From Sloan to Scotland (to sea snails), dispatches from the sports betting titan’s ongoing efforts to build a better workplace for women and minority professionals.
Juliette Gorson knew that there was more to life than venomous snails.
It’s not that the computational biologist found them uninteresting —the tropical Conus geographus eats fish and also sometimes kills you — but when a job offer arrived from FanDuel in 2020, she couldn’t turn down the chance to see just how her analytical verve might express itself when applied to, say, hockey rather than predatory mollusks.
“You’ve never just been the snail girl!” the Senior Data Scientist self-reflected during a FanDuel panel on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference last Friday. And while that statement is verifiably true, the parallels between STEM academia and the sports betting industry can be a mixed bag.
As FanDuel CEO and fellow panelist Amy Howe said, the company workforce is currently about 25% women and about one-third diverse. But like any bettor determined to craft the perfect parlay for a night of college basketball or a stacked UFC card, you can’t treat the long road to DEI as drive-by box-checking; you’ve got to take the time to put together your roadmap.
Enter FanDuel’s employee resource groups — ERGs, if you like.
Gorson pointed to the ERG known as Tech Women Enabling Everyone (TWEE) as a particular source of positive momentum.
TWEE’s work includes everything from catalyzing mentorship to expanding FanDuel’s recruitment pool. The group’s membership extends internationally, and it keeps ongoing partnerships with external resource groups like Women in Sports and Events (WISE). On Tuesday, several TWEE-ers will engage with students in Atlanta as part of the Georgia State University WomenLead program’s POWER Networking series.
It’s quite a dance card. But it all started quite simply.
“It went from a couple of women venting about the lack of diversity, especially on the tech side at FanDuel,” Gorson told Boardroom this week, to a whole lot more. These conversations coalesced into what would become TWEE when she and her colleagues realized that company leadership was receptive to these frustrations and encouraged them to form a proper group. “That group will give you a little bit more voice at the table. Let’s work together to make a difference. Let’s actually start making a difference,” she recalled of those early stages.
Taking your seat at the table (the equity piece of DEI) was a recurring theme of Friday’s panel at Sloan, which additionally featured FanDuel Director of Strategic Partnerships Javon Coney and on-air host Lisa Kerney as moderator. Sometimes, the panelists concurred, realizing that goal requires simply making the table bigger (the inclusion piece of DEI).
And while Howe is quick to say that these efforts have to start at the top, enterprises great and small won’t realize a key component of the DEI dream —the concept that hiring the best candidate time after time will ultimately produce a workforce that’s a dynamic mix of not just appearances, backgrounds, but ideas — without first broadening the pipeline for incoming talent.
Specifically, Coney spoke to the issues that arise from corporate America’s historic propensity to pigeonhole minority employees into specific positions in a way that sacrifices true diversity of thought at the altar of DEI lip service. Along his own career path, the antidote for such retrograde ills is what he called a “walk-on basketball player mentality” built on attention to detail, willingness to collaborate, and the grace to keep shifting on the fly. (His metaphor is apt, as he’s a former preferred walk-on guard at the University of Colorado.)
DEI doesn’t mean diversity for diversity’s sake — sometimes, even doing the right thing in the strictest sense of the word ultimately produces less-than-ideal results if the underlying structures and the attitudes that informed them aren’t sound. Essentially, the D isn’t worth all that much if the E and the I aren’t standing on equal footing, constantly bolstering one another.
And as Gorson sees it, a diverse marketplace of ideas, backgrounds, and perspectives in a typically male-dominated industry isn’t just good for the soul; it can actually drive the innovation of new products and the acquisition of new audiences.
Added Howe: “When you create a more diverse and inclusive environment, it absolutely leads to increased performance,” further noting a McKinsey report suggesting that increase is as much as 30%.
It is this sort of active, consistent engagement at all levels of the enterprise that informs the spirit of FanDuel’s ERGs, where the prevailing emphasis is less on hierarchy than on communication and accountability. This growing wave inside the company notably includes more than just TWEE, with Gorson noting additional groups like BOLD (Black Organization for Leadership and Development) as well as ERGs originated by Asian and Pacific Islander and LGBTQIA+ employees.
And while building a global enterprise into a more perfect union is never going to happen as quickly as the most profoundly invested parties would prefer, the platitudinous sports mainstay of playing the game the right way rather than merely focusing plainly on wins and losses is a virtue Howe, Gorson, Coney, and Kerney can agree on.
“One of the things that I’ve learned is [that] things take time, so as much as I would like diversity at the snap of a finger, it will never be that quick, even if the intentions are there. I think it’s important to recognize that,” Gorson said. “It’s especially true if leadership is doing a good job and we’re still hiring the best candidates; it’s gonna take a little bit longer, but they’re doing it for the right reasons. Understanding that getting an organized group together makes a difference.”
Specifically, a group that goes beyond just comparing notes and dreaming big and instead constitutes an enduring support system and a conduit for action.
“You’re gonna fall down and get your ass kicked in your career. We have to be there to support each other,” Howe said. Indeed, the CEO’s philosophy ultimately is bigger than, for instance, seeking out mentors; it’s about finding your voice and “building your pack.”
And if the pack-building has to begin with letting off some steam among confidantes, well, it’s a special kind of beautiful thing that there’s room at FanDuel for these ERGs to grow into something so dignified and empowering.
” We now have an organized group, and now, we’re actually talking to executives about metrics and DEI and what goals we would like to [pursue]. If we had just continued getting on a private Zoom together to vent about stuff, we wouldn’t have started to see these changes,” Gorson said. “I’m so proud to call Amy our CEO because she truly understands the point of diversity and the importance of diversity.”
“We have a leadership team that is actually trying to support us in the best that they can by giving us a seat at the table, and that’s gonna help push our goals forward and the company’s goals forward,” she continued.
Just as an Indo-Pacific cone snail cannot thrive without a coral reef and the occasional tasty tropical fish, diversity cannot hope to realize itself without equity and inclusion. And while any large organization that holds dear the goal of becoming the best, most inspiring of all places to work will experience both wins and losses along its path, FanDuel is closer to its DEI dreams on International Women’s Day than it was yesterday.
Like Aristophanes enjoys reminding us, it’s funny what can happen when a motivated community decides it’s done settling for less.
“It always helps to vent a little bit,” Gorson concluded with a smile.
(And if you had a quip up your sleeve about DEI realizing itself “at a snail’s pace,” direct yourself to Conus catus, a magnificent rascal that stabs its prey with a radular harpoon at speeds comparable to an airborne bullet.)