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Unstacking the Odds

Few women hold executive positions in the hospitality industry. Two UNLV researchers explore the implications.

Research  |  Oct 3, 2018  |  By Caitlyn Lopez

When UNLV hospitality professor Toni Repetti rose through the ranks to become finance director at a major casino in the early 2000s, she faced an unnerving reality: She was often the only woman at the table when high-level meetings were held and big decisions were made.

But with women representing more than half the gaming workforce, why weren’t they alongside Repetti in the C-suite? For a numbers gal, that simply didn’t add up. So Repetti teamed up with Shekinah Hoffman, special project coordinator in UNLV’s International Gaming Institute, and decided to search for signs of advancement barriers aspiring female executives might face within the hospitality industry.

In December 2016, Repetti and Hoffman began evaluating nearly 11,000 management positions in 972 U.S. and Native American casinos. They found that women represented a mere 35 percent of those positions. Even worse, women reached the top executive roles at an even lower rate: Only 19 percent of women held owner, president, and chief positions.

“We now have proof that there are fewer women in higher positions,” Repetti said. “We don’t know why just yet, but we’re able to start that conversation.”

“And that conversation has allowed women the chance to reflect,” Hoffman added, “because some haven’t realized how their gender could have influenced their career.”

While their study showed signs of a glass ceiling, the researchers indicated that many factors affect a woman’s career progression, including their work experience and education level.

Although their study focused primarily on women in management roles, Repetti and Hoffman also found gender segregation across departments. Men dominate areas such as maintenance, information technology, and security; women maintain a stronghold in sales and events, public relations, and human resources.

“Diversity in general improves productivity, performance, and company culture, among other business measures,” Hoffman said. “We’re hoping this study shows companies how they can improve business by increasing gender diversity both vertically in leadership and horizontally across departments.”

Repetti and Hoffman’s study,  “Glass Ceilings & Leaky Pipelines: Gender Disparity in the Casino Industry,” emerges amid a national discussion regarding sexual harassment in the workplace. While the topics are distinct from one another, Repetti said that gender disparities within management structures might explain, at least in part, why some victims remain silent.

“People inherently feel comfortable talking to people who are like them, whether in terms of gender, age, or race,” Repetti said. “When there’s a lack of female leadership, women might not feel safe speaking up. The same goes for men in female-dominant areas.”

More and more hospitality brands are approaching the subject of gender disparity now, with the intent of elevating female representation at the executive levels within their organizations. Jan Jones, a senior executive with Caesars Entertainment, believes including women at the top is a “smart business move.”

“Opportunities are missed without diversity of thought and opinion in leadership,” Jones said. “When women have a seat at the table, our companies are more productive, innovative, and better places to work.”

Now that Repetti and Hoffman have identified that gender disparities in hospitality do exist, they plan to shift their focus to understanding why it’s happening. Additional research will highlight the effects of glass ceilings and identify the root causes of gender disparity in the hospitality workforce.

“We want to better understand the factors that are limiting women, whether it’s a question of skill set, personal character traits, institutional barriers, or perhaps other factors we haven’t even considered,” Repetti said.

Read “Glass Ceilings & Leaky Pipelines: Gender Disparity in the Casino Industry.”