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On the occasion of International Women’s Day, we bring you a special edition of Sonja’s Standpoint.

Eschewing token gestures, iGaming Next asked Sonja to share her perspective on gender diversity in the workplace.

The Status Quo

It’s that time of year again: Today is International Women’s Day.

In the corporate world, companies are celebrating every woman “achiever” they have ever been associated with to show how they support gender equality and female empowerment.

At the same time, we debate on the pros and cons of gender quotas in the workplace, and particularly for corporate leadership team members.

We all know that the iGaming industry has traditionally been male-dominated and that for a long time, the only women welcome in the industry were those dressed in feathered costumes or bikinis.

Admittedly, the industry has made progress in recent years, and as Betsson CEO Jesper Svensson remarked, it has come a long way since the “grotesque” days of trade show pole dancing.

However, while more women now work in iGaming, we are still underrepresented in the C-suite.

A survey conducted by the All-in Diversity Project found that women now account for 47% of iGaming industry workers.

However, as you move up the corporate ladder, that percentage decreases significantly, with just 17% holding CEO or MD positions.

There are, of course, a few exceptions to the rule. FanDuel chief Amy Howe and Entain CEO Jette Nygaard-Andersen, for example, but many gambling companies still have a male-dominated top team that resembles an “old boys club”.

Mixed feelings

Over the past 20 years, I have interviewed many female leaders, and it may surprise you to learn that many of them were hesitant to discuss their rise to the top as a woman.

Instead, they often expressed a preference to be recognised purely as a leader and felt that any reference to succeeding in a male-oriented industry would be counterproductive to normalising the fact that women occupy leadership roles.

I must confess that I too have conflicting emotions about this day.

My reservations are not related to celebrating women, but more about the tendency to overlook the critical conversations that must take place to tackle the underlying issues and assumptions.

The question of why women are still underrepresented in leadership positions is complex, and there is no one answer.

However, I’d like to share a few observations.

“My reservations are not related to celebrating women, but more about the tendency to overlook the critical conversations that must take place to tackle the underlying issues and assumptions.”

First, I think the way we view women who aspire to reach the top needs to be discussed.

Women in leadership positions often say they are getting feedback that they are overly confident or aggressive.

Their ambition and assertion is viewed negatively, whereas the same behaviour is viewed positively in men.

The issue of motherhood is frequently raised, but the question of choosing not to have children is also surprisingly contentious.

Female leaders are often told that their success is down to the fact that they did not have, or do not intend to have, children, instead of recognising their hard work and competence.

Likewise, general attitudes about working mothers remain outdated.

The unspoken assumption that women returning from parental leave will no longer desire promotions, will shy away from new challenges, or simply won’t be fully immersed in their jobs any more are sadly still very common.

While it is undoubtedly challenging to balance professional work with raising a family, it is not a situation where one has to choose between the two.

The time is right

Companies looking to fully leverage the potential of their female staff should be open to alternative career paths.

Many of us have grown up with the notion that by the time we reach ‘middle age’, we should have worked our way up the corporate ladder.

However, for many women, the opposite is true, and they often reach their career peaks in the second half of their lives.

It is important to realise that our 30s and early 40s are not necessarily the critical make-or-break acceleration phase of our careers, despite what we have been led to believe.

Many women spend the first half of their lives juggling professional growth with what I call “family responsibilities”, such as caring for children, supporting sick or ageing parents, and other domestic issues.

However, as society changes and progresses, the traditional model of career advancement becomes increasingly obsolete.

Some women may choose to accelerate their careers in the second half of their lives when they have the time to prioritise their professional ambitions.

Celebrating career diversity

To successfully promote gender diversity in the workplace, it is crucial for companies to acknowledge and accommodate the unique career trajectories of women.

The traditional “up-or-out” model, where you either progress or move on, is still prevalent in many internal talent management programmes, but is not always conducive to a woman’s career goals and aspirations.

The iGaming industry and the broader tech sector are known for their innovative HR policies, but there is a need for a new approach to career management that is more inclusive and recognises career diversity.

In doing so, companies can promote broader access for women to the highest levels of responsibility and help to address the gender gap in senior leadership positions.

