diversity at the onset.

State Sen. Audrey Gibson, of Jacksonville, said that not having a direct ethnic component to this plan leaves out a large portion of women. To really improve female representation in business and make it a more natural movement, she emphasized that racial diversity needs to start as a conscious effort.

“The diversity picture has to be bigger than just women. … To have a moving women forward discussion, you have to include ethnic movement too. If only white women are included then we still have a problem,” she said, adding that emphasizing race doesn’t further the divide amongst women. “It’s just being inclusive to ensure that women of all flavors are collectively moving up. When those women move up of all different colors it moves everybody. It captures a rainbow of more kids and even men moving up after them.”

She also explained that the key to making this happen is to start by having front-loaded conversations about how women can get to higher positions. Instead of focusing on initiatives and programs aimed at helping women succeed, conversations should focus on what individuals can do in general to help themselves and others succeed.

“If we’re going to take the time to talk about breaking the glass ceiling, we don’t need to talk about a study, we need to have information to take back,” she said.

This conversation included more than just what women can do, but also how men can help in the process. As Rep. Jackson explained, men have the advantage of being more inclined to being in leadership positions, and they can use that as ammunition to fuel female success in companies.

“Men need to do more. We need to help and make sure that when women are marching, we are marching with them,” he said. “Men need to be just as bold to say and demonstrate their support because if we don’t then we’ll continue to have the same conversation.”

Spectators almost unanimously agreed that while women have definitely made progress, especially in gaming, the fight for equality is not yet over. With mentorship and more direct conversations, Blackhurst, Gagnon and guests believe that women can see more success and in obtaining leadership roles in the near future.

Li Cohen
When she isn't drinking a [probably excessive] cup of coffee, Li is reading and writing about local, national and international news. She can also be seen running around NYC in preparation of marathon season and travelling to new lands. Make sure to check out her work at, send her an email at and follow her journeys on Twitter (@WritingLiYakira) and Instagram (@LiYakira).

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