Jan Jones Blackhurst, Executive Vice President for Communications and Government Relations at Caesars Entertainment Corporation and former 2-time mayor of Las Vegas, joins the program to discuss how Caesars is working towards achieving 50/50 gender parity in management by 2025. Jan shares her one-of-a-kind journey of becoming the first ever female major of Las Vegas and what she learned from that experience. She also reveals the culture shifts that need to happen in the workplace in order to attract and retain women.
In this episode you’ll discover:
- Jan’s father’s advice and influence and how that impacted her career (4:00)
- Jan’s political journey of becoming the first major of Las Vegas (12:00)
- Jan’s pioneering work with regards to protections for LGBTQ + people (18:00)
- A thrilling ride that Jan took in an F-15 fighter plane and what she learned from it (25:00)
- How to accelerate learning (23:00)
- What needs to change to help leaders to be more authentic (28:00)
- How Caesar’s is working towards gender parity in management by 2025 (34:00)
- The changes in work culture that needs to happen in order to attract and retain women (38:00)
- The importance of representation in leadership and the impact it can have (44:00)
Listen in now, or read on for the transcript of our conversation:
JENNIFER BROWN: Jan Jones Blackhurst is executive vice president for communications and government relations at Caesars Entertainment Corporation. Previous to joining Caesars, she served two terms as mayor of Las Vegas, from 1991 through 1999. She’s a Stanford graduate and attended the School of Food and Marketing Management at USC.
I encourage our listeners to visit Jan’s Wikipedia page, which details the long list of the many corporate and non-profit boards she has served on, as well as the countless awards and honors she’s received.
But it’s Jan’s personal journey and her storytelling that enraptures me, and in this episode, her heart, humor, and grit is on full display. The sheer span of her career, and the depth of her convictions through it all, will make you want to rise up for change, again and again, and follow her example.
We begin today’s episode with her early days, when Jan likes to say she was not the typical kid. She showed an interest in business as a child following many generations of scrappy entrepreneurs, and then was heavily influenced by her father, a successful business person who ensured she had the toughness and resilience to succeed in what certainly was a male dominated business world. As we know now, this thread would recur throughout her career.
She also has many early memories of being for the underdog, of paying attention to those who are excluded, a passion which would bloom into her enduring commitment to under-served, marginalized communities. A staunch ally, she was the first official to prioritize LGBT equality in Las Vegas, she built comprehensive and impactful programs for the homeless, and she cut her political teeth overturning a state law prohibiting a woman’s right to choose.
Jan describes being supported by other women throughout several key career shifts and leaps, bringing her all the way to the Mayor’s office, where she would choose an entirely female cabinet, and continue to tackle issues that men discouraged her from taking on. She shares stories in this episode that will feel familiar to some of us, of having her authority tested constantly. It only made her tougher.
Today, at Caesars, she is continuing to take bold moves, working with the previous CEO to set a goal of gender parity by 2025. She is tirelessly questioning workplace and company norms, strategically and patiently setting up the structure for change, from her C-Suite position. If anyone can figure out the perennial challenges that persist around equity and inclusion, she can. She’s got my vote.
Jan, welcome to The Will to Change.
JAN JONES: Thank you, Jennifer. Delightful to be here.
JENNIFER BROWN: I am thrilled that you are the first ex-mayor, two term mayor to ever be on The Will to Change. Thank you. I’m so honored to have your voice for our audience. I know this is going to be fascinating to learn about your story for everyone and your tremendous accomplishments, legacy, and the work you’re focusing on now which is super important. Perhaps, your most important work of all. But we’re going to get into all of that in a moment. You have a fascinating story, as every guest does on The Will to Change.
We say everyone has a diversity story, even those you may not expect. Take us back to when you probably felt in many ways you were differently wired and perhaps destined for big stakes things in your life. When did that first occur to you? Particularly, how did you start to become so sensitive to diversity issues as you grew up?
JAN JONES: It’s interesting, I don’t know how I can really answer that. I do know I was always different. I was the one setting up the advanced carnival in the back yard and counting how much money I made. I knew that my mother just really didn’t quite know what to do with me because I was so different. I say this with no judgment at all, but I didn’t want to do Junior League and Little Miss. I wanted to work. I always wanted to do something, achieve something.
I remember, and this goes back to the probably the late ‘50s and I lived in Santa Monica which then was a very, very small town. There was a little theater and on Saturdays everybody went to the theater. I remember I went, and I was sitting with all my friends and about a 12-year-old black child came in and in Santa Monica there was no diversity. He was sitting by himself and I can remember getting up and going and sitting with him, because I didn’t want him to feel alone.
