As we celebrate Women’s History Month at G2E, we’re highlighting women in business who have made a difference and are paving the road for female leaders of the future. We spoke with Rachel Barber, SVP and CTO, Gaming and Lottery at IGT to learn about her experience in the gaming industry, how IGT is empowering women and leading the way in diversity, her advice for those interested in growing their careers in gaming, and more!
Tell us a bit about your background, and how you ended up in your current role as SVP and CTO, Gaming and Lottery at IGT?
I grew up in Rhode Island and always had an interest in computers. My mother was a software engineer, which helped make the idea of going into this field seem completely mainstream. I took programming classes beginning in high school, and I decided early on that I wanted to major in computer science. When I graduated from college, I looked at programming opportunities in the Boston area, but I also became interested in one of the major technology employers in Rhode Island––GTECH Corporation. GTECH was the worldwide leader in lottery systems at the time, and I chose to start my career there as a software engineer developing lottery point-of-sale applications. I’ve worked for the same company ever since, but after many mergers and acquisitions, we are now called IGT.
What makes IGT a unique company?
I believe the answer to this is simple––our people. I love this company and I’ve found that there are so many of us who have been at IGT for so long, that the company has become a part of us. Our colleagues, our customers, and the importance of not letting anyone down is central to IGT’s culture. We are a company that was created by merging two industry giants, with employees who have decades of experience in their fields. GTECH’s primary focus was global lottery solutions, while IGT focused primarily on worldwide casino gaming solutions. Both companies were rich with talent, expertise, and excellent products, and both companies had storied cultures of comradery. It was so amazing to see the two companies merge because they were similar in many ways and, for the most part, did not compete with one another in terms of product offerings. The result is a true powerhouse company comprised of what I consider to be the best people in the business. Not just because of their knowledge, but also because of their intense spirit and passion for creating value for our customers and their players. Since the 2015 IGT-GTECH merger, we have become an even stronger organization and established leadership in new and exciting product areas such as iGaming and sports betting.
How are companies like IGT leading the way in diversity and empowering women and other minority groups to hold leadership positions?
In 2018, the company formalized diversity and inclusion as a strategic business priority and created the Office of Diversity. This was a major first step for us, and since then we have launched Diversity and Inclusion Groups (DIGs), which are employee-led groups that provide engagement and development opportunities, help develop awareness of the unique issues faced by employees, and promote inclusion at every level of the company. The company now has six DIGs with thirteen chapters worldwide, including ACE at IGT (supporting Black employees), Military Veterans at IGT; PRIDE at IGT (LGBTQ+ employees); SuperAbilities; WIN with IGT (Women’s Inclusion Network), and >50 at IGT, which is the group that I proudly sponsor.
Our DIGs are important examples of how IGT is working to ensure that all our employees feel included, heard, and valued as members of our IGT family. What has impressed me most about these programs is the level of executive sponsorship that each DIG receives. We have very senior-level executives, including CEOs, actively contributing in these DIGs which set the tone for how our company is changing, and how much support our leadership team is genuinely offering to all our employees. While we know we have more work to do, we are making a positive impact on many areas of the business and improving the representation of women and people of color in leadership positions across our organization. On a more personal note, I have enjoyed participating in the Rhode Island chapter of our Women’s Inclusion Network (WIN) here at IGT, and as the executive sponsor of the DIG that focuses on employees who are 50-plus years old. I have the opportunity to advocate for their need to continue to develop and contribute to the organization while also bringing to light their unique financial, health, and personal needs.
To celebrate Women’s History Month, tell us who your female role model is and why?
As I mentioned earlier, my mom indirectly taught me that the future is mine for the taking. Not only was she a math major and a software engineer back in the 1960s-1980s, but she was also actively involved in politics and served as a Rhode Island senator for many years. She never had to teach me or convince me that I could do anything that I wanted; she just led by example and I never doubted myself as a result. As I pursued computer science, I later learned that 40 years before my mom was paving the way for me, an inspiring woman named Grace Hopper was blazing trails in the computer industry. She not only helped to develop the UNIVAC computer, but she also created a compiler and a programming language which later evolved to COBOL. When I have days where I feel alone or that women aren’t as strongly represented as they could be, I think of Grace and my mom and I try to focus on a feeling of hope that my daughter, and the daughters of other women in technology are all indirectly learning that anything is possible.
Given your experience in the gaming industry, what is one piece of advice for those who are interested in growing their careers in gaming?
I’ve always felt that the key to success is to keep the ‘customer’ in mind while building and delivering products. When it comes to creating technology for the gaming industry, we have three primary customers: the gaming operators, the regulators, and the players. Our job is to constantly keep all these constituents in mind while building products. We must continuously monitor the industry for trends and opportunities in these three areas. Sometimes there are consumer and player trends that are emerging that create opportunity for new products within gaming. Other times there are operator needs that highlight a gap in today’s offerings and our job as technologists is to find creative ways to overcome them. Of course, we must also remain 100 percent dedicated to meeting every regulation in the jurisdictions where we do business. With this said, there are sometimes situations where regulatory conditions need to evolve to pave the way for modern innovations to thrive in gaming. In these instances, IGT serves as thought leaders and works with regulators to help drive evolutions in gaming regulations. I believe that success comes from tremendous focus and passion to deliver value for these three ‘customers.’
What are the top three trends you see leading the transformation of the gaming industry?
In my view, the top trends transforming the gaming industry right now are cashless technologies, online gaming and sports betting, and mobile technologies that create more user-friendly experiences for both operators and players. IGT had strong innovation pipelines for each of these verticals before COVID-19, but the pandemic has undoubtedly accelerated the industry-wide demand for and relevance of all three of these product segments and created related growth opportunities for IGT and our customers.
G2E is a launching point for innovation and technology. Can you share some insight into the innovation and technology that IGT has recently launched?
As an end-to-end gaming supplier, IGT leverages G2E as a launchpad for new innovations across our entire content, hardware, systems, and services portfolio. In the time since the industry was last able to gather in-person for a trade show, IGT has made tremendous strides in innovation across our entire portfolio, particularly in high-growth, high-demand areas such as cashless gaming and sports betting. For example, our flagship cashless wagering solution Resort Wallet can now be complemented with the IGTPay module to enable external account funding from a range of sources such as bank and credit accounts. This is a meaningful advancement, as it propels the player experience and creates operational efficiencies for our customers. Similarly, we’ve augmented our widely deployed PlaySports platform with an integrated player account management (PAM) module that helps our customers to create personalized offers and promotions and improves customer retention and acquisition. We’ve also implemented a range of advancements to our self-service betting solutions such as the PlaySports Pad and CrystalBetting Terminal. We are eager to showcase and demonstrate those technologies in a trade show environment again when we can safely do so.
What is a typical “can’t miss” moment for you at G2E, and how will that change for 2021?
The thing I look forward to most each year at G2E is watching the excitement and reactions of players and customers as they come through the booth and see our newest products for the first time. IGT will bring a lot of excitement to our 2021 G2E product showcase. We do not want to divulge too much at this time as the pre-G2E anticipation is part of the fun, but IGT’s G2E portfolio is guaranteed to reflect our position as an innovation leader and our commitment to fueling growth. 2021 marks the 25th anniversary of Wheel of Fortune slots, so you can expect significant focus and excitement around that storied product line. We will also shine a spotlight on our performance-tested content and hardware, as well as innovations that will help our customers thrive in the post-COVID-19 world and maximize opportunity in high-growth areas such as sports betting and iGaming.