Cassie Stratford sat down with Focus Gaming News to talk about the work of Global Gaming Women, its mission and the challenges facing women in the gaming industry today.
Exclusive interview.- Global Gaming Women (GGW) was established in 2011 to support, inspire, and influence the development of women in the casino gaming industry.
Twelve years later, it continues its mission and is growing day by day with over 7,000 active members and a wide range of educational programs, mentorship opportunities, and networking events globally.
To gain deeper insights into this organization, its objectives, and initiatives, we spoke with Cassie Stratford, president and chair of GGW and SVP of legal operations and regulatory compliance of Boyd Gaming Corporation.
During the interview, Cassie delved into her professional journey, and her pivotal role within the organization, and offered her perspective on the current status of women in the gaming industry.
Can you tell us a bit about your professional experience in the gaming industry and how you joined Global Gaming Women?
My background is in the legal field. After graduating from university, I went to law school, although I actually did my undergraduate studies in Washington, DC, and then pursued law school in Las Vegas. Being in Las Vegas, I naturally became quite familiar with the gaming industry.
I joined the gaming company I work for today [Boyd Gaming Corporation] back in 2012, which was nearly 12 years ago. I was already acquainted with the industry and had some friends from the community who worked in it. I had a strong interest in working for a gaming company as a lawyer, given my legal background.
Early in my career, I began to realize that the industry was rapidly evolving. So, it became important to me to gain exposure to as many industry professionals as possible and learn from their experiences. I explored different industry organizations, many of which were valuable. One such organization was Global Gaming Women.
I discovered it quite early in my career and decided to learn more about it. I learned that they organized specific educational conferences, and my company, Boyd, was very supportive of me trying to attend one of those. So, I finally attended a two-and-a-half-day conference where you just spent time developing your professional skills developing your leadership and public speaking skills.
Moreover, I gained substantive knowledge relevant to our business. There were speakers who delved into the intricacies of financial statements in the casino world and the compliance and operational aspects. Our industry has unique angles that require a deep understanding, and this conference was immensely helpful.
I view this as a pivotal moment in my career because it gave me a profound appreciation for the power of networking. Meeting other professionals, learning from them, and having the ability to exchange ideas with them was invaluable.
I observed different leadership styles and learned what I wanted to emulate. Furthermore, I realized the importance of acquiring in-depth knowledge about the gaming industry, with its many intricate components.
From that point, I decided to dive into learning everything I could about the business and the professionals I admired and respected. This marked the beginning of my involvement with the organization and my determination to find ways to contribute and help others understand the benefits it offers.
I wanted to give back and support the organization’s growth to reach more people in our industry because I believed it was exceptionally beneficial, not only for individual attendees but for our entire industry. I felt it would elevate our industry by fostering exceptional talent.
“I decided to dive into learning everything I could about the business and the professionals I admired and respected.”Cassie Stratford, GGW president and chair.
And how did you become president of Global Gaming Women?
So, that was a progression. After attending that conference and finding ways to get more involved, I began volunteering for various opportunities. This led to my involvement in the education committee.
While I wasn’t technically a board member, I played a role in setting up educational conferences, providing feedback on valuable content, and helping identify speakers. We aimed to expand our reach both online and in different regions, not just limiting it to Las Vegas, given the expansive nature of the industry.
As I became more involved, I eventually became the co-chair of the committee. After serving for a few years in that capacity, I learned that one of the best rewards for good work is more work. People entrust you with additional responsibilities when they see your dedication and passion. Consequently, I started to engage in more facets of the organization.
The board members eventually approached me and asked if I would be interested in joining the board. I wholeheartedly agreed, driven by my strong belief in the organization’s values.
On a personal level, I saw serving on a board as an opportunity to gain valuable insight into how such an entity operates, with its formalities and the realization that it is akin to running a business. A board functions with a budget, different operating units, and sophisticated organization.
I got involved in the board and tried to make the most of that opportunity. When the chance arose to expand the executive committee, they needed a new vice president, who then would be in line for the presidency.
They asked me if I was interested and the answer was yes because I saw it as an opportunity to give back to an organization I was passionate about while gaining valuable experience to develop my own leadership skills. Running a nonprofit is still akin to running a business, complete with bank accounts, budgets, and personnel management.
So that was kind of the progression up to when I took over as president, I guess it was July of 2021.
“They asked me if I was interested and the answer was yes because I saw it as an opportunity to give back to an organization I was passionate about.”Cassie Stratford, GGW president & chair.
I find that really interesting, not only for the experience of being the president of Global Gaming Women but also for the mission you have working there.
Absolutely. This mission was established by the founding board members, and it deeply resonated with me. I was passionate about seeing this organization grow. The history of the organization reveals its relatively young and grassroots origins.
It began as an idea from industry executives, with crucial support from high-level industry professionals and the AGA in its early stages. They believed it should become an independent standalone nonprofit organization. The founding board members put in tremendous effort to establish the organization, create its identity, and lay the foundational groundwork.
Now, when I reflect on the progress made over the last five years, it is astonishing to see the extensive reach achieved through the combined efforts of the board members, committee members, and our members in general. I am truly impressed by the international scope we have attained.
We host events in Europe during relevant conferences, have a presence in Australia, and have a growing presence in Canada. We’ve invested time to ensure that anyone who wants to be part of our organization can do so, without distance or location serving as a barrier.
Where do you think there is still a lot of room for improvement in the gaming industry for gender equality?