When I went home and told my mom, she was upset with me. I don’t really think she was prejudice at all, it was just there were different lines then. I always felt that way. I felt it growing up. I felt it in high school. I hated people being excluded or made to feel less than. Is that hardwired? Maybe. Is part of it my father who was such a huge influence in my life, maybe because my mother gave me to him to raise me because she wasn’t quite sure how to do it.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yep, I can see why that would be true. You told me about him. We talked about fathers raising certain daughters in a way, like a son. I thought that was really interesting, you were so influenced by him. Tell me about the lessons you remember learning from him? Specifically, perhaps in childhood then also as you went to Stanford as an undergrad and struggled with your grades there. Tell me about some of the advice he gave you.
JAN JONES: There are stories that I think are very telling and that I tell men that they should think about when they’re raising daughters. The first was we were playing football in the backyard. I think I must have been nine years old. I was playing with the boys and I got hit in the solar plexus and I went down. When you’re hit in the solar plexus it hurts and you can’t breathe. I’m in the middle of the field gasping for air and my father came running over. I really thought he was going to sit down and say, “Oh, honey, are you okay? Is everything all right?” Instead, he picked me up by the back of my shirt and he dragged me to the side of the field and said, “When you’re feeling better get back up and come back to the game.”
I think it would have been probably even my first instinct to be, “Oh, poor baby.” My father’s instinct both with his son but with me as a daughter was, “You’ve got to manage through this.”
JENNIFER BROWN: That’s right.
JAN JONES: Secondly, and this is one of my favorite stories because it comes into when I ran and was elected mayor. My father used to always say, “You can grow up to be a sheep or a goat.” The way that you tell the difference is that sheep follow each other around. Look in a field and sheep will going around in a line everybody going in one direction. Whereas a goat will be all over the place. He’ll be doing whatever he does but doing it independently.
The night I was elected mayor he was standing behind me and I could hear him under his breath going, “I raise goats. I raise goats.” People thought he was drinking, I know what he was thinking.
JENNIFER BROWN: He’s so proud.
JAN JONES: Yeah. Then the third thing, which I think has probably been very significant in why I’ve been a successful leader is I went to Stanford. My freshman year I got a C. I had never gotten a C in my life. I was beside myself. I called my father, I think it was in western civ, and I’m crying on the phone. He let me get through and then he said, “You know what? You worked really hard to get here.” He said, “This is not what you need to learn now.” He said, “What you need to learn is about people. You need to learn what moves them, what motivates them, how they function, how they think.” He says, “Because, that’s the skill that’s going to make you successful.”
JENNIFER BROWN: That’s good advice. That’s so smart. He had a real entrepreneur journey. Tell us a bit about him and his, I think, it was great-grandmother? You have a long line of entrepreneurship. What did he end up building?
JAN JONES: Well, it’s interesting it was actually started with my grandfather. My grandfather’s mother was the first woman ever to graduate, I think it was the University of Michigan. When my great grandfather died, she couldn’t find a job even though she was college educated. All of her children, including my grandfather, dropped out of school. My grandfather started selling tea and coffee from A&P carts. He eventually went to work for A&P. He worked his way up. He left A&P and bought a small chain of supermarkets in California; Thrifty Mart.
I think there were 11 markets when he started it. He ended up having, I think it was 86 supermarkets and 87 Smart & Final Iris, which were cash and carry stores. He was one of the founders of Jersey Made Milk. We always talk about the Caesars’ loyalty program, he had Blue Chip stamps where were the onset of loyalty programs. In those days mostly supermarkets were family owned. You had Bonds, Thrifty Mart, Ralphs. In fact, Joe Albertson worked for my grandfather. He gave him $50,000 in a paper bag to start his own chain because he said he didn’t play well in the sandbox so maybe he’d be better going on his own.
JENNIFER BROWN: Sounds familiar.
JAN JONES: That’s how I ended up in Las Vegas. We had four supermarkets in Las Vegas. They made no money selling groceries, but they had 48 slot machines which was the last privilege gaming license ever issued in the State of Nevada. My father, who I had gone to work with, and that’s a whole other story, said, “Our primary business is groceries. You need to go to Las Vegas and figure out how we make money selling groceries because gaming is incidental,” even though it made a ton of money. I said, “I’ll go for a year.” That’s almost 40 years ago.
