The issue of gender diversity is one that appears in multiple sectors, many of which have been male-dominated for years. However, female recruitment, participation and leadership has been steadily increasing, thanks in part to efforts made by women in various industries as well as companies fostering female talent and ambition. We sat down with three of our female Heads at WIS to discuss their experiences as leading professionals within their respective fields.
1. Did you ever imagine that you would have a leadership role in this industry when you began working in this field?
Not really! I started studying design as a teenager, and the only thing I knew for sure at that age was that I wanted to do something creative. Back then, it was a totally different profession, and it’s evolved a lot over the years. I had no idea that I would end up working so much with technology, for example.
I certainly never envisioned that I would end up working in iGaming. I grew up in Italy, and then, in my twenties, moved to Spain to live and work. It was only when I moved to Malta that I got to know more about this industry.
2. If you could travel to any part of the world for a holiday, where would you go?
Although I currently already live on one, I would still go for an island destination! I dream of going back to the Florida Keys - I've been once and it’s a special place to me. I’d also love to visit Indonesia.
3. Over the course of your career, how have you built up your confidence and/or resilience?
Design is a field that can be tough at the beginning because you are expected to do a lot for free or a low pay, and in return get “exposure” for your work. As a result, when I was younger, I found it tough to stick to this profession; however, the job allowed me to move around easily and go wherever the opportunities were, which was exciting.
Because of this, I managed to get to know people who I could look up to and who instilled confidence in me. Seeing others being adventurous in their career both inspired and helped me grow as a professional.
4. What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
I love being near the sea and going for hikes or walks. I also enjoy reading, writing, and meeting up with people.
5. Do you have any female role models who inspire you in the work you do?
I really admire the American designer and art director, Jessica Walsh, who is just a little bit older than me. She began her career as an intern in a creative studio in New York, where she nurtured her talent and bloomed into this amazing professional. Eventually, she was offered a job at Sagmeister Inc., where she became a partner at 25 years old.
She also has two Instagram accounts - one that is dedicated to mental health, and one that is dedicated to her art and is supportive to women from all types of environments.
Another woman I look up to is an amazing manager who I worked with in my previous job. In my mind, she is a superwoman! Not only is she excellent at what she does, but she has also remained true to herself and was always empathetic towards everyone. I consider this a key quality to have in a leadership position.She showed me that being a leader shouldn’t be about babysitting or micro-managing, but seeing everyone’s strengths, guiding them, and leading by example.
6. What are your goals for the future (personally and professionally?)
My personal goal right now is to enjoy more downtime. At the moment, I have a full-time job and am also studying for a Master’s degree - so you could say I have my hands full! However, as important as it is to keep busy, I also think it’s crucial to disconnect and take some time for yourself.
Professionally, I want to continue working in the art direction. In the future, I’d also like to work on projects revolving around sustainability and which focus on providing some kind of service to society.
7. Is there any advice you would give your younger self?
At the start of this career, many don’t feel very confident about their abilities, and as a result, sometimes tend to take feedback too personally. I sympathise with them - as creatives, we tend to put a bit of ourselves in whatever we do or make, so at times, hearing criticism (even if constructive) can almost feel like a personal attack.
However, it’s important to take a step back and remind yourself that objective decisions are crucial in order to get the best results, and at the end of the day, it’s practically impossible to navigate this profession without going through this process.
My advice to those just starting out would be to take it easy and enjoy their work as much as they can! It can be a truly amazing and rewarding career.
1. What is the most rewarding part of your role at WIS?
I like that I can help to change people’s work lives for the better. No day is ever the same at WIS as I always have a variety of tasks to work on, including the ‘consulting’ part of my role. My job is a combination of working at a desk and with people, with more of a heavy emphasis on the latter.
2. Could you tell us exactly what your role involves, as Head of the ‘People Department’?
As Head, I take care of the people at WIS and contribute to its overall dynamic, as well as overseeing all the aspects of our employee experience from onboarding to training and development. I also make sure that we’re up-to-date and compliant with any changes in employment law, such as the ongoing COVID office regulations. Then, of course, there are many ad-hoc things that need be handled on a daily basis. Apart from this, I help Ira (our Talent Acquisition Specialist) with recruitment by discussing and assessing potential candidates.
3. What are the positive impacts of having more female leaders in the workplace?
Women do tend to have more empathy, or are usually more open to show it, and perhaps, as a result of this, female leaders are often more prone to implement more family-friendly policies at work than their male counterparts. They also tend to be more democratic, encouraging their team members to participate in decision-making. However, this does not mean that there are no male leaders at all who can have a similar impact.
