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Erin Lydon “Women belong in every seat and at every table”

Originally posted on

“Poker Power is a community led by women for women with the primary goal of utilizing the game of poker to build confidence, challenge the status quo, learn strategy and assess risk. By empowering women with these skills, we can change the future for generations of women. No money transacts. No gambling.”

I love what they do so I reached out and managed to connect with their President, Erin Lydon to learn more. Let’s jump in!

Can you tell us about the journey that led you to Poker Power?

Erin. I’ve been a thought leader on Equal Pay and workplace equity for a long time. My TEDx Talk begins with a clip of our gold medal-winning World Cup team chanting for Equal Pay and ends with practical solutions to address that problem. But if I were to give that same Talk today, I would only offer one solution…Play Poker–as crazy as this may sound.

Equal Pay: From Head Nodding to Hand Clapping | Erin Lydon | TEDxSpokane

I wasn’t always a poker player. My finance career began on Wall Street when pay was secret and pregnancy was hidden. Back then, I was surrounded by a lot of men and a lot of poker, but I never took my seat, because I believed then, and I still believe today, that there’s this force field surrounding the poker table that keeps women from sitting down, playing and competing. We see that same forcefield in the workplace, where most of the leadership roles are still held by men.

But It is the conversations happening OUTSIDE the boardroom, and often in the poker room, which so often determines who gets a seat IN that boardroom. And we need to get more women in those seats–into the flow of information, making the bets, and going all-in. And that’s where Poker Power comes in.

I read that fewer than 10% of poker players are women, so what was the inspiration behind building the Poker Power community?

Erin. Our inspiration came from our founder’s daughter playing poorly in a tennis match and her dad recognizing that she should learn to play poker. Why poker? Because she wasn’t playing strategically–she was just hitting the ball, instead of “playing the player.”

In the beginning, we taught a small group of high school girls and their moms how to play. It started as an experiment where, initially, the girls were shy and uncertain about how to hold their cards. After a few lessons from an incredible Chicago Public Schools third-grade teacher named Sarah Stefan, the girls sat up straight, no longer shared their chips, and were serious about betting and bluffing. A remarkable transformation was happening across kitchen make-shift poker tables!

And then the Pandemic hit. As quickly as the world locked down, a perfect storm opened up for Poker Power to evolve from an idea into a business. Every company on the planet needs engaging ways to bring their employees together across the Zoom screen. We were quick to offer an innovative approach to solve that problem–AND you had to turn your camera on so we could see your poker face!

By the end of 2021, we were still playing the hand dealt by the Pandemic, but by that time, we had partnered with many of the leading firms in finance and technology. Today we have over 200 corporate and higher education clients. We used the ‘new normal’ of the virtual world to our advantage and scaled quickly, all while refining our professional development offerings. With technology, we can teach anywhere, anytime!

And that’s when we realized we needed our own poker app–Poker Power Play. We set out to build the first-of-its-kind, gender-neutral teaching platform focused on gameplay basics and fostering a safe place for women+ to play online every day. Our free-to-play app is now the hub of our community and the centerpiece of all the offerings we are currently developing.

Can you share how you built the team and offerings during the pandemic–and is everyone a professional poker player?

Erin. Definitely not! And I think that’s important as our target audience is women+ who have never played, but who should! They are much more like me or my 20-year-old daughter than like Xuan Liu or Jennifer Shahade, our two professional advisors who are highly accomplished at the game. In fact, the first version of our curriculum was overly complex and too complicated for novice players. We care a lot about teaching proper poker, but we care just as much about creating an experience that draws women back to the table week after week.

Nearly our entire team was hired over Zoom calls, including our amazing instructors (all women) who are dispersed across the Americas and our core team of Lauren, AJ, Tiffani, and Sue, who are truly the heartbeat of the organization. There were no shortage to finding people who are poker experts, but no one had succeeded in translating the game to the real world and making it specifically engaging for women. To do so successfully and at scale took a dedicated group of smart, mission-driven women with diverse backgrounds, expertise, and ideas.

Poker Power’s mission is centered around empowerment, confidence-building, and skill development for women, all through the game of poker. How do you envision poker as a tool for achieving these goals, especially in a male-dominated field?

Erin. Poker Power is a company led by women for women with the goal of teaching one million women+ how to play the game. Poker is more than entertainment; it empowers women with key leadership skills that many men develop at a young age on the playground and through competitive sports. These game-changing skills include risk-taking, money management, resilience, and strategic decision-making.

Through engaging lessons and gameplay (and on the Poker Power Play app), we inspire women to show up in places they haven’t always felt welcomed. This, in turn, helps them be present, visible, and “in the room” where decisions are made.

One of the standout aspects of Poker Power is its emphasis on learning strategy and assessing risk without involving actual monetary transactions. Could you elaborate on how participants benefit from these aspects of the game in their personal and professional lives?

Erin. We have a turnkey virtual curriculum that we deliver across 40 countries. We also offer bespoke IRL workshop experiences for our corporate partners and we have built a robust 12-part lesson series where each is tied to a leadership theme, such as courage, discipline, and resilience. Through our different offerings, women+ can learn, practice, and play poker with us while honing skills in strategic thinking, problem solving, risk assessment, and negotiation.

And don’t forget, a table full of women playing this game is really energizing whether done IRL or across the screen. The poker table is well known for strengthening networks and building friendships. Poker games are social and competitive and, when seated at our table, they are also supportive and truly magical!

In a society where poker is often associated with gambling and competitiveness, Poker Power takes a different approach. How do you address misconceptions and challenges related to engaging women in a game that’s typically seen as high-stakes?

