Rosa Parks Would Not Stand for a Manel

Are civil rights and women’s rights connected? Undoubtedly says gaming industry veteran Richard Schuetz. Just reflect on the history of Rosa Parks (l.) during the civil rights struggle and compare it to the difficulties still encountered by women who deserve respect in today’s gaming business.

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Rosa Parks Would Not Stand for a Manel

“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”—Edmund Burke

I have been involved in a work project in the Deep South for the last year and during this time I have been touring a great many of the sites of significance in the US civil rights movement. One that I found particularly fascinating was the Rosa Parks Museum, located on the grounds of Troy University, in Montgomery, the capital city of Alabama.

Rosa Parks lived in Montgomery during the 1950s, and like many of the black working-class people in that city she depended on the bus system to get to and from work. During this time there was segregated seating on the busses. Black people were expected to enter the bus at the front, pay their dime, exit the front door and enter the rear door to sit at the back of the bus. This was done so that the white riders did not have to be inconvenienced by the black riders walking past them. Also, blacks were not allowed to sit in a row occupied by a white person, or across from them, and the bus drivers were empowered to detain anyone who broke these rules until the police arrived to arrest the violator.

The bus laws were an example of many such laws in the South that were known as Jim Crow Laws, and they restricted blacks to designated drinking fountains, worked to ensure that blacks could not vote or own property, restricted them from restaurants, did not allow them to swim in public pools, prevented them from attending white schools, and even established on what sides of the streets blacks were allowed to walk. Also, should someone violate these rules, they could be arrested and jailed. Beyond this punishment, it has been documented by the Montgomery-based Equal Justice Initiative, many of the close to 400 black people lynched without trial in the state of Alabama alone in the post-reconstruction era were related to efforts by white terrorists, such as the KKK, to enforce these Jim Crow laws.

On December 1, 1955, the reserved and diminutive Mrs. Parks was riding home from work in the black section of a bus, toward the middle, and there was higher ridership on the bus than normal. A white man entered the bus and the driver told Mrs. Parks to give her seat to the white man. She quietly ignored him and the driver summoned the police and had her arrested. In her book, Mrs. Parks recalls that while waiting for the police to arrive, she was concerned that she would be lynched, manhandled or beaten, and suggested that she was just tired of the humiliation and degradation associated with having to obey these laws designed by white supremacists. While being processed in the police station during her arrest, Mrs. Parks requested a drink of water, and was told that this was not possible because the available drinking fountain was for whites only.

The response to Mrs. Parks’ refusing to give up her seat had dramatic implications for the US civil rights movement. It initiated a bus boycott by blacks and their supporters in Montgomery that lasted over a year, and she became known as a leader in the U.S. civil rights movement. Unfortunately, her activism made her unemployable in Montgomery, so she was forced to move north, and she became a part of the Great Northward Migration of blacks to escape the dangerous and degrading conditions imposed by the white supremacist society that defined so much of the South.

When one looks at the treatment of blacks in the South in the post-reconstruction era, one has to ask how could such a sad and shameful situation exist year after year after year? It is clearly contrary to the notion that many in the U.S. like to project with the theory that by working hard a person can advance in life. In the South, all of the hard work in the world would not let black people own property, avoid the Jim Crow Laws, vote, or achieve all of the many other life experiences that white folks took for granted. It is hard to advance in life when a multitude of legal and social barriers are placed in the path of people to ensure that they cannot advance.

This also seems to challenge the notion the U.S. likes to sell that all people are created equal; if one needs to debunk that belief, they can quickly be overwhelmed by examples from throughout the U.S. in matters concerning race. It also seems to impinge the idea of equal justice for all when there were special restrictive laws for blacks that did not pertain to whites.

The sad reality of much of the South during this time was that a whole lot of people did nothing to change what was happening. The political environment was controlled by white men, the economy was controlled by white men, the judiciary was controlled by white men, and even the white churches, of which so many were just fine with this whole Jim Crow thing, were controlled by white men. In short, this whole system had been constructed by white men to benefit white men. There was little desire to change by the forces that controlled the socio-economic and political environment and those people who did work for change needed to understand that there could be serious risks associated with such behavior.