JENNIFER BROWN: Oh, my goodness. Then what happens when you feel called to public service? Was that the next turn in the road for you?
JAN JONES: It really wasn’t. My first plan had been to go to USC business school. My father convinced me, “Why do you want to go to business school? Whereas if you come and work with me, I can teach you everything about business and from a much different perspective and a different viewpoint than you’re ever going to get trying to work your way up by yourself.” That was great advice until they sold the company in 1986.
At the time I was married to Fletcher Jones and so I went into the car business. We went from three dealerships to 12 dealerships in the period of about six years. I setup the management company and did all the general administrative functions. During that time what got me into politics was in Nevada a woman’s right to choose was constitutionally prohibited. That means to overturn that and give women choice, you need to change the constitution which takes two votes of the people and a vote of the legislature.
A group of politically active women both in northern and southern Nevada came and said, “Would you like to work with us on this?” Everyone said it couldn’t be done. This is a very male dominated state. It was very Mormon. Believe it or not we did it. We overturned the constitutional amendment and made choice a right in Nevada. It was those same group of women when the mayor’s seat opened who came to me and said, “Why don’t you run for mayor?”
JENNIFER BROWN: Incredible. Somebody dared you to do it and you said sure?
JAN JONES: What happened was they came and said, “Why don’t you run for mayor?” It never really occurred to me and I thought, “That’s interesting.” I went and reached out to the three key people in Nevada that make political decisions who are the same three people in Nevada who make key political decisions and they all told me the same thing, “Don’t be ridiculous, you can’t possibly win.” I thought, “Really?”
JENNIFER BROWN: Oh boy, that’s a challenge.
JAN JONES: It was a challenge. I don’t know whether I thought I’d win or not, but I felt there was an opportunity to make a statement. I had done a lot of advertising both in the grocery business and in the car business. I was the spokesperson. People knew who I was, so I had name identification. They just needed to know a different set of skills that I could bring to the table. I ran on this platform of running government like a business. Quite frankly, government is nothing like a business, but it was a good story.
JENNIFER BROWN: Sure.
JAN JONES: I won in the primary. In those days, people still voted. If you look at the primary today in Nevada, 8% turnout. How appalling.
JENNIFER BROWN: Wow, that’s horrible.
JAN JONES: Yeah.
JENNIFER BROWN: Wow.
JAN JONES: Which is a whole different conversation. But I really believed that my victory was due to three things. One, this is a very entrepreneurial state. Particularly in those days, the gaming industry were all owned and operated by big leaders and they were willing to take a bet. It was right before Las Vegas was going to change. We’re in a more traditional city people may have said, “Oh, you don’t have a chance. We’re not going to invest any money in you.” These guys were gamblers and so they were willing, if they thought I was the better alternative, they’d take the gamble and the odds.
I think secondly, that there was a whole underground voter of women and people who didn’t feel they had any seat at the table or representation that thought this risk was worth it for them too. Three weeks before the election, the polls showed me 22 points behind which really tells you there was this whole group of people who were just not telling how they were going to vote.
JENNIFER BROWN: Right, right.
JAN JONES: Then I think there was a large group of women both democrat and republican, this is a non-partisan seat, who came out and voted.
JENNIFER BROWN: Incredible. I want to talk later or maybe now about you and I talked about how women support other women or don’t and why. I know you have particular views on that but what you are saying is you were buoyed by this community of those who had not had a seat at the table who saw in you somebody who could give them and their issues a voice. Then just women on both sides of the aisle wanting to see a leader that was a female leader. What did it teach you about galvanizing communities of women to support each other? How does that happen in the best possible way?
I feel like we all struggle with each other in community whether it’s in politics or in the workplace. There’s this truism that I hate that I don’t agree with which is that women don’t tend to be supportive of other women. I hear that so often in my keynotes that I always have to have an answer for that. I wish I didn’t hear it and I wish certainly that it weren’t everybody’s experience and it hasn’t been my experience. But what did you learn from that about how women support each other in a unique way and how to unleash the power of that?
JAN JONES: I think that without question it was women who catapulted me into being the leader of the city of Las Vegas. Both the women I worked with on changing the constitution on choice – when I was first elected, northern and southern Nevada did a lot more things together and they were really a strong voice in policies and what we put together. My first meeting at City Hall, the homeless marched on City Hall. Everybody said, “You can’t go out there.” I said, “What are you talking about? They’re just people.”