Well, this topic is genuinely intriguing to me. If we look at the statistics in our industry, let’s say 12 or 15 years ago, it may appear that there isn’t a significant gender disparity when merely looking at raw numbers and not considering role stratification. However, as you move up into management and executive positions, you begin to notice a growing gender gap and a decline in the numbers. The question then becomes, how do we address this issue? We cannot simply promote people to reach a 50/50 or 60/40 ratio without establishing the necessary framework.
We need to ask whether we are providing everyone with equal opportunities to prove themselves, whether we are nurturing talent fairly and equitably, and whether there are support systems and mentors available for all.
It is crucial to consider all the factors that shape an individual because even if someone is exceptionally talented, they won’t succeed if they’re abruptly promoted to a position without the required skill sets, development, and growth. You must examine various aspects comprehensively.
This is precisely what GGW has aimed to do. We understand that we are not the sole organization addressing this issue, and we cannot do it alone. Our goal is to support and inspire the development of women in the gaming industry.
To me, this means providing educational opportunities to equip women with the necessary skill sets, offering networking opportunities to connect them with mentors and role models, and facilitating critical conversations about solving this issue.
I genuinely believe that the industry is eager to find a solution, and I have witnessed significant progress. We need to keep providing these opportunities so that the framework is in place, and individuals can shine. A talented person becomes even more valuable with great mentors and educational opportunities. Sometimes, it’s merely a matter of confidence.
This issue is not unique to the gaming industry. It is part of a broader conversation about differences between men and women, as well as other diverse groups. Many candidates, especially women and other diverse candidates, often lack the confidence to apply for a job unless they meet 100 per cent of the posted criteria, whereas men may apply if they meet just 60 per cent.
Sometimes, it is about having the confidence to say, ‘I have got the base skill sets. There are a few things I need to develop but I think I am the best person for this job and I am willing to work hard and learn.’ Those are some of the most valuable talents that we have because I think that what is going to continue to move the needle and make this industry so dynamic vibrant and successful is keeping our talent.
After all, there’s a lot of competition out there in other industries and really when I think about gaming as a whole I mean it is the whole entertainment experience, including food and beverage, showrooms, and overall experiences, it’s essential to keep evolving.
We need innovators, outside-the-box thinkers, and savvy business professionals, but above all, we need the best talent to continue advancing this unique industry.
“We cannot simply promote people to reach a 50/50 or 60/40 ratio without establishing the necessary framework.”Cassie Stratford, GGW president & chair.
Among the many events and programs GGW carries out every year, the Women of Inspiration event will take place next year. What can you tell us about it?
So, this is an event we had for the first time last spring in partnership with another organization. It was an exciting time in our industry, as the realms of sports and gaming intersected. We collaborated with an organization called WISE (Women in Sports & Events), and we believed that Las Vegas was the perfect place for the inaugural version of this event.
The event’s focus was on recognizing women who have achieved something remarkable in their careers, not just for themselves but also in paving the way for others, inspiring and supporting them. Hence, the event is aptly named ‘Women of Inspiration,’ as it shines a spotlight on individuals who’ve achieved noteworthy milestones and have given back.
While awards represent a small part of our organization’s work, they serve as a powerful tool to boost people’s confidence and professional development. We have witnessed how recognizing a job well done, offering a simple ‘thank you’ or acknowledging someone’s inspiring work can go a long way in making people proud of their careers.
On the flip side, we all need role models. Observing someone else accomplish something incredible and feeling inspired rather than envious is truly powerful. It prompts us to strive to achieve our version of success and learn from their experiences. That is why our focus is on awards that recognize the intersection of personal achievements and contributions to others through sharing stories, mentoring, and more.
We present awards during two of our events: one is our major fundraiser, ‘Kick Up Your Heels,’ and the other is the ‘Patty Becker Pay It Forward Awards.’ The latter highlights women who’ve gone above and beyond to help others in the industry. It emphasizes the idea of not only progressing in your own career but also reaching back to assist those who aspire to achieve what you have.
This concept aligns perfectly with our mission of building networks, offering educational opportunities, and fostering visibility. It is the visibility that not only are there people who’ve made it, but they’re also willing to extend a helping hand.
GGW has created a fantastic, welcoming community where people help each other. When you attend a GGW event, you’ll be immersed in an infectious, positive, and powerful energy.
Which women have been an inspiration to you in your professional life?
Oh my gosh, that is always such a difficult question for me to answer. I have been inspired by so many people, especially our founding board members. Truthfully, everyone has carved their unique path. For instance, I admire women who started in operations, worked every job in the casino, and eventually rose to the positions of Vice Presidents of Operations and CEOs.
As someone with a legal background, I have always had a specific interest in women like Patty Becker, Ellen Whittemore, or Sandra Douglas Morgan. They truly understand the business from a holistic perspective.
It’s fascinating to see these women accomplish remarkable feats, carve their own paths, and build their careers in a way that aligns with their true selves.
However, I don’t want to overlook the fact that I have also been inspired by numerous men in my career. They have provided valuable mentorship and assistance. The key idea is that we are not aiming for exclusivity. We are all in this together, supporting one another on this journey. Women and other diverse groups face unique challenges, and we need to address these challenges collectively.
Women cannot do it alone. We have incredible male allies who wholeheartedly support diversity-related initiatives. The organization wouldn’t exist without their support. They actively engage with our groups, discussing their commitment to educational programs.
“I don’t want to overlook the fact that I have also been inspired by numerous men in my career. They have provided valuable mentorship and assistance.”Cassie Stratford, GGW president & chair.
It is worth mentioning that we are a nonprofit organization, and we receive financial support from companies within our industry. Both men and women are involved in making decisions about allocating these financial resources. I want to emphasize that I’m inspired by people, regardless of their gender, in this industry.