This civil rights struggle continues today. Moreover, in the decades since Mrs. Parks refused to give up her seat, a great many other victims of discrimination have been identified and have come forward to fight for their civil rights. These victims of discrimination are based on such attributes as sexual orientation, religion, country of origin, gender, and the like.

Gender discrimination is a reality of the U.S. economy, unless one believes in the concept of male superiority or some other justification for the state of things today. Women are paid materially less than their male counterparts and the data only demonstrated improvement by essentially one-tenth of one percentage point over the period from 2017 to 2018. Few women are CEOs and few sit on boards – a trend that is likely to be slow to change for statistics suggests that the protégés and replacements of executives mimic the gender and race characteristics of the mentor or exiting executive. In discussions concerning job evaluations a great many more men report that their male supervisor addressed career path goals than do women who are evaluated by men. Also, within the evaluation process men get more feedback, and it has been judged to be more candid than the feedback their female counterparts receive.

Women also have challenges in securing male mentors or sponsors, a situation that many believe is being exacerbated by the “me too” movement. Related to this, many male executives are now hesitant to meet outside the work environment with women, whereas this is a fairly common occurrence with males. The implication of all of this, and more, is that the reality of the work environment is that women are often treated as second-class citizens. They are paid less, have fewer promotional opportunities, struggle to secure mentoring and sponsorships from existing top-level executives; and, while people make all kinds of statements to suggest that changes are taking place, the changes are painfully slow.

The suffrage movement for women in the US is normally identified as beginning in the 1840s, and yet the right to vote for women never became law until the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920. The point is, the effort to secure civil rights in this country has always moved very slowly by groups working to get away from the yoke of discriminatory treatment, and this is very true for women. Wage rate differences have proven very inflexible over the last quarter of a century and company boards are applauded when the reach 25% membership by women. While there has been much talk, there has been a very noticed lack of walk.

Forbes Magazine recently provided a list of the America’s top 100 innovative leaders. A woman was not to be found until spot 75, and that was the last woman mentioned. Again, maybe women are just not as smart, lack ambition, don’t want to get involved, are busy raising kids, or whatever other lame excuse is applied to attempt to rationalize this system of male privilege and patriarchy—but I believe that such “explanations” are nonsense.

You only need to look at the data surrounding the commercial gambling industry to see conclusive proof that the system favors men at the expense of women, and there really do not seem to be many forces in operation to change this, unless talking about it endlessly counts. Moreover, much of what this industry is, and is becoming, is often communicated through conferences and the conference circuit does little to suggest that it will be leading any effort at ushering in change. In fact, since the US Supreme Court ruling addressing sports betting in 2018, I suspect that the opportunities for women to demonstrate their competence and provide positive examples to other women by speaking at conferences has declined, and one of the true manifestations of this is the “manel,” that is, the all male panel.

The manel is a thing in the conference circuit and to suggest otherwise is to deny reality. One only needs to scan the pictures of gaming conferences on conference promotional websites and social media to discover that manels are everywhere. Also, for the purposes of this discussion, a manel will be considered to be four or more people. The probability of securing 4 men on a panel in the absence of statistical bias is slightly more than 6 percent, so while it can happen without bias, it is highly unlikely.

In the U.S. racial civil rights experience, one of the institutions that were a positive agent of change were the black churches. Throughout the South many of the meetings and organizing activities of the black movement took place within these churches, and many of these are now landmarks in the South along the Civil Rights Trail. One then looks to find the possible institutions that could assist in eliminating the manel, and more importantly, the other symptoms of gender discrimination in the gaming industry.

