MGM Resorts CEO: Strides for women in business are not enough

Renee West from Excalibur, right, Paula Eylar from Boyd Gaming and Gwendolyn Turner from Princton Proper, left, take part in a panel discussion at the 2012 Women’s Leadership Conference Tuesday, August 14, 2012 at the MGM Grand.

Women's Leadership Conference

Lee Woodruff moderates a panel featuring Renee West from Excalibur, right, Paula Eylar from Boyd Gaming and Gwendolyn Turner from Princton Proper, left, at the 2012 Women's Leadership Conference Tuesday, August 14, 2012 at the MGM Grand. Launch slideshow »

Jim Murren remembered watching his future wife struggle in a man's world as they both blazed careers as financial analysts on Wall Street.

Years after Heather Murren reached a top executive position with Merrill Lynch, her experiences would follow her husband to Las Vegas and influence how Jim Murren runs MGM Resorts International as its CEO.

"Rarely are industries more sexist than Wall Street," Murren told a crowd Wednesday during a panel discussion at the Women's Leadership Conference at the MGM Grand. "I saw what my wife had to go through, and some of it was just despicable."

Murren said he's committed to making sure other women don't face the same obstacles, guiding Nevada's largest employer to a stellar record for promoting women and other groups, who in the past faced disadvantages.

When Murren mentioned that MGM had 250 vice presidential positions and half are women, the ballroom erupted in applause.

"The first female president of a major property on the Las Vegas Strip works for us," Murren said of Renee West, who heads the Luxor and Excalibur.

Click to enlarge photo

Jim Murren

"The second also works for us," he said of Cindy Kiser Murphey, president of New York-New York.

MGM played host for the two-day women's conference, which began Tuesday and offered educational seminars and networking opportunities for more than 700 participants.

While the conference celebrated strides women have made in business, Murren still isn't satisfied. He said even statistics that show more women are being promoted to loftier offices can be deceiving.

"Women who are promoted are often siloed in certain departments," he said. "We see a lot of promotions of women in HR (human resources) and PR (public relations). It's not just growth of women in executive positions that's important, it's the breadth of that growth."

Gail McGovern, president and CEO of the American Red Cross, sat on the panel with Murren. She said there's a difference in working styles between men and women, and that can help the bottom line.

"Women enjoy leading by influence; it's not always about titles, status and power," McGovern said. "They are more interested in making a difference. But having both those styles can make an organization more effective."

Maritza Montiel, vice president and deputy CEO of Deloitte financial services company, added that women too often try to lead by example or hope that their hard work will pay off with more responsibility. But business doesn't always reward actions.

"Don't be afraid to ask for what you want. That's something men aren't afraid to do," Montiel said. "Know where you want to go and don't take what comes your way. That means having a long-term career plan."

Murren said he hopes women don't become like men in the workplace. He thinks the way women work give them distinct advantages.

"I'm biased for hiring women," Murren said. "Women are more intuitive workers, and they learn better and absorb information better. They listen better and don't try to cut you off in the middle of a sentence like men do. I also believe women are more open-minded."

Women can stand out by learning a special skill or a depth of knowledge that will help a company grow, Murren said. He pointed to Cindy Ortega, MGM's senior vice president of energy and environmental services.

"Ten years ago, Cindy didn't give a lick about sustainability. Nobody did," Murren said. "But she became very knowledgable about an area that has become very valuable to us."

Murren joked and quipped about being the only man on the panel. The other women, however, saw his value at the conference.

"It's almost football season, and I'm a big fan, and I've got to say that sometimes we need a white man who throws a long bomb," Montiel said.

Then she looked at Murren and told him: "You're one of the ones who gets it."