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Building diversity from the ground up

Insight | Analysis

The emerging US sports wagering industry has the opportunity to reap the proven benefits of a more diverse workforce by embracing these initiatives from its inception, writes Clarion Gaming’s Ewa Bakun

A few years ago, I listened to a panel of four heads and trading directors of European sportsbooks discussing the difficulties of attracting women to betting.

The panelists were all men and at no point did the discussion reflect upon the gender of the sportsbook management in charge of creating customer propositions and marketing these to specific demographics. Few in the audience back then even picked up on the irony of that situation.

European sports betting is now a mature industry but it is still dominated by men, and largely oriented towards a male audience.

There are signs of things changing. Initiatives to increase workforce diversity have become more highly prioritised and are commanding greater attention from executive boards in Europe.

But I’m under no illusions that refreshing this workforce and making it truly diverse is a long-term goal.

The US is different. Its sports wagering market is only just emerging, the rules and guidelines are still being established and the teams who will create and roll out the strategies are yet to be fully formed.

Diversity – of both gender and race – can be an integral consideration from the very start of building this industry, ensuring it is inclusive from its inception.

In the #metoo world we live in, diversity is a moral prerogative. But it is also a commercial one.

We now know from numerous studies that companies with greater gender and ethnic diversity simply perform better financially than those with less diversity in their ranks.

“Companies with greater gender and ethnic diversity simply perform better financially than those with less diversity in their ranks”

Having diverse teams, but more importantly diverse management boards, logically opens up companies to a greater range of backgrounds, experiences and thinking that shape both the product and the type of communication – and connection – with the customer.

Diversity also introduces a level of internal questioning that makes teams more flexible and open to considering a greater variety of scenarios, driving innovation.

That innovative and more open-minded thinking might also lead to broadening the traditional sportsbook demographic to new customer groups.

The gender imbalance sports betting operators’ boards and management is mirrored by their customer base. Is there an opportunity to tap into some previously untapped demographics by hiring more black, Asian and minority or female experts who will understand better how to create a product and market it to them? We can’t tell, because it hasn’t really been done. Perhaps it requires more diverse management teams to set that process in motion so we can find out.

The emerging US sports betting – and igaming – markets have the unique opportunity to be a testing ground for these strategies. As the founding teams are being created now, diversity can – and should – be factored into hiring and internal promotion processes from the start, in accordance with current US legislation and policies in this area.

As we are launching our ICE North America trade show in Boston next week with 160+ expert speakers at a sportsbook-focused ICE VOX, the early indicators when it comes to diversity are far from reassuring, with only 23 out of 168 speakers being female.

I write this piece as a gesture of reckoning too. Clarion Gaming is the organiser of the world’s largest and leading gaming trade shows, which are designed to educate and showcase the best in thought-leadership in our industry. We surely have a responsibility to assemble more inclusive panels and raise the profile of experts from a broader range of demographics.

And just like gaming and sports wagering companies, we need to apply greater effort to be more successful in achieving this. While it will likely take takes more time, energy, and resources to cast a wider net, it will ultimately be worth it.

There have also been some promising signs that the industry is ready to embrace this initiative.

When surveying the speakers of ICE VOX North America regarding their positions on this important issue, I was overwhelmed with expressions of support and encouragement from some of the most senior people in the industry, all willing to get involved.

Moreover, the US potentially allows us to expand this conversation to the issues of race and ethnicity, which are currently less of a focus of diversity initiatives, unfortunately, in Europe.

Hopefully, getting involved at this early stage of the market’s development will allow the US industry to avoid not only the regulatory and operational mistakes of Europe, but also those related to the uniformity of the workforce. Or to put this in more positive terms, to discover how the diversity of the workforce might contribute to a more sustainable growth of this new industry in the United States.

To facilitate this process, ICE North America will host a Diversity session on Tuesday, May 14, at 4:45-6pm. The session, featuring All-In Diversity, NFL, New York State Assembly and other ICE North America speakers and visitors will be open and complimentary to all attendees.