I’ve got five big city councilmen surrounding me like I’m in some kind of danger. I said, “Don’t be ridiculous.” I walked out in front of City Hall and they were just people who wanted a voice. They’re living on the streets. They had no services. They had no housing. They just wanted me to know what it was like for them so that maybe I could put in place policies and practices that could make their life better. In fact, we did. I think we built the most comprehensive homeless programs, housing, short term care, long term care and job training. When the next mayor came in, who was male, he quite funding them. Now, we are back to having a huge homeless problem.
I don’t think it is because he was a bad guy. He just saw the money and he wanted to put it somewhere else. That goes to how do you sustain important programs when leadership changes.
JENNIFER BROWN: Right. You also have been a pioneer in terms of introducing LGTBQ awareness and protections when you were mayor too. Can you say a little bit about how that issue became top of mind for you?
JAN JONES: They were entirely invisible. I’ve been involved with the LGTBQ community even back when I was working with the supermarkets. They were friends and colleagues. When I got to Las Vegas, the Lambda, which I’m sure you know is probably the largest LGTBQ business group.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yes.
JAN JONES: No elected official had ever agreed to speak to them. I remember coming to their event and they’re giving me flowers and I’m thinking, “This is ridiculous. These are the leaders in business.” I was the first elected official to be the grand marshal in the Aids Walk. Our first Aids Walk had 160 people. Today it’s 4,000 and 5,000. Nobody wanted to be visible. I was the first marshal of the Gay Pride Parade.
If other elected officials in the past had shown up, then they would get a bad editorial in the paper and they would shrink from the criticism. Whereas my feeling of what’s wrong and what’s wrong, even if it gets me in trouble, is so strong I’m not going to do that. What you find is once you take a stand then people start taking a stand with you. Some for the right reasons and some for political reasons.
JENNIFER BROWN: Who cares in the end?
JAN JONES: But who cares?
JENNIFER BROWN: Yep.
JAN JONES: It’s its own Me Too movement.
JENNIFER BROWN: It is. It’s just who is the bravest to go first. You just have this bravery. You said to me, “I can take a punch,” and not to confuse niceness with weakness.
JAN JONES: Yes.
JENNIFER BROWN: But if people ever figure out, they can walk all over you then you’ve lost the battle.
JAN JONES: Yeah. I am very nice, not to be confused with weakness. I think I learned early on sometimes to treat the wrong gesture with the right attitude. When I was first elected mayor, now all of a sudden, I have a whole new group of friends who really want to be my friends. Trying to navigate what’s real and what’s not real and where to put your resources. My entire cabinet was women. I didn’t do it necessarily intentionally, it’s just they were. It put a whole new group of women in leadership positions in City Hall.
I can remember Jennifer, men saying to me, “Well, you’ve got to do something. You’ve got to show forward motion.” I said, “I’m building an entire homelessness coalition.” But to men, that wasn’t doing something.
JENNIFER BROWN: Oh goodness.
JAN JONES: Think about it. Some of that has evolved, but some not so much. This is a very long-winded answer to women supporting women, it was much easier for me in City Hall because I was a woman to show leadership as a woman and bring other women with me and put them into positions of authority. In corporate America, although I think I probably have the most diverse department at Caesars, people are afraid.
I think what happens with women, they start to believe there’s only room for a few so they subconsciously start competing with each other rather than competing with the job. There’s this terrible statistic, which I don’t know whether it’s true or not, that 80% of bullies are women bullying other women. I hope that’s not the case, but I think it is the function of being fearful that there’s not enough room for everyone.
JENNIFER BROWN: I couldn’t agree more. It is subconscious. I think a lot of people would deny that, but when you get that message over and over again of scarcity it’s inevitable that you internalize it. I’m not even sure people are aware that they’re acting out in these ways that are actually decreasing the number of opportunities for other women. When they get to that C-suite spot, that the instinct is to protect it and to protect yourself. I also think it’s so exhausting to be at that place because of the daily reality of being perhaps the only and lonely as we say, or having to deal with bias intentional and otherwise, conscious or unconscious.
It’s that death by a thousand cuts I often call it. Which I think leads to women and people of color and others who are not represented in the corporate world in particular to at some point say, “Is this worth the trouble, and the angst, and the anxiety?”
JAN JONES: I think the deselect.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yes, they opt out.
JAN JONES: They couldn’t go forward, they just think, “I could do this better either on my own in small business or in a different environment.” I look back now being elected the mayor of Las Vegas and I was being tested all of the time.
JENNIFER BROWN: You know it.