Conferences, by and large, are designed to be moneymaking experiences for the organizer, and the reality of their existence is sponsorship dollars. These sponsorship commitments come primarily from male-led entities. These sponsorships also come with a condition, and that is that the sponsor and/or its organization will be given a most-favored nation status to speak or to identify speakers.

If there is anyone who believes that the same old people who speak at event after event are selected for their brilliance, well maybe, but it is more likely that the sponsor wants to get his people in front of the audience for branding and sales reasons, or to attract someone who the sponsors want to socialize with, such as regulators and academics, and the sponsors have paid to make this happen. In short, speakers at conferences are heavily influenced by a pay-to-play reality. One therefore understands that the sponsors are not about to lead the charge to reduce discrimination for they probably believe they are profiting from it.

You could also expect women to become vocal with regard to this form of discrimination, but women have learned what Mrs. Parks learned when she refused to “play by the rules” for she soon found herself to be unemployable. How women have learned to cope in a male dominated profession could be a topic in itself, but becoming overly aggressive in fighting for women’s rights within an organization has yet to be thoroughly identified as a brilliant tactic by a woman to get ahead.

Who does this leave to solve this dilemma? I suspect that men could refuse to participate in manels, and I know of a few men who have done this, including me, but realists should be careful in anticipating any mass movement in this direction. Men tend to see things in the context of a zero-sum game vis a vis women, and the thought becomes that if women gain, it could come at the expense of men. Moreover, a male speaking at a conference allows the male to participate in the important act of “mansplaining,” noting that on panels with men and women, males tend to speak for a higher percentage of the panel session than women.

Furthermore, speaking is a nice stroke to the male ego, and one should never underestimate the power of the male ego in driving behavior. I would also suggest that men do not necessarily see that lack of female participation due to anything other than male intellectual dominance, a divine law of nature, part of the Bro Code, or some equally ridiculous argument.

It is then interesting to explore some of the other institutional actors. Regulatory agencies could easily take a position to encourage their employees to work to accept speaking opportunities that are not manels. Yet, I have heard stories from a variety of sources where the male head of the agency has requested a female invitee to be substituted by a male, or if the female is asked to speak, to transfer the invitation to the male head himself. The point is, men run many of our agencies and they are not about to limit their opportunities to travel and speak.

An organization such as the American Gaming Association could suggest that their male employees should work to avoid manels, but that could get very tough given the new leadership of that entity. It recently had two high-ranking female executives exit to be replaced by men, leaving that organization with 30 percent female representation on its staff page. Once again, we see that the AGA may be more a part of the problem rather than the solution.

I suspect that academically oriented gaming programs throughout the country could take a position to encourage their male members to avoid manels, but having been involved with academics in many different states, countries, and across generations, I do not have much faith here. The faculties of academic environments seldom lead on social issues for when one looks to social issues that have been fueled by academic environments, it is normally by the students, not the faculty. Academic programs in gaming also mimic the industry they cover in being generally led by males.

Maybe an alternative could be the vast associations that populate and are involved in the gaming industry, such entities as the IAGA, NIGA, IMGL, and so on and so forth, but what you find there is that some of these entities are terrible at securing the participation of women in speaking roles and are to be looked at as adding fuel to the fire, and not acting as an agent of change.

The gender issue in gaming is a civil rights issue. Women are being discriminated against, and as with most civil rights issues, it continues to exist because no one does much about it. While discrimination hurts some, it benefits others, and the others that are benefited appear to control the system. The contradiction we are faced with in respect to manels is that they are a product of an industry in which the powers that controls things are men and men seem to have little interest in helping fix it. In gaming, women have been marginalized for so long that it has become normalized, which is to say it has just come to being accepted. While men and the organizations they control may say they care about such things, they certainly do not seem to be doing much about it.

Articles by Author: Richard Schuetz

Richard Schuetz started dealing blackjack for Bill Harrah 47 years ago, and has traveled the world as a casino executive, educator and regulator. He is sincerely appreciative of the help he received from his friends and colleagues throughout the gaming world in developing this article, understanding that any and all errors are his own.