Having broken new ground when she became the first female mayor of Las Vegas in 1991, Jan Jones Blackhurst continues to blaze trails as EVP of Public Policy & Corporate Responsibility for Caesars Entertainment Group. IAG caught up with her at the recent Woman Expo Tokyo 2019 in Japan to discuss the importance of gender diversity in the gaming industry.
Ben Blaschke: Why is diversity so important?
Jan Jones Blackhurst: Better operating outcomes. The data is very clear that when you have more diverse leadership teams you have higher performance – higher revenues, higher EBITDA, higher return on sales. And I’m not speculating – this is data that has been pulled together by some of the biggest business data analytics groups in the world, so by failing to recognise the benefits of diversity at the highest levels of the organization you are limiting your business success.
BB: What do the numbers say about the ratio of women currently rising through the ranks of gaming firms to take on leadership roles?
JJB: Well the numbers are all misleading. The gaming industry will tell you, “50% of our workforce are women”. Well they are, but they’re not senior executives so crying victory because you have 50% women is a bit rich – 50% of the population are women so you should have 50% – if you’re not moving that forward.
What Caesars found internally when we really made a commitment to achieve 50-50 by 2025 was yes, we had 42% female representation at director and manager level, but then it falls off above that. You need to be very definite about the programs you put in place to bring about change because it’s a cultural issue. It’s how you’re recruiting, how you’re sponsoring, how you’re giving performance reviews, how you’re taking your talented women and moving them forward. I hear men say, “They’re going to take my job”. Note to self: it’s not your job, it’s a job, and that job should be filled by the best talent.
BB: How do you go about changing the ingrained culture of a company?
JJB: The way we did it was very scientific. I hired McKinsey & Co and I hired them for a reason – they are in every corporate boardroom around the country and they speak corporate. So first you need to have the language right, second you need to have buy-in from the CEO and we have that with our leadership. He supported the initiative which sent a message through the organization.
Then we created equity councils. We have one at corporate, one in the western division, one in the south, one in the Midwest and one in the eastern division because the issues are different depending on whether you are in a corporate office or an operating property.
We then went out and did interviews, focus groups, with 2,000 employees.
Once we created the councils and collected the data, we said, “Okay, we’re going to do three Petri dishes and in these Petri dishes we’re going to use different tools to see if it changes the composition.
One of those tools was recruiting. We gave everybody heat maps that showed where we were going to find the most diverse talent, we gave them different sponsorship initiatives and we’re starting to re-scrub our job descriptions because we found that if you make the job descriptions just a little more feminine then all of a sudden the job looks more interesting.
We also did unconscious bias training – first with our top 300 Vice Presidents – because everyone has unconscious bias but you have to recognise it. Then we started to drive that training down throughout the organisation.
In the next year we’ll see how these different tools used have impacted.
Corporate finance is another one of our Petri dishes where we used two large properties in Las Vegas, New Orleans in the Midwest and then a property in Baltimore and we took our more diverse management teams and overlayed their operating outcomes against our least diverse. So now we’re beginning to not only measure but get people both aware and a little competitive.
BB: What impact have you seen?
JJB: We haven’t been doing this for long enough yet but just by having the conversation we’ve seen a 4% shift.
There are more women today with BAs, with MBAs, who are lawyers, so you can’t say we don’t have the talent pool. What we don’t have is the culture that allows them to move up at the same speed and frequency as their white male colleagues. And it gets worse as you get into more of those groups – it’s not just women.
We picked women not because diversity across all groups isn’t equally important, it was because it’s a mass that is easier to move and measure and if you’re changing the sponsorship, hiring and mentorship for women then diverse representation is going to rise as well.
BB: Where does the gaming industry sit compared with others?
JJB: I think it is worse, because they may have 50% women but go look at their senior teams. They’re all white men and they don’t even see it.
I was giving a speech on this issue and I put up a picture of a senior team of a large gaming company. I made it clear, “I am not calling out this company,” because I didn’t name it, but said, “This could be the senior team of any gaming company.”
A reporter in the audience recognized the CEO and tweeted that I had called them out. Well, I got a cease and desist letter from them so I called the CEO, who I knew, and said, “What is the matter with you?”
He said, “The reporter was so upset and everybody was getting involved.”
I told him, “The picture is on your website. If you don’t want to be called out don’t put it up there”.
They don’t see it and I bet if you go to any gaming company and look at their senior teams they are certainly no better and maybe a little worse.
BB: You must have been watching the situation at Wynn Resorts very closely over the past 18 months?
JJB: I mean, wow … “we have a whole new board!” Now you’re seeing some changes in boards, you’re seeing some states and countries require female representation but the problem is you need to have at least 30% either in management or on a board. Unless you have a group of women who feel like they are a little more equally represented in a boardroom and in a conversation they will tend to be quieter. But when they see there is 30% or 40% they tend to be very vocal.
BB: When you look at this issue as it relates to Japan, what do you see?
JJB: I see a huge opportunity. I read a report by Goldman Sachs on Shinzo Abe’s womenomics. Japan will say that 71% of women are in the workforce. That’s true, but the same problem you have in the United States and around the world exists here too – they are really all at lower levels. Getting to higher levels, they are almost invisible.
But with the declining workforce, the most available talent pool as Japan moves forward are women, so I think IRs are a tremendous opportunity to really hire and promote women in the workforce.
The report said that if you got to near equal representation it would create a 10% increase in the GDP of Japan. If you moved it to the OECD average for regular working hours it would be 15%.
The numbers are huge. Just having equal pay in the United States would contribute an extra US$12 trillion in GDP. Around the world it would be US$38 trillion. It’s such bad business and old-time thinking to not find a way to solve this problem quickly. There is very little excuse other than being obtuse.
BB: Is it easier to create a diverse corporate culture when developing a new company or industry than changing an established one?
JJB: Oh sure, because you’re building from the ground up so you can be very scientific about how you look for talent, how that talent is balanced, how you’re providing for small business and how many of those are women owned business. Building from the ground up is very different than trying to change a culture of 60,000 people.
BB: In 1991 you became the first female mayor of Las Vegas and held the role for eight years until 1999. Do you feel you made a difference for women by breaking that glass ceiling?
JJB: I know I did. I received a note from a woman about six months ago that read, “I’m writing to you because you came to my daughter’s third grade class and you were asking them what they wanted to be. She said she wanted to be a doctor and everyone laughed at her. You told her ‘Don’t listen to them. If you want to be a doctor, find your passion, go out there and get it’. I’m writing to tell you my daughter just graduated from medical school.”
There are all of these people you influence that you are unaware of at the time. I still have people who say to me, “You’ll always be our mayor” because it was such a pivotal time in the city’s growth. Everyone saw Las Vegas as Sin City and all of a sudden it became this mega-destination.
I think there are so many women in politics today in Las Vegas because they saw there was someone who could lead.