Good timber does not grow with ease; the stronger the wind the stronger the trees. — J. Willard Marriott, founder of Marriott Hotels
Last month, we recognized the strong winds that female executives have faced over the course of the last decade and particularly in the gaming industry. The age-old saying ‘It’s a man’s world’ is slowly becoming a thing of the past.
This month we continue our interview with Sycuan Casino General Manager Sheila Howe and Soaring Eagle Casino and Resort CEO Wendy Reeve. We explore their thoughts on mentorship, gender equality issues in the workplace, myths about females in management positions and share their advice to women aspiring to further their careers and be industry pillars of strength.
It’s difficult to find, but early in my career I came across a boss who became a mentor. He believed in me and was willing to openly share knowledge. Did you have a mentor or helper who encouraged you throughout your career?
Sheila Howe: Yes. Early in my career, I met and worked closely with the director of slot operations at the Peppermill. He had over 25 years with the company and a wealth of knowledge he was willing to share with me. My former husband, and mentor, also encouraged me to strive for better and not to settle for the position I was in, even if it was comfortable. He assured me that I had the ability to do the job and supported my decisions to pursue my goals.
Wendy Reeve: I didn’t have an influential mentor early in my career, but I learned a lot from that experience. I worked primarily for men, and I found it difficult to get feedback, either positive or negative. Feedback is the key to fostering growth, which is why I feel so passionately about appraisals and providing feedback to my team.
Remembering to “pay it forward” is key to keeping the industry healthy. What do you do to foster and support a strong mentoring program at Sycuan?
SH: We have an amazing two-part program in place that consists of managerial mentoring and fundamental mentoring.
Managerial mentoring is voluntary to the line staff and the training is performed on the clock so both the mentor and student are getting paid. Each of the management executives will allow line staff to shadow them in their daily job duties and take the time to explain why and how a decision is made. We have found that this form of mentoring has knocked down walls between line staff and management and created a comfort level among our team.
Fundamental mentoring is a program that escalates the manager to the director level while the director fills the manager role for a set time. This change in job roles allows the management team to walk in each other’s shoes. While the process can, at times, be uncomfortable for the participants, it ultimately leads to clearer role delineation and team cohesiveness. The result of these two programs gives us the unique ability to promote and fill the positions from within our internal staff when an opening occurs.
Aside from mentoring, have you made any staffing changes that have had a positive influence throughout your facility?
SH: As a property we made the decision to move away from the 24-hour casino shift managers as full time roles. We still utilize casino shift managers on the weekends, but during the week the departmental directors take care of the daily responsibilities. This allows them to remain in touch with the day-to-day operation of their department while maintaining a presence with the staff and guests.
WR: I have a very structured and cooperative team of executives. Through the process of utilizing a team approach, we collaborate on many of the decisions that affect the facility as a whole. By embracing all of the minds around me, rather than acting autonomously, we’ve created a process that assures team buy in and support. The result is incredible.
What do you feel is the biggest myth out there about women in positions of influence, not only in the gaming world but in the professional world as well?
SH: That women are not capable of making the hard decisions because they are fragile or unable to take a hard-line stance. This thought process occurs with both co-workers and vendors, and it amazes me that they believe women are not as smart and capable as men. Women are not meek and mild; they are more than capable of making the tough decisions and having the strength to admit when a mistake has been made and correct it. Early in my career, a table games manager grabbed me inappropriately while we were in the pit. I went off on him regarding his behavior and, in turn, gained a great deal of respect from both my co-workers and the management team.
WR: That women are not capable of getting a position based on merit; rather they must be utilizing other assets to obtain that role. Back in the 1980s one generally had to work in a dealer role for about three years to move up to the next level, and when I was able to accomplish it in 10 months, many eyebrows were raised. Women who were strong, talented and driven were often accused of sleeping their way to the top. You can’t squash the myths; you can only combat it daily with a strong moral direction.
CEOs are brought into a new business when things are not going well and change must be instituted. When a male CEO comes in and makes tough decisions, it’s generally accepted and not too much is said, but when a female CEO makes the same decisions, she is called a bitch. When I have to make the tough decisions I blame the SHE-EO.
What do you feel needs to happen to remove these groundless theories so that women are treated equal to their male counterparts?
SH: Stand up for yourself and demand the respect that you deserve. Follow your true beliefs, be consistent and trust your gut…it’s usually right.
WR: Have thick skin, stay ethical and keep your values in check. When decisions have to be made, look at the situation rather than the individuals involved.
Is there anything that you’d like to add as a last bit of advice to the readers?
SH: Learn something new every single day. Don’t let any day be routine and challenge yourself every day.
WR: Stay true to yourself, stay ethical and stay true to your values. Be consistent in your decisions. If you have made a mistake, admit your mistake and continue to move forward consistently and ethically.