JAN JONES: I mean, from the police seeing if they could scare me to I remember I went to the fire training station and the fire chief said, “Well, do you want to go in? They have this whole simulated fire?” Of course, never say die Jones, so of course I do. They suit me up in this big fire suit that must weigh 50 pounds.
JENNIFER BROWN: You’re tiny meanwhile.
JAN JONES: I go inside this burning building with a gas mask on and I’m thinking, “Oh my God, what am I doing in here?” But I’m not going to show fear. We went in and they told me I am never going to be a fire fighter. But the chief to this day every time I see him says, “We couldn’t believe you did that.” They were waiting for me to blink or say that scares me.
I’ll tell you my favorite unconscious bias story. There was a flight wing general at Nellis Air Force Base. In those days, they took civilians up in F-15s. There had been a lot of men in the community that had been up. The big problem with going up in an F-15 is the g-force will usually make you sick quickly. Flight wing general said, “Would you like to go up in a F-15?” I said, “Absolutely.”
I go out to Nellis, I get my two hours of training. I get into the F-15 with the little Top Gun pilot who says to me, “Do you want to take off like a civilian or like me?” Of course, I said, “I want to take off like you.” He goes to the end of the runway and he goes straight up.
JENNIFER BROWN: Oh gosh.
JAN JONES: We ended up staying up. A lot of it is a breathing function. I was up 45 minutes. We did Mach 1. We went down through all of the valleys, and the Grand Canyon. At the end he’s letting me do rolls with the plane. We went down after 45 minutes. It was a great experience. Fast forward 20 years. My husband is a teacher. It’s at the Air Force Museum outside Dulles in Washington DC and he’s touring a group of students and he sees an F-15. He says to the Lieutenant Colonel touring them, “My wife went up in an F-15.” The Lieutenant Colonel says, “Well, that would be impossible because there has only been one woman civilian who has ever been allowed to go up in an F-15 and that was the mayor of Las Vegas.” You know why that is. They didn’t think we were strong enough.
Interestingly, I ran into the General who I hadn’t seen in two decades shortly after that. I was telling him the story. He said, “Yeah, you’re urban legend out there.” There’re all of these past beliefs about what you can do and how you will handle that. I think for women in business you do have to learn how to take a punch. It’s like those boxing bags that are filled with sand, take a punch and you just come back forward. Men take punches all the time.
JENNIFER BROWN: All the time. Yes, it’s true. It’s true. But somehow do it in a way you can sleep at night and feel like you handled it in an authentic way not in a way that’s mimicking another gender’s style. If we do that, then we’re never going to reinvent what needs to be improved in the workplace which is there shouldn’t be just one style. There shouldn’t be. It’s a straitjacket for men and male leaders as well, this whole expectation of what a leader looks like or behaves like. I think that whole thing needs to be very much revisited. It’s just not that world anymore.
JAN JONES: No, it’s not. To that point, when I was first elected mayor, one day all of a sudden here I am, I’m mayor. All the political handlers came in and started to try and change everything. You can’t wear an orange suit. You’ve got to wear navy blue. You’ve got to have a more conservative this. You can’t wear any jewelry. I remember I said to them, “Look, the people elected me. They knew who I was when they elected me and I’m not going to become something else for you.”
I noticed even after that Shelley Berkley who is a longtime Congresswoman thanked me all the time, because it empowered a lot more women in politics to say, “Quite telling me how to act, what to say, how to dress. The voters aren’t ignorant.” I think there’s a lot of that in corporate leadership that needs to evolve. The problem is right now there’s just not a sufficient amount of either gender or diverse leaders in business where you can really start to express yourself rather than the expectation of what a leader at that level looks like.
JENNIFER BROWN: You’re so right. We often say you’ve got to see it to be it.
JAN JONES: Yes.
JENNIFER BROWN: But I also would add what you just said which is that we want these leaders to feel not like they’re managing their image so carefully because they feel grateful to even be there.
JAN JONES: Exactly.
JENNIFER BROWN: Clinging by your fingernails.
JAN JONES: We’ve got the skill and talent, so why do you want to be somebody else?
JENNIFER BROWN: Right, but it’s risky to be yourself. You feel like you got through the net and then you’ve got to be this image of perfection and, by the way, you’re representing the entire community of people like you because there isn’t any one else. The sample size is so small that every move you make is scrutinized. This is a lot of pressure. I think this is another reason why we can’t hang onto women in other talent that’s underrepresented because the winds start to get really intense at the top of the mountain. It takes serious fortitude to hang onto your sense of self, to fight back, to speak up for yourself, to speak truth to power.
