“Every picture tells a story, don’t it?”—Lyrics by Rod Stewart/Ron Wood
I am approaching my 50th year in the gambling business and one of the many curiosities I have watched develop during this time are the gambling awards shows. In fact, I have even been invited to be a judge at a few of these curious events and I call them curious because I came from an era of gaming where generally most of the participants believed the market was more than adequate at identifying winners and losers. But apparently people were not convinced that the calculus of profit and loss was adequately identifying the best in breed and to fix this shortcoming, we now have a whole batch of awards shows.
I have always looked at these events as innocent fun, allowing people to exploit the demand of some for ego-gratification, to do a bit of networking, and for the producers to make a little money. I will note, however, that I am one to follow the news for financial markets and I have not yet seen a legitimate analyst ever make an investment comment based on an entity winning an award at one of these shows. Maybe the financial world, like I, just does not understand the overall importance of these events.
One thing I do believe in, however, is the damage systemic discrimination causes on an oppressed group, where one group with a particular characteristic structurally and systematically discriminates against another, and the gaming industry is not immune to such tendencies. I really became alive to such issues when I spent a great deal of time in the Deep South of the United States for the last three years, and in my spare time, I traveled to many stops along what is known as the Civil Rights Trail. This experience showed me how a society can totally organize itself to exclude a group of people from participating—and in this experience it was a white population that thought it was superior to the black population and so had numerous ways to exclude the black population from sharing the same rights as the white folk.
I bring all of this up because I recently received an announcement for an awards show being held in London, and in looking through the sales piece for this event, it included the names, titles, and pictures of 52 judges. What I noticed was that 51 of these individuals were male. Others seemed to make this same discovery for it became a bit of a topic on LinkedIn.
For the LinkedIn discussion, started by the UK-based All-In Diversity (an entity of which I am on the board of advisors), the picture was shown of the 52 judges with a note stating “The women reading this will know what’s wrong with these pictures. And yes, it’s from 2021.”
The comments following the All-In posting, primarily from women, had a disapproving tone in responding to the posted photographs. Within these comments the event organizer opted to chime in, admitting the optics were less than perfect and spreading the blame to all with the statement “…more should be done to by all to represent women in the gaming industry better.” They went on to suggest, however, that “Obviously, the Judging Panel of XXXXX has always been CEO, MD, Founder, President—only type of panel to guard ourselves against accusations that the panel has sufficient authority and prestige to truly judge who deserves an award.”
This statement seems to have generated additional negative comments, and I understand why. It appears the organizer is stating the only type of panel that can successfully guard them against accusations that the panel has insufficient authority and prestige basically must be one that is overwhelmingly male. I call nonsense.
About this time the Guardian newspaper in the UK—never one to shy away from pointing out a possible weakness in the gaming industry—joined the discussion. They added an interesting quote from the event brochure by one of the leaders and it was that the judging panel “represents a dynamic cross-section of the global gaming industry.” As the Guardian points out, this “dynamic cross-section” apparently means one woman out of 52 judges – and no black people.
I need to admit a bias here and it is that I find nothing acceptable about the posting of a of 52-member judging panel where only one of the judges is a woman. If that is the best they can do, they should not be doing it at all.
I also find it extraordinarily tone deaf that whoever put that brochure of 52 judges together picture by picture did not take note of the overwhelmingly male skew. There are plenty of qualified women who could have diversified the judging panel and finding them would not have been a heavy lift.
A clearly researched and understood aspect of the selection process for executives is that people choose people who are like them, thus leading to a systemic bias for selecting white male executives by white male executives. This is a problem, and it needs to be addressed by the industry.
There was a time not all that long ago in both the U.S. and the UK where women were not allowed to vote. Apparently, these countries figured this was, as this magazine argued, the only way to guard against accusations that the voting process has sufficient authority and prestige to truly judge who deserves to be elected.
Something that has been important to me over the last several years is that I have been granted the opportunity to publish and speak on the topic of gender diversity. It has been important to me because once I jumped into this breach several women began communicating with me. They would tell me when they thought I got it right and when they thought I got it wrong. Most importantly, they taught me things I would have never realized on my own. Things like when women view a panel of four or five at a conference and they are all male, women resent that image. They do not believe there was not a woman good enough to participate and they find this suggestion to be an insult. One can only imagine how a judging panel of 52 that includes but one woman appears to other women. Many of the women I know would find this ridiculously insulting – and the excuse for it a charade. I cannot think of a better way for an organization to communicate to women that they just don’t matter.
When I first saw the brochure with the now notorious 52, I thought this would be a good thing. I thought it was such an egregious example of how broken the system was that it would fuel the conversation towards change. I thought this was particularly important following the pandemic, where it is argued that women have lost ground. Having seen the immediate response on LinkedIn by the organizers, however, I am wondering if my vision is but a pipe dream.
Of the many topics that we discuss in gaming today, we seem to be neglecting a terribly important subject, and that is ethics. At its most basic level, ethics is doing the right thing. To suggest that anyone seeing this list of names can conclude that our industry is operating in an ethical fashion is to suggest we have declared moral bankruptcy. Moreover, to support its continuance is to work to extend a broken system that wantonly discriminates against women—a class of people who deserve better. The time to fix this is now and there must be a commitment to do better. In short, this is unacceptable—so quit accepting it.