The 2023 All-Index is now open for participation. The survey is free for all participants, and to any business or organisation within the betting and gaming sector globally. The deadline to submit is 31 March 2023. 

The poker industry has long been dominated by male players and most of the well-known poker pros around the world are men.

The female poker player population has been, and still is, in a minority, both at tournaments and with online poker, while many women can testify to sexist comments and remarks at tables.

But there is a change on the horizon, and if you ask Ivonne Montealegre, change can’t come fast enough. The founder of the Malta Poker Festival has been living and breathing poker for more than 20 years and has a deeper knowledge of the poker world than most.

We sat down in Malta to talk about what must change in the poker industry and how it can be more inclusive for every type of player.

“Poker has flatlined, every male that wants to play poker already has a poker account everywhere,” says Montealegre. “But in the female population – that’s where we can grow. And it’s incredible, there is so much money and investment right now for women in poker.”

Malta Poker Festival founder Ivonne Montealegre

iGN: How can more women get into poker?

IM: “I’ve always done satellites for women which is very rare, and I think that is a key ingredient. The island of Malta has thousands of gaming female professionals and still I’m the only one on the tournaments on Friday, or maybe me and three other women. The numbers are lacking and have even decreased. In the nineties, the field was between 5% and 10%. Now, it’s a very sad 3% of women that play.”

iGN: Do you know why that is?

IM: “Because a lot of the poker promotions have been designed by a guy. And this guy from a well-known brand thinks that what we want is a box with stuff like a body cream. That’s not what I want, I want tickets to play in the big games. I want you to empower me to be a professional player.

“And still to this day I see, for example, a big tournament that takes place on a Saturday at 1pm. What mother of one, two, or three kids can play poker on a Saturday lunchtime? And it’s all because a guy thought about it. If you had the empathy and the experience of being a woman or a mother, you would know it’s a different situation. All promotions in the poker industry are male dominated and it has been targeting women from the male perspective.”

Representation matters

It is no secret that Ivonne is very passionate about bringing more women into the poker world. And year-by-year, she sees the numbers increasing. Last April, 30% of the entries in the casino were females.

“That’s huge, that made the headlines even in the US,” says Montealegre. “Some women travel from the States to Malta to play a 200 event. it made no sense to me, but I was so grateful, especially because the community is so fun.”

She continues: “Now I’m having two events, in spring and in autumn. In spring there are lots of Americans coming. I don’t know if we went viral with this 30% quota of females and the Americans are responding, but they want to travel to Malta and have that cultural experience, especially after the pandemic. So, I think it’s a very good time for poker in Malta.”

iGN: What are some challenges for women in the poker world?

IM: “In terms of ladies’ events, some guys disagree with them, and some women also don’t like to play ladies events. Poker is a same-level field – we don’t need to be divided into men and women. If you know how to play you can play.

“But ladies’ events are built for women to be able to have that space, because we normally don’t have that space. Even now there are stories, things that have happened to my colleagues or to female poker professionals.

“They get insults like “go back to the kitchen” and all that type of thing. It happens a lot still. In this day, women still get berated and insulted.”

Leading by example

Someone that has experienced her fair share of challenges as a woman in the poker industry is Giada Fang.

She has played poker since 2010 after she had a motorbike accident and was forced to take leave from her job as a doctor.

After discovering Zynga poker on Facebook, she started an account with PokerStars and that same year, after hours of playing and studying the game, she reached the status of Supernova Elite – the only female player in the world at that time to reach that level.

“My approach to poker was basically online and no one knew I was a woman, and people didn’t believe me when I said I was,” says Fang. “Men never believe a woman can put that amount of studying, energy, and time into poker, because it’s something that doesn’t appeal to women like it does to men.”

She adds: “But if you think about it, poker is all about concentration and math, it’s about a certain way of thinking and I believe a woman can be better than a man, because we have more patience and more cold blood.”

iGN: Have you experienced any comments from men in tournaments?

GF: “I have, both in negative and positive ways. There are men that respect you because you are a female player but there are also men that don’t want to lose against a woman. Every time they lose a hand against you, it’s always bad comments.

“I just won a tournament online recently and there were articles about it in Italy. Of course you have lots of comments from men saying it was only written about because I am a girl or because I am cute.