Your rise, somehow you got that from the early days and maybe it was inherent in you, nature or nurture but you said I’m going to be true to myself but I’m also going to push really hard to be that woman at the top that everybody looks at. Looks to you for being your authentic self, changing not just today’s reality but the future reality which I know you’re investing in at Caesars. I want to talk about that, how are you as somebody in the C-suite now, trying to impact this organization of 64,000 people? Where you have really good news, you have some incredible goals for 2025 which is gender parity and yet, you just said that we still have this real challenge of representation. Not at the lower rungs of the business.
JAN JONES: Generally, 50% of employees are women.
JENNIFER BROWN: Right, but where are they?
JAN JONES: 50% are janitors and they’re not moving forward.
JENNIFER BROWN: That’s right.
JAN JONES: I’ve lived through a lot of women’s movements. I lived through Gloria Steinem. I lived through, in a lot of ways, Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Now, you’ve got this whole Me Too. Through all of these, what I’ve found is there’s a lot of noise and very little changes. I call it the I’ve been giving the same speech for the last 30 years.
JENNIFER BROWN: Me too.
JAN JONES: On equal pay. $0.78 on the $1 for white women, $0.68 for black women, $0.58 for Latino women. The representation numbers haven’t changed really at all and particularly in leadership positions whether it’s a university; certainly not in corporate America. I went to see On the Basis of Sex with my husband and poor Dana, when it was over, I was just furious. I’m being mean to him. He’s going, “What’s the matter with you?” I said, “You don’t see it.” This was overturned in ’54. Now there are a lot of women in universities. In fact, there are more degrees earned by women in BAs, MBAs, judicial degrees. But the representation anywhere else hasn’t changed.
Look at partners in law firms, it’s still at about 10%. If you look at C-suite representation, there are more CEOs named David than there are the total number of women CEOs in Fortune 500 companies. It reminded me of what Gloria Steinem said. She said, “First the truth will set you free and then it will piss you off.”
JENNIFER BROWN: We’re in the piss me off stage.
JAN JONES: Yeah, I’m in the piss me off stage. What happens is everybody talks about it, but nothing changes. That’s when I started really looking at our company and saying, “Is there something we can do to begin to change this reality?” If it was going to be evolution it would have happened. You’ve already got the talent. What’s happening is they’re getting stuck in the funnel.
Thank goodness I had a very supportive CEO. I went and said, “Look, we have an opportunity here first to do a pay equity analysis and see how do we rank?” A lot of companies won’t do it because the lawyers are scaring them to death.
JENNIFER BROWN: That’s right.
JAN JONES: Well, Mark Frissora did. It actually came out that we had 99% no pay differential at corporate and 98% in the properties which I thought was really phenomenal.
JENNIFER BROWN: Excellent.
JAN JONES: But we set a goal of 50/50 by 2025. The goal was specific to gender. Not that we’re not looking at representation ethnicity within gender and more broadly. But because this was something, I could really build metrics around and hold the organization to an outcome. Honestly, as we began to look at how you execute on this initiative, all the pieces when you put them into place, I think achieves an outcome that is true equity in an organization. But it’s a managed revolution. It’s not an evolution.
JENNIFER BROWN: Or, it would have happened already.
JAN JONES: We have 68,000 employees and we have a broad geographic base so that allowed us to put together equity councils both at corporate and then in the different areas of the country that we do have businesses both in the Midwest and south, the east and in the west. We picked properties that we were going to use as beta test and then one corporate division, finance. We did dashboards so we knew exactly what those organizations looked like today. We put in different tools that would help us get to our goal.
Everything from intentional recruiting to once you have a broader pool anonymous resumes, rewriting our resumes, looking at our sponsorship and mentorship programs. Really tracking who are you bringing in. If you’re not paying attention there are more white males generally in the pool of applicants and they end up being the ones selected until you’ve really broadened your pool. Not changing the meritocracy, you’re still really looking to get the best and the brightest, you’re just recognizing that if your pool is predominately white males, you’re not looking at the best and the brightest.
JENNIFER BROWN: That’s right.
JAN JONES: You’ve got to begin to question how you’re recruiting and promoting. How you’re getting these new leaders prepared to lead. The interesting thing is that we started doing some preliminary work overlaying our more diverse properties in management with our less diverse. Not surprisingly, the more diverse management teams have higher operating outcomes. Better revenues, better return on sales, higher EBITDA. It’s not only smart business it’s good business.
