Reading over a past interview, it was a delight to discover from her answers that Martina Åkerlund was one of the most kind and compassionate people we’ve had the pleasure of researching. It came as no shock to us that when speaking to her personally, she was just as warm and welcoming as we had imagined. In such a senior role within a tech company, keeping composure, ethics and good will in a vastly male-influenced industry comes as part of the expectation. “It is important to me, to be kind and personable in all meetings,” she tells Gambling Insider.
“This is something I have developed in my career and it creates a better working atmosphere. When everyone feels respected, everyone wants to contribute and do their best. I’ve always liked the leaders around me who have had that type of directorship. It’s something I want to live by. It is important to me that I try to keep this in all parts of my life, personal and professional. It is so important [in making deals], the best deal is when both parts or all parts feel like they’ve made a good agreement with hopes to work well together, it’s important to make a really good start.”
In terms of good starts, Åkerlund discusses her upbringing as a well-loved daughter of a ‘serial entrepreneur’ and how this shaped her into the successful businesswoman she is today. “It’s affected me, of course, in a good way. When I was younger, he would say ‘everything will work out fine’, and at the time, at 15-years-old, when everything seemed as if it was the end of the world, he would always say these words. Fast forward to now, as my life has developed – I’ve realised he was so right.”
Åkerlund considered her father as a role model, and touches on how important a person’s younger years are as an integral part of character building, physically and psychologically. She explains how those five words gave her the security she carries throughout her adult life; if there is ever something she believes in or strives to do, she will go for it every time. “Maybe I’ll fail? But I’ll always try”.
As a career-driven woman and working mother since her mid-twenties, the juggle of parenthood and the elevation of continuous success are something it’s fair to say she has mastered, with the help of a “great support system.” Åkerlund and her husband – an entrepreneur, like her father – have “one goal together” and one that has been “a give and take, always, and for both of us to be able to do well at work; but also where the harmony and the balance of family is the most important part.”
During our Zoom call, we mention how great it is to be able to speak face-to-face, bringing more of a characteristic approach to our interview, and how refreshing it is to see one another, woman to woman. This leads us onto the subject of ‘women in the industry’ or rather, ‘a woman in a male-dominated industry’. “I think there are different ways of making change happen, it’s always difficult to know the best way forward, but for me, it should always be about talent,” Åkerlund states.
“What I like about this industry is that – of course, it’s male dominated – but, there are so many entrepreneurs. What I feel about entrepreneurs is that they are so focused on their business they don’t care about which gender is doing what; they care about who will make their company the most successful. Entrepreneurs are less discriminating than larger organisations can be.”
Earlier this year, Åkerlund’s career took a steer away from banking and finance – where she accumulated 20 years of experience – and into her most recent role as CEO of sports betting supplier Triggy. “They chose me because of my banking background. There are actually a lot of similarities; it’s about including data and transactions. It’s about building teams that can deliver, and it’s about user experience. Both are regulated industries.”
With Triggy aiming to increase engagement, retention and conversion within the sports betting industry, Åkerlund expresses her gratitude for working within a team of experienced senior professionals. Åkerlund also emphasises that betting experience itself is not necessarily the most essential ingredient in her role: “The three founders of Triggy know everything about the betting industry. Where I may lack in some knowledge, I have so many other experiences which are great for them in a combination. So they hired me because of a plethora of accolades I can contribute with, besides the betting experience they have.
“A really good way of thinking and understanding this is contemplating the view that for any experience one may lack, they can have four other things that are important. You can most likely find a person who ticks four boxes – but not all five. So, you have to be a little bit more open-minded.”
Considering the similarities between banking and finance, and her role in the gaming industry, the correlation between these two professions appears to be separated by a very fine line. “The golden days of banking are over; we are really going forward now with the golden days of betting. With so many similar components, the betting industry can attract people from the banking industry who see business potential going forward. The banking industry is over-mature now, whereas the betting industry is at its infancy; there are so many possibilities for the future.”
With a role in sports betting, one must have a certain love for sports, right? When Åkerlund is not running a company, well, she’s running 42-mile races. “I love sports, doing sports myself, I have run the marathon and I’ve always been really active. I am married to a huge football fan and now my son is also playing football. Sports is so engaging, bringing so many different types of people together, and makes people passionate about the same thing.”
In an era when esports is an ever-expanding community, providing just as much digital engagement as in physical sports, Åkerlund is keen to use technology as an advantage to increase professionalism and innovation within her company. “The purpose of our technology is to make betting and sports more engaging. It’s something that appealed to me when I met with Triggy and learned about their products. With actual sports, it’s about engaging and uniting one another; however, the technological side is all about making things easy and straightforward for bettors. So, that’s why I felt it was a good match for me.”
Åkerlund sees many possibilities moving forward with Triggy; in terms of diversity, her aim is to have a wider range of employees, focusing on women employees for particular job roles. “I have an amazing woman on the board, Louise Wendel, who made actual history with Catena Media; she is simply amazing. And that was one of my goals; I met so many talented women in the process. I think it’s great meeting all these confident and competent women.”
STEM – Seek to educate many
Some studies suggest that only 25% of all tech jobs are held by women. Research has proven the percentage rates of women decrease drastically with age, in females who choose technological studies. During pre-school, 64% of girls choose to learn about such subjects, as opposed to 83% being boys. Moreover, only 30% of females choose to learn science, technology, engineering, mathematics (STEM) subjects at university, in comparison to 54% of males. A shocking number of 3% of women choose a tech-based job as a career choice, in comparison to 15% of males.
This is something Åkerlund aims to change with her visions for expanding a new US tech team, alongside the new technology team already operating in Stockholm. “In the near future, we would like to have more women in the company. Now that we are expanding in the US, we are hopefully looking at getting a woman on board there as well. We will continue expanding our tech team externally to have flexibility, with a stable product and the urge to learn even more in the process. My goal is to have at least one more woman.”
With such a strong belief that women should be treated in no way dissimilar to men, Åkerlund both values and welcomes diversity within the workplace. “I think it’s best when we combine men and women, just like I think it’s best when we combine different ages, expertise and ethnic backgrounds. We all have varied perspectives, experiences and other ways of solving things. So I think we are always best when we try to mix and integrate as much as possible.”
The idea that an amalgamation of different skill sets, from both woman and men, contributes to a more-rounded overall picture is a popular opinion among likeminded professional women in the industry. Åkerlund’s viewpoints are mirrored by Grainne Hurst, Corporate Affairs Director at Entain, where a successful business is based around a team of driven characters, all with their own forte (see page 50).
Given the conversation around women working in highly ranked professions, or being put off the betting and gaming industry, the end goal remains a subject that is slowly peeping its way up from the horizon.
In densely male-filled companies, there still seems to be a stigma focused around the women already working in that industry. Should they be praised and honoured, or should that be eliminated as all sexes need to be recognised and considered as equals in an environment – not applauded for achieving a role suited for both men and women?
We live in a society where women institutes like Women Who Code and Global Gaming Women applaud women for working or integrating themselves in the tech or STEM industries, and it’s refreshing to see, but as for now, it’s time to close the gender gap...Don’t you think?
Åkerlund’s goals remain the same throughout her career, in any role she’s working in and in any role she decides to choose later in life. As we ponder the notions of an all-woman team and the reactions it would receive, good or bad, the CEO of Triggy is definitely not shy in expressing her passion for the idea. “It would go so well! I wouldn’t see things any other way in an all-woman team. From my perspective, it’s all about the individuals, the great individuals and talented people. The gender is not important to me. I would love to work with a team of women, just like I would love to work with a team of men.”