Few would deny that the technology industry, and by extension online gaming, is a bit of a boy's club. Girls in Tech Gibraltar is determined to change this.
Looking at the role of women in technology does not make for happy reading. In the US, women make up 56 per cent of the workforce, yet only 28 per cent of proprietary software jobs are held by women. Only 25 per cent of IT jobs are filled by female candidates; 11 per cent of executives at Fortune 500 companies are women, and just five per cent of technology startups are owned by women.
If the gender bias in technology as a whole is bad, it is arguably worse in iGaming. Any major industry conference will be dominated by men. There is also likely to be a number of scantily clad women at these events – to the point that Clarion, organiser of the ICE Totally Gaming conference, circulated an email discouraging exhibitors from using women to promote their offerings.
Gambling and pornography have traditionally piggybacked one another online, with affiliate sites featuring porn ads, and gambling ads appearing on porn sites.
Most of the leading gaming operators, excluding bet365, have male chief executives. It’s no stretch to describe the industry as a boys’ club. This, in turn, makes it less attractive to female candidates.
Playtech Games Innovation Labs senior software developer Christina Turbatu explains: “If you don’t have any experience of the gambling sector; if you are working in banking and considering moving into the industry, you will look at websites or conference pictures and see women sexualised,” she says. “This gives the impression that you won’t be taken seriously, or will simply be seen as an object.
“At ICE 2017 I was pleased to see a difference from previous years, and there were definitely fewer sexualised or objectified women on the floor,” she continues. “But if you are a woman, dressed professionally and trying to discuss technology, many still won’t take you seriously, or they think you’re flirting with them.”
Turbatu is leading the charge for change as the managing director of Girls in Tech Gibraltar, the latest chapter of a global non-profit organisation established in 2007 to promote the engagement, education and empowerment of women in technology. Its Gibraltar arm was formed in August 2016.
She explains that as a woman working in Gibraltar she found there were not many women in the industry with whom she could work, share ideas and befriend.
“It seemed natural to bring the community here,” Turbatu says. “I really appreciated Girls in Tech’s approach to driving the empowerment of women in technology, how it is trying to bring women into the sector and find solutions to [gender inequality] rather than just point out the issues.”
Turbatu has Playtech’s backing in establishing Girls in Tech Gibraltar, and brought in her colleague Peter Mares, chief technology officer of Games Innovation Labs, as business development and strategic partner¬ships manager.
“Peter was the first team member I had, working on how to create partnerships with companies and help us run our programme,” she says. “From there we built a team comprising different skill-sets and companies.”
Girls in Tech Gibraltar runs multiple events throughout the year, ranging from technology talks to discussions and debates specifically on women in technology. It is also going to run a bootcamp for people with no experience in technology, teaching them how to build websites. Other events, such as talks by experienced female technology executives and hackathons, are also being arranged.
These are not restricted to female attendees. The goal is to have men and women networking, learning and creating together.
“Girls in Tech Gibraltar is an all-inclusive effort, meaning that it’s not just about encouraging women to participate, but also men to raise awareness, which we feel is important for sustainable change,” Mares says.
Playtech may have thrown its weight behind the initiative, but it has its own issues with gender equality. Its 2016 annual report revealed that 60.2 per cent of its workforce is male. Just 11.5 per cent of senior managers, and 14.3 per cent of its directors, are female. This is representative of the wider industry. At Paddy Power Betfair, 39.2 per cent of the workforce is female, as are 27.9 per cent of senior managers and 20 per cent of its board. Women comprise 48 per cent of Ladbrokes Coral staff; 23 per cent of senior managers and 22 per cent of board members. At William Hill women actually comprise 51.1 per cent of the total workforce, but just 23 per cent of senior managers and 20 per cent of board members.
All of the companies mentioned are working on initiatives to bring in more women at all levels, and are committed to working towards creating gender balance, it should be noted. Yet Mares argues there are deeper issues at play here. He says that when hiring there is an “unconscious bias” when selecting candidates. This, he says, can even be found in job descriptions.
“One thing that has been highlighted to me is that the job descriptions we create often suffer from their own affinity biases,” Mares explains. “I was creating job descriptions that were inadvertently aimed at men. We’re working on re-evaluating the introductory blurb and making this more gender neutral.”
This only deals with an immediate problem. It is well-documented that the academic disciplines of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) are promoted more to males from an early age. This, Mares says, helped him become aware of the lack of female candidates.
“When I was a hiring manager at Odobo [the company acquired to form Games Innovation Labs] I commented that I didn’t see a lot of female candidates applying for tech roles,” he says. “I didn’t have a human resources department screening them out.
“I believe that the problem starts way before people actually get into their jobs, it could be happening at university – girls are not as encouraged to pick up technology as boys are.
“Some of the women that do make it in tech don’t experience or register any form of bias, whereas others clearly recognise it. When you look at the general corporate make-up, you do have a frightening ratio of men to women, hence the need for more diversity.” As a man in tech, he says that this bias is due in part to company culture.
“There are some companies that didn’t tolerate the [‘boys’ club’] as part of their DNA, but there are others that simply allowed that to grow,” Mares explains. “Whether that is consciously or unconsciously created, it’s not dissimilar to the tech industry in general. I wouldn’t put it down to a gaming-specific thing, but we are dealing with the wider challenges the tech industry is facing.”
However, there is no real drive to have companies enforce targets on female hires, he adds. “You don’t set guidelines, you don’t set percentage targets, you have to re-evaluate everything.”
Mares and Turbatu argue that this goes beyond an ethical issue. It also makes good business sense to have a gender-balanced workforce. If you are going to build a product that can appeal to both genders, it makes sense to do so with a mixed team of various age groups.
“It’s very difficult to create one product that pleases all, but having more diverse teams you’ll have more widely accepted sets of products,” Mares suggests.
Considering the gender imbalance even within its founder’s own employer, it’s clear that Girls in Tech Gibraltar has a long way to go. Yet by starting in the relatively small territory of Gibraltar, Turbatu believes that it will be easier to monitor and measure change, positive or otherwise.
Plans are also afoot to expand Girls in Tech to other territories where Playtech has offices.
“Playtech believes what we are doing is worthwhile, and is now looking to take this globally,” Turbatu says. “They’re looking to engage with existing chapters where they have offices, and set up new ones where none exist.”
It is only a year old, but Girls in Tech Gibraltar may be the driving force behind a major and necessary change in the industry to address the male domination of iGaming.
This article was first published in the Jan-Mar 2018 issue of GIQ magazine.