Erin. First, women belong in every seat and at every table from the classroom to the boardroom. We believe our inclusive approach enables all to benefit from the lessons learned “on the felt.” In poker, you tend to lose more hands than you win; so to win, you have to bet big and go “all-in.”

Playing to win instead of playing not to lose is a shift in perspective that becomes an asset in the real world. I have often said, if you don’t sit, you can’t play, and if you don’t play, you can’t win. At Poker Power, we teach you how to win.

As you know, developing professional poker players and playing for money are not part of our mission. In fact, 95% of our community begin their poker journey as novices and they often arrive on Day 1 holding traditional stereotypes of the game such as “it’s a boy club, it’s gross smoky basements, it booze and betting and bluffing” and those are not spaces that most women choose to inhabit.

We quickly reframe the game and explain that poker, unlike other casino games, is not a game of chance. How the cards get dealt–that’s the luck piece. But how you play them–that’s all skill. I would also mention that, just because there is no real money on the table in our classes and games, we still play in a competitive environment. Bragging rights and the leaderboard matter and the women in our community not only cheer for each other; they triumphantly scoop the pot, too!

Building a community requires a strong foundation. Could you share some success stories or anecdotes that highlight the positive impact Poker Power has had on women who have participated in your community?

Erin. We have introduced tens of thousands of girls and women+ to this game–more than any organization on the planet. We are really proud of that and encourage our community to share their personal and professional success stories with us on our website and across social media. Our community has grown from mother to daughter to sister to friend.

A story that comes to mind is one of our interns named Nina who learned the game with us and felt passionate about bringing Poker Power on campus. Through her dedicated efforts, she founded the Poker Power club at Tulane and while she has graduated, the club continues strong. Nina credits that curriculum with not only increasing her own strategic and risk-taking skills, but also with preparing her for a role as a consultant at a leading Boston firm.

Another story is a woman who works in commercial real estate and never felt ready to compete for the big contracts that were mostly won by male agents and developers. After learning and playing poker with us, she shared that she had, in fact, taken her seat at the table and negotiated and won her first big-time commercial deal. She was ecstatic and so were we!

Poker Power not only focuses on individual growth but also aims to create a positive change for future generations of women. How do you see the skills learned through poker playing a role in reshaping opportunities for women in various industries?

Erin. Learning to think like a winning poker player offers benefits that are applicable to any industry or role. Our mission is to have a million women playing the game but truly what we want is half the world–all girls and all women+ because when they play, they are stacking skills that transcend the poker table and accelerate success.

Think back to when only men drove cars–it took years, but once women got behind the wheel they could work outside the home, take ownership of their lives, and experience freedoms that were life-altering. We believe playing poker will be similarly transformational for generations to come.

With our younger community, there is an immediate boost in confidence when they play–there’s such pride when they boast “I know how to play poker”–we love that! It’s a great college essay topic and learning with us fosters key leadership skills that are critical for a young woman’s toolkit and for when she steps onto the first rung of the workplace ladder. One of the reasons we care so much about bringing poker skills to the next generation is that it levels the playing field with their male colleagues at the start of their careers. In particular, when women see themselves thriving in spaces that traditionally have been gate-kept, they bring that same confidence and competence into other areas of their lives.

How can women interested in sports betting or related fields benefit from the unique experiences and lessons offered by Poker Power’s community? Is there an overlap between the two?

I love this question! I must admit that I don’t know how to bet on sports. But I also didn’t know how to play poker four years ago! I tend to say yes to things I don’t know how to do and then figure it out!

Erin. At Poker Power, we know that welcoming, women-centric environments encourage our community to be more comfortable in spaces that are traditionally male-dominated, like the poker room. We also know some women are hesitant because they don’t know the rules, the jargon, or even how to stack their chips.

I imagine your first time betting on sports feels similarly uncomfortable. To play live poker, you need a player’s card, you need to be on the list and assigned a seat, you need to know how to maneuver your chips and cards so as not to look like a ‘fish!’

What it comes down to is helping more people get more comfortable taking calculated risks. To do so, you need to make the betting spaces more welcoming and inclusive to all. Women should be in every room and in every seat and those of us who are building companies to support that mission will lead the way! I truly believe there is a sea change happening in industries where women haven’t played key roles and Gaming is certainly one of them!

As someone experienced in both education and gaming, how can the industry better cater to diverse audiences, including women and those new to sports betting?

Erin. As I said, the poker room and the betting arena have a lot in common. Both spaces are unfamiliar and intimidating to novices. At Poker Power, we made No Limit Texas Hold’em bite-sized, digestible and fun! Our value proposition is compelling enough for a woman to devote some of her rare ‘me-time’ to learning this game. If you don’t learn how to play poker in summer camp, at university, or from your uncle, you’ve probably missed the opportunity, and you won’t ever think about it again.

I think sports betting is the same for many who didn’t grow up seeing themselves in the faces of those who bet and are bet on. First, we need the betting companies to offer more lines on women’s sports! Seems obvious. We know that the fanbase for women’s sports is skyrocketing and more mainstream media coverage will attract more women (and men) to follow and bet on the teams.

At Poker Power, every day we are shifting the perspective on Texas Hold’em to make it relevant and inviting to women+. Similarly, Betting Ladies brings women together to learn, network, and engage in a communal space that breaks down the barriers that have kept so many of us from feeling confident to place our first bet. I really believe the secret sauce to getting more women into poker and sports betting is to make it more accessible, beneficial, and fun!

Research says that about half of sports fans are women and maybe 30% of sports bettors are female–which is much higher than in poker where professional women players are fewer than 5% of the field, so maybe I should be asking you this question!

Finally, what do women want? In life, in poker, and, if I may, in betting?

Erin. That’s easy–they want to win! Join us!

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