On the heels of International Women’s Day, inspirational women leaders shared their stories about how they rose to their rank, overcame adversity in their careers, and how they individually work to lift up and inspire other women colleagues.
Pictured above are three executive leaders for Harrah’s Gulf Coast. Collectively, they represent approximately half of the resort’s Executive Leadership Team. Back row from left to right: Stephanie Talley, director of finance; Amanda Hansen, director of casino operations, Brooke Robbins, director of human resources.
Caesars Entertainment has a rich and longstanding history as an industry leader. From responsible gaming to world-class entertainment and diversity, the company has set the golden standard, and time after time pioneered progress and change. The gaming giant isn’t resting on its laurels, however. Ever pushing itself forward, Caesars Entertainment has sparked a new mission and initiative: to achieve equal gender representation in management roles by 2025, I set out to chat with some of Caesars Entertainment’s women leaders to learn about their experiences in the industry, and how they got to where they are today.
“I don’t think I recognized early in my career that I may face challenges, but looking back, when I started at Horseshoe in 1996, the leadership was predominately male,” said Stephanie Talley, director of finance at Harrah’s Gulf Coast.
“As a female, we have a lot of expectations of ourselves during all seasons of our lives. Going to school, getting married, starting a family, and getting a job. Adversity caused me to challenge and build myself,” said Brooke Robbins, director of human resources at Harrah’s Gulf Coast. “Women wear a lot of hats, and priorities may get blurred sometimes.”
Robbins said a change in her personal life helped her realize she needed to focus on and find opportunities for herself. “I put myself out there for leadership roles, even when I doubted myself,” she said.
In late 2017, Caesars Entertainment committed to pursuing gender equity, by setting a goal to have 50 percent women in leadership roles by 2025.
Harrah’s Gulf Coast is proud that, in the aggregate, approximately half of their executive leadership team is female, according to Shay Smith, advertising and communications manager at Harrah’s Gulf Coast.
"Putting the most qualified and talented team members in leadership roles is imperative. But just as important is equal representation in those roles. Anytime we can get a diverse group of people, have their voices and unique perspectives heard and considered, we collectively become stronger and better," said Talley. “Our team at Harrah’s Gulf Coast recognizes this as true, and we are proud to have brought this to fruition.”
Caesars Entertainment is looking at ways to move the initiative forward across its vast enterprise.
“This year, we are launching pilot activities to see what works, and to spur meaningful communication,” said Lora Picini, Vice President of Equity, Strategic Policy and Regulatory Affairs. “For example, we are working on providing tools to help women and change the traditional mindset; so rather than focusing on providing mentorship, we will focus on sponsorship, as sponsors provide more than advice--they advocate on behalf of those they sponsor.” There are three regions that will launch this pilot sponsorship program first.
In addition, we are supporting events that help educate our female team members. Picini is proud to have recently moderated an event organized by Caesars’ Corporate Responsibility team and supported by Caesars’ Business Impact Group SAVVY in Las Vegas, “Take Your Seat at the Table,” a panel event focusing on women in the food and beverage industry such as Chef Christina Wilson who shared how she overcame adversity.
“When I entered management, I was lucky to have great female leaders who inspired and encouraged me with their honesty and authenticity. They coached me to continue to ask for more and different opportunities in order to grow,” said Talley. “These female leaders rooted for me and offered a different and important perspective.”
Talley said she has held many roles throughout her career. “I’ve had various areas of oversight over the years; the very first of which was as a line level team member in the cage. My other roles have included compliance, planning and analysis, continuous improvement, hospitality, and ultimately, finance again,” she said. Talley said her mother raised her to be self-sufficient, reminding her that she did not need anyone else to be successful. So when she set off on her career, she was determined. “I remember continually asking for more responsibility and training. I feel like sometimes I may have been taken advantage of by asking for more work, but I know that in the end, it made me stronger led me to where I am today.”
Agreeing with Talley, Robbins said you “can’t be afraid to take chances and sometimes women are afraid or apprehensive.”
While giving kudos to the leaders who are taking on the challenge to have a diverse and more gender-inclusive workforce, the women acknowledged that there may be misconceptions about the goal.
Talley said often times men ask if she agrees with the goal to increase representation of women in leadership roles because they’re concerned of bias. She is happy to explain to those who ask that this goal isn’t about passing over men for roles. It’s about casting a wider net in order to get a more diverse pool of candidates so that we get the best person for the job. In the end, it leads to more talent at Caesars.
Picini said Caesars Entertainment is looking at tools to help expand the pool of candidates for open positions to create equal opportunities.
“I think what the company is doing for gender equity is really monumental,” said Amanda Hansen, director of casino operations at Harrah’s Gulf Coast, while also making clear that, in the end, “I always look for the best candidates regardless of gender and offer the position to the best candidate.”
The women of Harrah’s Gulf Coast said they have a great group of supportive women and men at their property.
“You have to surround yourself with people who believe in teamwork and exude what you want to see in yourself,” said Talley.
Sharing advice for women, Robbins said, “some women starting out in their career have a misunderstanding of who they are supposed to be or have to be. The most important thing to remember is to be yourself because others relate and respect those who are authentic.”
“As a female in a leadership role, I remember that it’s incumbent upon me and my women colleagues to never lose sight of those following in our footsteps,” said Hansen. “Because our industry has been male-dominated in the past, we must remember that we are - in a way - trailblazers for the next wave of talented women. I’m proud of the work we are doing at Harrah’s Gulf Coast and the legacy that we’re collectively creating”.