“When I play online, now that they know it’s me, there is always someone saying bad words or calling me names and so on. Unfortunately, it is normal, but I think it’s just because men don’t want to lose against women. That is the big problem of our world.”

iGN: What is a valuable lesson you have learned within poker?

GF: “I have learned that in poker, as in other fields, a woman can be just as good and actually even better than men. You have to just not let the comments put you down. The more they comment badly, the more I want to beat them in the game and prove that I’m better. Not with words but with facts.”

Road to success

Poker might be male dominated, but both Fang and Montealegre believe that women can thrive within the poker world in the near future. Both would love to see more women in the industry itself, either at the tables as players or as organisers or managers.

“I also want to see more women sharing their success stories,” says Montealegre. “Because of socialisation and the patriarchy, women in the industry think we need to keep the secrets to our success hidden in drawers, and that we need to be competitive with other women.

“But instead, the best thing you can do to succeed is to become a great mentor. That is the best way to learn after a certain age. You learn more by giving than by being selfish,” she concludes.

The Malta Poker Festival 2023 will take place between 24 April and 1 May and is set over seven days at Portomaso Casino on the island of Malta.

This article was written and researched by Louise Wolke. Louise is a Swedish site manager with a degree in Journalism and Media Production. She is based in Malta and has worked in the iGaming industry since 2016. 

Better Collective strengthened its leadership team in January with the hire of Kindred Group chief experience officer Britt Boeskov as its new SVP of strategy.

Boeskov is a highly respected industry thought leader who has been tasked with driving the future strategy of the Copenhagen-based affiliate and sports media giant.

Below, iGaming NEXT caught up with Boeskov on International Women’s Day 2022 to find out how she is settling into her new role:

iGaming NEXT: What attracted you to join the Better Collective business?

Britt Boeskov: I have followed Better Collective from a distance for some years and I had the opportunity to discuss the development of Better Collective with the two founders, Jesper and Christian. It sounded like a truly exciting journey, and so I made the decision to join them.

iGN: What are your responsibilities at Better Collective and what do you hope to achieve over the long-term?

BB: Overall, I will be overseeing the group strategy process and make sure that we are moving forward in the right direction and to engage the fast-growing organisation in where we’re heading. I will also oversee the responsible gambling area, as that is a crucial foundation to securing the path ahead for both us and for the broader industry.

iGN: How are you planning to adapt to the affiliate sector after such a long time on the operator side?

BB: First of all, by listening and learning. Even though the business is different from that of an operator, there are some similarities; the user is at the centre of any success, and Better Collective is uniquely positioned to educate users so that their experience of gambling becomes more transparent and fair.

iGN: How did you come to the decision to leave Kindred after such a long time? Was there any doubt or fear in doing something different after nearly two decades with the same business?

BB: I have had a fantastic journey with Kindred for 17 years, but this felt like the right time to engage in something new. Of course it is daunting, but also very energising to start somewhere new.

iGN: What is your proudest achievement from your time at Kindred Group?

BB: Building up strong teams of amazing people who are able to run a business that keeps transforming, while keeping the values very much alive.

iGN: What is the growth story for Kindred moving forwards, in your opinion?

BB: It has been a privilege to have been a part of the Kindred success story, but as I have now left, I don’t think I should comment on their future strategies.

iGN: Did you have an existing relationship with the senior management team at Better Collective? What is your early impression of the executive team there?

BB: I have been in the industry for many years and from a distance I have followed the ambitious team from Better Collective. I am most impressed with their vision for creating a global sports media group.

iGN: Is the online gambling industry doing enough to promote diversity and gender equality, in your view? How far has the industry progressed in this area and how far is there still to go?

BB: The recent #BreakTheBias campaign clearly demonstrates that we haven’t progressed far enough. Even if we feel we’re doing the right things and have good intentions, we need to keep an open dialogue with our colleagues about their experience, and constantly strive for more equitable outcomes. It’s worth it, both from a business perspective and on moral grounds.

iGN: Did Better Collective’s strategy for the US play a part in your decision to join the business?

BB: The US is an exciting and very tangible business opportunity, and the sports media space provides rich experiences for users. Who wouldn’t want to work with the kind of growth that exists there?