Jan Jones Blackhurst has spent most of her professional career pressing against the glass ceiling.
Now, she’ll get the opportunity to show others the way after being named chief executive in residence at UNLV’s International Gaming Institute.
Blackhurst, a member of Caesars Entertainment Corp.’s board of directors, was Las Vegas’ first female mayor from 1991 to 1999 and spent more than 20 years in executive leadership roles, most notably as Caesars’ executive vice president of government relations and corporate social responsibility.
Blackhurst has been an advocate for advancing women in leadership roles in the gaming industry — a position she acknowledges has been an uphill struggle.
“I’ve been giving this same speech for 25 years and it’s getting really old,” she said.
But in her new position, funded by the 2019 Nevada Legislature, she’ll be able to support gender equity through UNLV’s “Expanding the Leaderverse” program by speaking with young students as well as in the college classroom and with professionals in the workplace.
Blackhurst said the reason the struggle is so difficult is because it requires cultural change, which is what she has worked for at Caesars and its 50/50 by 2025 program first adopted by computer scientist Anita Borg in the 1990s.
Her vision, now advanced by AnitaB.org, was to have half the computer technologists women by 2020. Various organizations have adopted similar goals for themselves.
“It’s a strategy, not an initiative,” Blackhurst said. “There are cultural changes you need to make and recruiting changes that you need to put in place and measurements that you need to be grading yourself against to see if you’re really making movement. You need tremendous buy-in.”
As part of the “Expanding the Leaderverse” team at UNLV, Blackhurst will be able to promote diversity and inclusion in the hospitality, gaming, and tourism industries at the K-12 (ages 5-18), university, community and workforce levels.
Through community outreach programs like Young Executive Scholars and Battle Born Girls Innovate, academic research, and executive education, the International Gaming Institute bridges the gap between university and industry — simultaneously shrinking the gender gap that presently exists within the hospitality and gaming industry’s executive representation.
“It’s amazing when you go out to the schools in Clark County and you bring some of the young students in behind the scenes in gaming, I don’t think many of them even realize, even though the live here, the huge work opportunities that are available to them and career opportunities, just in the gaming industry alone,” she said.
“There probably are 40 different career opportunities in one of those big buildings, everything from culinary to hospitality to legal to finance to data analytics, to engineering to horticulture. It’s endless.”
Bo Bernhard, executive director of the Gaming Institute, is excited to have Blackhurst on his team.
“I think a lot of folks were wondering where Jan would end up next and they knew it would be impactful and she has chosen our pedestal, perch and podium,” he said.
Bernhard credited the Legislature for energizing the program.
“This all comes from the last legislative session where the first-ever female majority legislature set aside funding for what we’re calling the ‘Expanding the Leaderverse’ initiative, which is getting more women in leadership roles across the industry and across the spectrum,” he said.