No one at Wynn Resorts’ inaugural women’s leadership forum Monday night mentioned the casino company’s recently deposed founder by name.
But the specter of the eponymous Steve Wynn, who stepped down from the helm of the company earlier this year amid a wave of allegations of sexual misconduct, lingered just below the surface of conversations about both the challenges women face in the workplace and what path the company should chart forward in a post-Wynn era.
Three women who were recently elected to Wynn’s board of directors, along with the one existing female board member, shared stories of climbing up the food chain in their respective industries, the personal struggles they faced and the successes they’ve had with a crowd of several hundred of the company’s employees, both female and male, at the Encore Theater, with others attending virtually from Encore Boston Harbor and Wynn Macau.
The women also talked about what it means to transition away from a founder-driven company, what appropriate relationships between men and women in the workplace look like and whether there’s been a rush to judgment to condemn men for their behavior in the workplace.
It’s a conversation that the company is having internally — and also, now, publicly — just four months after the Wall Street Journal published an article detailing decades of allegations of sexual misconduct against Wynn by dozens of people, including former employees. (Wynn said in a statement that the idea he ever assaulted anyone was “preposterous.”) But, in the wake of the article, Wynn stepped down as head of the company and sold the entirety of his $2.1 billion worth of stock.
Even the election of the three new female board members represents a shift for Wynn Resorts, which previously had an almost entirely male board. Former Southern Nevada Water Authority General Manager Pat Mulroy was the only woman on the board until she was recently joined by former White House Press Secretary and Warner Brothers Entertainment executive Dee Dee Myers, corporate-governance advocate Betsy Atkins and former Walt Disney Company executive Wendy Webb.
In fact, the four women will eventually comprise 50 percent of the board, after Wynn Resorts announced on Monday that two board members, WestLand Capital Partners Co-Founder and Executive Chairman John Hagenbuch and former Gov. Bob Miller, would be leaving, in addition to the already announced departure of former First Boston Inc. Chairman Alvin Shoemaker in 2019.
Kim Sinatra, the general counsel for Wynn Resorts and the forum’s moderator, didn’t mention Wynn by name during the hour-long event or specifically reference the tumult the company has experienced in recent months in the wake of the Journal article. But she did acknowledge that “the road to success is not always straight or easy.”
“There are usually detours and challenges and sometimes our biggest lessons come through those hard times,” Sinatra said.
During the event, the four board members grappled with the question of what constitutes an appropriate workplace relationship between a man and a woman. Myers suggested opening a dialogue with men to help them understand what women experience and how “innocent and benign” intentions can negatively affect women, but also said that she believes that in some instances there’s been a lack of due process for men accused of misconduct.
“I think we have to find a way back to due process so everybody feels like they’re treated fairly because if not, I think women will suffer,” Myers said. “If men feel like, ‘Oh gosh, I just want to go out to dinner with my colleague when we’re traveling, and I don’t want to lose my job because I say an inappropriate joke or a joke that somebody at the table thinks is inappropriate, I’m going to make sure that everybody at dinner with me thinks like I do.’ That is not good for women to craft these informal networks.”
Mulroy suggested that people get to know the groups that they’re in — men or women — to understand what will be perceived as appropriate and figure out where the lines are.
“We as a group of women are not homogenous,” Mulroy said. “We react differently to different venues and so something that I might laugh at might be offensive to Betsy or might be offensive to somebody else.”
The women also talked about what it means to have a Wynn Resorts without the man who built the company. Webb highlighted the parallels between the Walt Disney Company and the transition it had to make when its founder died and the situation Wynn Resorts is now in.
She said that the Walt Disney Company initially struggled until it brought in professional management who “took the very best of what Walt Disney had envisioned for the company.” The Walt Disney Company’s expansion into Japan, Paris and Hong Kong even parallels Wynn Resorts’ own expansion abroad, such as in Macau, Webb said.
“When I look at the Wynn organization I see a lot of the same things,” Webb said. “Times are changing rapidly. Professional management will take the company forward. It’s all about future. It’s all about reinventing.”
She added later in an interview with reporters that the next step for Wynn Resorts will be moving forward “all the terrific things that the founder may have had as far as vision, as far as creative outlook and the commitment to guest service” but also allowing the company to reinvent itself.
Asked by a member of the audience what motivated her to join the board, Myers said that she appreciated how quickly Wynn Resorts’ management moved to resolve what she described as “very difficult issues.”
“I didn’t feel in my communications with anybody that anyone was trying to sweep anything under the rug,” Myers said. “It was taken head on.”
She added later in an interview that every company, including Wynn Resorts, has an obligation to look at its policies and practices to ensure it is doing everything it can to make sure its employees feel safe. She said that Wynn Resorts has taken “very strong steps to move in the right direction” and that having four women on the board “brings a diversity to the dialogue.”
Although Wynn has recently increased the gender diversity of its board, one employee noted in a question during the forum that the board is still not racially diverse. Mulroy said that the board is actively looking for “representation across the spectrum, whether it’s ethnic, whether it’s minorities in culture,” or even whether it’s global representation.
“Being a global company we need to have representation in all of our markets,” Mulroy said. “So absolutely, we need a skill set that’s diverse. We need to be a reflection of our customers. At the end of the day, that’s what the board needs to be — and of the employees.”
As far as the future, Mulroy framed the forum as a harbinger of what’s to come for the company.
“Forums like this underscore, I think, the efforts that this company has put in place, the management team has put in place, the board has put in place to transform, get rid of the hangover if you will,” Mulroy said in an interview after the forum.
In the meantime, she said that Wynn Resorts Board of Directors’ special committee, which she sits on, will continue to work with gaming regulators in Nevada and Massachusetts in their investigations into the allegations of misconduct. Mulroy said the completion of the committee’s work depends on the timing of regulators in the two states but that there will be some form of communication from the committee once the investigation is complete.
“We’re not going to get out of sync with Massachusetts and Nevada,” Mulroy said. “I think coming to a common closure is really important.”