Diversity of thought is key to building a balanced team

microgaming, interview, Diversity, natasha whittake
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As the debates around diversity rage on, Microgaming has been quietly excelling at tapping into a wide pool of talent, with several pioneering women leading the way in the company’s top roles. There’s no big secret to it, says HR manager Natasha Whittaker – it simply comes down to a focus on celebrating our differences, and hiring the best people out there.

iGaming Times: In recent years, diversity has become a major talking-point in gaming. What has Microgaming been doing to build a diverse team and an open and gender-balanced work environment?

Natasha Whittaker: We have maintained our focus on hiring the best available talent. That has always been our priority. Our managers are encouraged to consider all strengths and weaknesses when recruiting, including candidates’ ability to integrate within the team. But we look for individuals who can diversify our business and culture. That’s why we are drawn to applicants who demonstrate unique skills, experiences and ways of thinking. Diversity of thought is an essential ingredient of building an open and balanced team. When people challenge and disrupt positively, even in the smallest ways, and when opportunities are equal and seen to be so, we remove the barriers to progression that are so prevalent in non-diverse workforces. In my experience, diversity tends to breed tolerance and respect.

iGT: Why is diversity in gaming so important? Is there also a business case to be made for striving to have a mix of genders and backgrounds within a team?

NW: Absolutely. Diversity is good for any business, not just gaming. You could argue that our industry is some way off reaching the inclusiveness many of us strive for through initiatives such as the All-In Diversity Project, of which Microgaming is a founding member. But when looking at the gender balance from a recruitment perspective, we need to take the bigger picture into consideration. We do that by embracing diversity in the wider background of an individual, be it education, experience, disability or any other distinguishing feature or attribute. When we see differences as strengths, not weaknesses, we set ourselves on a path of acceptance and inclusion. The business case for that is backed by a wealth of research which shows diverse teams almost always make better business decisions.

iGT: Some people have argued that it can be difficult to balance workforces in areas where fewer women tend to apply. How do you think we can encourage more talented women to move into the world of gaming, and tech more generally?

NW: Our leading ladies at Microgaming do a great job of putting tech and gaming on the radar for other talented females. Lydia Barbara and Samantha Hoffmann, for example, are passionate sup- porters of Love Tech, which aims to encourage girls and young women aged 6-18 to learn more about STEM subjects.

In my view, strong female ambassadors like Lydia and Sam provide an inspiration to others. Lydia has established herself as a leading force in the industry, creating the award-winning Microgaming Idea Factory and driving a number of other community initiatives. Sam is an expert in her field and often speaks at local or industry events aimed at raising awareness of digital security. These are just two examples of many – our business and industry are full of positive female role models. The more we do to represent our female side, the more other talented women should see gaming and tech as attractive career choices.

iGT: In May, you picked up the Company of the Year Award at the Women in Diversity Gaming Awards, with Jeriel Bacani picking up the prize for Hidden Talent of the Year. How did it feel to get this kind of recognition?

NW: It felt great to see Jeriel get the recognition she deserved, and we welcome any opportunity for our female employees to be acknowledged for their achievements and contributions. Winning the Company of the Year Award showed how inclusive and progressive we are at Microgaming, where important issues such as CSR and mental health are actively addressed as part of our culture. I would like to stress that it’s our diversity which makes us successful, not a specific group of individuals. While I personally support the Women in Gaming Diversity Awards, I do hope that we will soon reach the point where we feel comfortable celebrating success and excellence in isolation of arbitrary considerations such as gender.

iGT: As well as its diversity, Microgaming is also known for embracing cutting-edge ideas and technologies. What’s your secret for keeping up this momentum for innovation and fostering a creative culture where new ideas are listened to?

NW: We nurture an open, collaborative cul- ture at Microgaming where ideas are encouraged and supported. There’s no secret to it – we just make sure that our diversity of thought is given an open and receptive forum. The Microgaming Idea Factory, established by Lydia Barbara, our head of innovation strategy, serves as a prime example of how we keep up the momentum.

The staff-powered innovation initiative, which won the Tech Investment Award at the National Technology Awards in May, runs every six months and collects, refines and presents ideas on anything to do with our culture, processes and technology. It is also a contest with excellent rewards, so participants have good reason to enter. Past winners have seen their suggestions turned into products (e.g. EmotiCoins online slot) and internal applications (e.g. a new compliance portal). The latest round of winning ideas includes an employee engagement tool, charity art auction, intelligent chatbot, and voxelised game characters. Beyond the Idea Factory, it’s all about maintaining an environ- ment in which our employees can express themselves openly and confidently.

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