JENNIFER BROWN: That’s right. That’s a great argument to lead with for people particularly that think this is the diversity police coming in.
JAN JONES: Exactly.
JENNIFER BROWN: What was the response to your work with the CEO to announce that 2025 goal? Was there skepticism? Was there excitement? Do you remember that? I’d love also to know what do you think about bold goals like that, that are publicly stated? Are those helpful as a North Star? Do you think that there is the law of diminishing returns when it comes to goals, quotas, targets like this? I see states looking at their board representation requirements for public companies. California is requiring one woman on every board of a public company by the end of this year. Two out of every five if your board has five on it. Three out of every six by 2021.
Part of me believes is change going to happen without these goals and without this being required, which makes me feel depressed because it would feel like the business case for this, as you just said, is so manifestly clear and so why should we have to require this? Yet, it is very galvanizing.
JAN JONES: What I’ve really found in business, any business, what’s not measured doesn’t matter. That is not to confuse 50/50 by 2025 with Affirmative Action. I think that then becomes the excuse, oh you’re trying to put in place people who aren’t as qualified. That’s just not the case. The case is there is a huge pool of overly qualified candidates who are not being considered. It goes back to work cultures that were created in the 1950s, honestly, for white men.
I think that’s fine in the 1950s, but that is not what is going to get you the most vibrant, engaged and productive work culture in a management team today. But if you don’t change that culture you make it very difficult. Come on, women are going to have children. That’s not changing.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yep, news flash.
JAN JONES: Yeah, news flash.
JENNIFER BROWN: Men are having children too.
JAN JONES: Nobody thinks that is going to make them less important for promotion. You’ve got to look at the environment that’s allowing these working mothers to succeed at both. Both at raising their children and at running their business. Quite frankly, on family leave, companies should require the husbands take a leave.
JENNIFER BROWN: Agreed. Oh, I love those kinds of policies.
JAN JONES: Better parenting makes better families, makes better workers. Just making it something that a woman gets rather than realizing that nurturing families is core to everything we are as a society, as an operating company. We’re lost in old thinking. Unless companies really start setting goals that hold themselves accountable for what they really look like then I don’t think they’re doing the right thing by their shareholders quite frankly.
JENNIFER BROWN: Agreed. It’s not a sustainable business. When you think about sustainability we often think about the environment for example, but it’s people. People are an asset that can either be sustained or neglected and used up and tossed away as disposable. I often feel companies act like that and it shocks me.
JAN JONES: I think you need to remind companies. I’ve told you stories before where I’ll just, for my own amusement, go on websites and look at senior management teams not just of gaming companies but more broadly. They obviously do not see themselves because more often than not they’re entirely white male dominated. I walked into a meeting at Caesars, this was about three months ago, and it was a very important meeting on branding. I sat down at the table and so often is the case, I was the only woman in the room.
I looked around and I said, “Well first of all, I’d like to congratulate you on your diversity.” They all looked at me and then one 30 something guy cracked up because I really don’t see it as intentional misogyny, they really didn’t see it. Sometimes you need to call it out. You don’t need to call it out in a strident way. You just need to make them see what they’re not seeing.
JENNIFER BROWN: I love how you did that. It was very subtle, but it definitely got the point across.
JAN JONES: Then to laugh at themselves instead of feeling that they were under fire.
JENNIFER BROWN: Right.
JAN JONES: But they saw it, nonetheless.
JENNIFER BROWN: No one is going to cooperate with you when they feel attacked, right? I think we can all understand that. Would I be motivated if I were being attacked to change my approach? No. But I think that’s good. You told me a funny story about using a picture of one company’s masthead in a presentation I think or tweeting it out?
JAN JONES: Yeah.
JENNIFER BROWN: Tell me about that.
JAN JONES: Actually, I was giving a talk to like 800 academic researchers and it was on gender equity or the lack thereof. As a representation I took the senior management team of a large gaming company and I didn’t name the company and I said specifically, “Look, I’m not calling this company out because it could be any one of the large gaming companies.” But a reporter recognized the CEO, tweeted out who the company was and that I had named them even though he did recognize that I wasn’t using them as a bad example. I was using the industry as a bad example.
Well, people went crazy. I got a letter from their CEO telling me to cease and desist and maligning the company. They called my CEO. The CEO happened to be a friend of mine and I called him, and I said, “What is the matter with you?” He said, “My board was so upset. We got all this bad publicity.” I said, “Gavin, the picture is on your website.” They don’t see it. They do not see it.
