The subject of women in tech is one that yields a lot of interesting discussions, many of which are helpful in the general pursuit of greater equality in the space. Along these lines, I recently came across a topic I hadn’t read about before, which was in short the suggestion that poker strategies could be beneficial to women in the tech field.
If that suggestion causes you to balk or raise your eyebrows, your reaction was pretty much the same as mine. When I read the article in question however, I discovered that it was not claiming any sort of “hack” or solution derived from poker. Rather, it revolved around some ways in which poker an highlight some of the differences in how men and women act and are perceived — most of which often translate to the tech field.
One example is that in poker, women tend to undervalue their hands, while men tend to overestimate the potential of their own. Another was that men will typically feel more “wronged” or even emotionally stung by misfortune at the table. And maybe most interesting of all, the article noted that early betting aggression tends to pay off more often than not in poker (provided it’s done sensibly) — but that such aggression is less expected of women.
These strike me as valuable insights that can be drawn from the game, and which can certainly be matched up with common tendencies and issues in tech work environments. Furthermore, the suggestions got me thinking about what else might be gleaned from a poker habit that can might benefit women in tech. And being something of a former amateur poker hobbyist myself, I came up with some more notes that I hope might be of interest.
Removing Unspoken Gender Bias
It’s been suggested that the very label “women in tech” is detrimental to progress and equality, and there’s certainly something to the idea. While I’ve used the label in this piece for the purpose of discussing the topic, I do believe that consistently labeling women this way only helps to strengthen the perceived divide between men and women in the industry.
Poker, of course, does not solve this problem. As someone who’s played in groups consisting primarily of men however, I do believe the game can help to demonstrate what it means to remove unspoken gender bias. I have no doubt that the first time I sit down at a poker table with a group of men, I’m seen — weather consciously or subconsciously — as the female player. It is also my experience, however, that this feeling can ebb away, not because you get used to it, but because you are gradually perceived more and more as just one more player. And there’s something to be said for women experiencing that change. It provides something of an idea of how a workplace should feel, all things being equal (even if ideally a shift wouldn’t be needed in the first place).
Experience With Leadership & Initiative
This is a slightly more light-hearted point, but one I still find to be legitimate. Today, a lot of people first envision digital options when considering this particular game. There are numerous ways to play poker online, in many cases for real money, and these — for a lot of people — are the main attractions associated with the game. While it’s both simple and appealing to get set up with an online poker platform however, the version of the game I view as most beneficial is still in person.
In this regard, I actually have experience setting up games with coworkers from a small company. I was not in charge, nor in any kind of management role. But we would sort of unofficially take turns suggesting the occasional recreational activity outside of work, and I happened to be playing more poker at the time. This led to my setting up semi-regular poker games with the group, and while it was just a small thing for the sake of fun, it gave me more experience being a leader and taking initiative amidst coworkers.
This is not experience exclusive to poker, of course. Any in-person activity requiring a bit of organization would likely have the same benefit. But I do believe organizing activity outside of work both gives women experience taking initiative and contributes to a perception of leadership quality.
Expectation of a Level Playing Field
Finally, and most simply, I believe that playing poker now and then can help to solidify your confidence that women can and do perform as well or better than men at any given task! This is something that came up in an article here on resources for female talent, wherein it was asserted that data indicates execution by female founders is as good or better than that by men.
It may sound silly to equate this to poker, but a little bit of time at a table (with men and women present of course) will illustrate the same thing. And as much as any given woman working in this or any other industry may feel confident of outperforming male counterparts, it can only help to see and feel examples in action. Poker is an area in which men are used to other men, and in many cases likely expect to defeat female opponents. When you compete however, you find that poker is of course a level playing field — at least with respect to gender. Even if this is not a revelation, again, it never hurts to experience more evidence to back up your own expectations for performance.
None of this is to say that poker holds a magical key to full equality in tech — nor that women need this or any other activity to recognize their worth and potential. But there are numerous ways in which the game inspires relevant practices and demonstrates noteworthy tendencies for women in tech.
Plus, it’s always fun to play a few hands!