4. What would you say are the most significant barriers for women in leadership roles?
Unfortunately, old-fashioned stereotypes which can affect how women are perceived still exist, which can sometimes hold our gender back. Some still think of men as the default breadwinners of the household, while women are expected to be not so career-oriented and stay at home more, or to be in a position to have more time to dedicate towards their families. Women might have their own self-internalised inhibitions which can make them feel as though they have to behave in a certain way, sometimes creating issues with their own self-confidence at work. Expectations to have children may also slow down their career progression.
5. Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?
At the breakfast table with my husband, with some freshly baked bread and coffee, with some nice music in the background!
6. How can companies attract female talent? Do women generally apply for the same roles as men, or do they differ?
Companies should promote more work-life balance initiatives. When employees at WIS started having families and more children, the People Department got together with the COO, and together we decided to introduce more family-friendly measures to make everyone’s lives a little easier. Women who have families look out for policies such as flexible working hours, as they are usually responsible for picking the kids up from school or taking them to activities. Besides flexibility, it’s also good for job seekers to know that there’s career progression available to everyone.
Regarding applications, I’ve noticed that men tend to apply more for senior sports-roles.
7. If you could ask anyone over to dinner, alive or dead, who would you invite?
I would like to invite all my grandparents who have passed on. I still have some questions I’d like to ask!
1. How many years have you been living in Malta, and how do you find life on the island?
I have been living in Malta for 14 years. In the beginning I found it a bit difficult to adjust as I’m from Moscow, and I was used to the lifestyle of a big city. However, as time went by, I soon began to appreciate many things on the island that I didn’t have back home, such as the sea. In fact, during the first summer I lived in Malta, I swam every day! I also found Maltese people to be very hospitable and helpful. The environment here is very safe for children and families too, and I enjoy the holiday lifestyle on the island very much.
2. How easy is it at WIS to balance your work and family life?
I really like the family-friendly approach the company has. Even before COVID, the company gave us home-office allowance which was a very big help; if you have children, like I do, it’s obviously impossible to plan sick days in advance, so if something cropped up last minute, we had the option to work from home. Now, as a result of the pandemic, our home-office allowance has greatly increased. This flexibility is really helpful if you’re a working parent.
3. What do you think are the greatest obstacles for women in iGaming, if any?
Women who have families, especially small children, often face obstacles, especially if the companies they work for don’t offer policies such as flexible hours or the option to work from home. To add on to this, there are many foreigners in Malta who work in this industry; most don’t have grandparents living on the island who can look after the children while the parents are away, unlike their Maltese counterparts.
4. What was it that initially drew you to work in iGaming/affiliate marketing?
Before joining WIS I did affiliate marketing for an English school, which was mainly B2B and involved commission-based sales. Afterwards, I went on to work in the software industry, which was similar enough to iGaming that transitioning to the latter felt very natural.
5. Do you have any advice for women in your position?
My advice would be that it’s not impossible - you can do it! If you can, I’d hire a good nanny; ours has been with us for 5 years. She does a lot of work around the house and helps a lot with the kids.
I’d also mention that the iGaming industry has a slightly different, welcoming culture, which is very international and which doesn’t allow much room for sexism. Being in Malta for all these years has given me the chance to work in both small, local companies and bigger, international companies, and I have noticed a significant difference between them in terms of work culture.
6. What is a typical working day for you like?
The past 6 months I’ve been working remotely from home, occasionally coming into the office every so often. The first thing I do in the morning is to open all the communication channels we have, including Skype and Outlook, and I see if anything is urgent. I check any meetings I have and make sure I don’t overlook any! I try to plan everything I want to do that day, though sometimes, urgent issues crop up that immediately need dealing with.
We are currently a small team of three in the Sales and Affiliates Department, but we’re in the process of hiring two new people. I schedule weekly calls with my team members as well as calls with our partners to remain up-to-date both internally and externally. The day always flies by quickly! Our main vertical is iGaming, though we also have clients from the finance sector.
7. What are your hobbies and interests? How do you relax after a day at work?
I enjoy outdoor activities like swimming and hiking. In Russia I cycled a lot - everyone did where I’m from; here in Malta I prefer to go on long walks instead. I also love playing volleyball whenever I get the chance. When I travel, I like to visit art galleries and see musicals at the theatre.
I do still enjoy reading a good book – I prefer ‘traditional’ books as opposed to electronic ones. And, of course, I love meeting friends – hopefully it won’t be too long before things can return to normal and we can start socialising normally again!