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Poker Empowers Women And Girls By Building Confidence And Teaching Essential Leadership Skills

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The debate continues whether or not poker is a game of skill or luck. Yet, unlike other forms of gambling that rely solely on luck, poker requires skill to win. This competitive game, when taught to women and girls, inspires confidence, teaches discipline and strategy as well as the valuable skills of negotiation, risk-taking, decision-making, and reading people.

Jenny Just, co-founder of PEAK6 Investments, a multi-billion- dollar options trading and technology firm, and her business partner and husband, Matt Hulsizer, recognized value of poker as a game of skill when they decided to teach their then teenage daughter, Juliette Hulsizer, to learn how to play to give her a competitive edge in tennis. This decision eventually evolved into a new business venture. In 2020, Just and Juliette founded Poker Power, a brand that now spans 40 countries worldwide with the goal of teaching poker to one million girls and women, along with the skills to advance and accelerate their careers and close the gender pay gap. Initially started as a toolkit for teenage girls, it has transitioned to a B2B corporate model and expanded to support professional development for women in organizations such as Morningstar Chicago, Amazon (AWS), Pepsi, Comcast, and Morgan Stanley.

Erin Lydon, president of Poker Power, joined the organization after a career on Wall Street. To her, the appeal of poker is that, “The poker table is a meritocracy. It doesn’t matter how tall, how fast or how strong you are. It only matters how you play your cards. That is incredibly empowering for many women because success comes from the strength of your decision making, not how much you can curl. If you play this game repetitively and you hone your skills at the poker table, it’s a way to build the really important skills of negotiation, risk-taking, and confidence building.”

Through their workshops and mobile app, Poker Power teaches women and girls major skills that support their career advancement and acceleration.

Erin Lydon, president of Poker Power.
Erin Lydon, president of Poker Power.

Negotiation

Women face unique challenges at the negotiation table. The gender gap in negotiation may in part explain why women in the United States earned only about 83% of men’s median annual earnings in 2021, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

Harvard Law School suggests that women should benefit from negotiation training and experience, and that research shows “the gap between men and women’s outcomes narrowed as they gained negotiating experience. The results suggest that women in particular tend to achieve more favorable economic outcomes the more time they spend at the bargaining table.”

Poker Power teaches negotiation skills. According to Lydon, “The way we practice negotiation is that every single hand you play is a negotiation. You’re going to ask yourself as the cards get dealt, what do I have? What do I think my opponents have? That’s the full scope of a negotiation, that give and take, that new perspective that comes as new information is learned, ultimately putting all your cards on the table, literally to try to get the raise, the promotion, the new client, new customer, all of those things get negotiated.

What I find fascinating about poker is that we can’t expect anybody, not just women, to successfully know how to do this unless they’ve been exposed to a strategy game, competitive games, complexity in their lives that they have to maneuver through.”

Risk-Taking

Risk-taking plays an important role in helping women advance in their careers. According to the 2019 KPMG Women’s Leadership Study: Risk, Resilience, Reward, “55 percent of more than 2,000 college-educated women currently working full-time in the white-collar workforce believe people who take career risks progress more quickly, achieve personal development, and build increased confidence and respect among colleagues.”

Addressing this, Lydon shares, “The first time you shove all your chips to the middle of the table, you’re absolutely scared to death. It doesn’t matter if you’re an intern or the CEO. There is this hesitation around risk-taking at the poker table. That’s a behavior we want to change. We know, through having women play the game and getting more comfortable with winning, and more importantly with losing, then understanding why they lost that hand, they’re going to get more comfortable with risk-taking.”

Reading People

There’s a skill to recognizing classic poker emotions — “fear, excitement, anger, frustration, doubt, determination, elation (among many others) — and this crosses over into real life too. Once you recognize those telltale signs, you’ll get better at reading people in general, and have the ability to alter your actions accordingly.”

In poker, you start to see patterns of play. Lydon shares, “what you’re looking for with poker is that deviation from normal patterns of play. This is incredibly important in a workplace situation. Being able to have emotional control of both yourself as well as reading it on other people is a secret sauce for women.”

Making Decisions

“Similar to negotiation,” Lydon says, “you are making a decision every time the cards are dealt. The play goes pretty quickly and you make a lot of decisions in a short amount of time. What we teach at Poker Power is not to focus on the outcome because we are very outcome-biased. If we lose the hand, we must have made a bad decision. That’s not correct. It’s the quality of the decision-making at each point in the game where you have new information. There are variables in the game that are unpredictable. Good poker players study their decisions along the way to improve their strategy. It’s very methodical and analytical. It’s something everybody needs to be better at because the quality of your decisions will be better the more you do it.”

One of the biggest benefits of the repetitive play of poker is increased confidence. Lydon commented, “I’m 54. There are not a lot of times in my life anymore when I feel like a rock star. I do when I play poker, and I especially do when I shove those chips and I win back the pot. I want every woman to experience that. I think it’s a game-changer.”

h/t to Forbes for posting the original article. Read it here.

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