Maybe, to your point, if we get more representation of women on these corporate boards, they begin looking at the composition. What does the senior management team look like? Although it falls a little bit outside their purview, I do think it’s an opportunity.
JENNIFER BROWN: It is. I’m really looking forward to seeing that self-examination. What gets measured gets done, like you said earlier. It can be a double-edged sword with measurement, because people will work to the test in a way. Maybe they’ll be shuffling the same women around on different seats and we won’t really achieve what you’re so passionate about which is really sustainable change. I think that’s a different question, right? How do we fill that pipeline all the way down and move it up? So, that to your point, we have such a pool to chose from because we’ve done that hard homework over time consistently of raising not just a few leaders that fit this criteria we’re so desperately looking for but a lot of leaders?
We fill that pipeline and we ensure they want to stay in these workplace cultures even as we’re trying to fix the headwinds of bias that they’re experience. The fact that they’re outsiders.
JAN JONES: I think it was somewhat easier making it sustainable in a political forum. I was very visible as a leader. I was the CEO, they had to deal with me.
JENNIFER BROWN: That’s right.
JAN JONES: Whether they wanted to deal with me or not. I was successful. I was reelected with 77%. I ran for governor. There were very few women in politics in Nevada then and they were really held down. Today, we’re the first legislature to have majority women. Both of our US senators are women. Our mayor is a woman. The mayors of many other cities in and around Nevada are women. I think it did empower women and constituencies to see I like this leadership; I want this leadership.
I think we’re going to need to work in corporate America to make that same kind of visibility happen, so they see this is not a one off. I think that’s where some of the work both you’re doing Jennifer, that McKinsey is doing with women in the workplace where they’re really looking at the metrics and how much higher performing diverse teams are, that it begins to resonate. You’re either going to be good at running your business or you’re going to be maybe not so good because you’re not making the right choices to elevate your best talent.
JENNIFER BROWN: That’s right. I think companies need to look at not just their customers as their key stakeholders, but their employees are like customers as well. I guess the contrast I might draw with government is your constituency is right there. Literally, you can see that you’ve got to reflect that somehow. Even if you’re not a part of that diversifying world, you need to understand that. I think corporate has gotten away with focusing on that single bottom line, which is that financial make the shareholders happy.
JAN JONES: What they’re looking at is their quarterly earnings results.
JENNIFER BROWN: Exactly.
JAN JONES: I told you I run government like a business, well I learned some of my best skills in government because in government you can be the CEO but you still have a council and you still have constituents and you still want to be reelected, so you learn to collaborate. You learn to position issues so that everybody can win. You take strong stands, but you do it with a soft edge rather than a hard edge to be a leader. I think some of that same thing has to start happening in corporate America where people start calling out companies that are really representative.
Quite frankly, if you look at the whole concept behind service profit change, it all starts with your employees. If they’re happy, if they’re engaged, if they feel valued, if they feel that they have opportunity, they’re going to have a much better environment and product than if they’re feeling segregated and undervalued and over pressured and invisible.
JENNIFER BROWN: I hate to cut this conversation off. Jan, I’d just like to speak for all of us virtually that we’re so appreciative of all the ceilings that you’ve crashed through and all of your bravery including sailing through the skies at Mach whatever. I get sick at just the thought of the g-forces that you must have endured, and you had no training, no preparation and you just went in there anyway.
It’s just a metaphor for the way you’ve lived your life, the way you’ve used your voice. The path that you’ve blazed that so many have followed in and your legacy that I know many people probably tell you, you should just be so proud of. I’m so glad to have had time with you. I urge people to keep tabs on you because you’re working on some important stuff in this gender parity at Caesars but also just in general. Is there any way that we can help follow the work that you’re doing that is accessible by folks that may not work in the Caesars environment, etc.? Is there anywhere we can tune into what you’re up to lately?
JAN JONES: There is because we have ongoing meetings with, we call them the equality champions which are our councils. As we begin to really see outcomes, we can start putting that up on our websites and following it and doing things where people can see are we achieving what we’re setting out to achieve. But my commitment to you Jennifer is until I get this done, I’m not done.
JENNIFER BROWN: Oh, I love to hear that. Yeah, we’re not done with you at all. You better hang in there and keep fighting the good fight and giving us all courage and inspiration as you have. Thank you so much Jan for joining me today.
JAN JONES: Thank you so much Jennifer for allowing me a short amount of your time.
JENNIFER BROWN: Thanks.
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