When I was in my twenties, I always hated when people focused on the male vs. female thing. It bothered me that women needed “women’s groups” in school or at work because I thought it added fuel to the fire that there was a difference between the two sexes. As I started moving up in the corporate world, I got the opportunity to network with a very senior female executive from a big cosmetics company. When I asked her what the most important thing I should consider when choosing a company to work for, she said “pick one that is good to women.” I was blown away. I never expected to hear this from a successful woman and at the time it sounded quite trite.
Well fast forward many years later. Now I get it. Like it or not, there is a double standard.
It’s easy to dismiss this fact as cliché, but men and women are different. They tend to go about their business differently—and get judged by different standards—you need go no further than the poker table to see this all in action.
ELLEN LEIKIND DISCUSSES THE PERCEPTION OF WOMEN AT THE POKER TABLE, AS WELL AS IN BUSINESS.
It’s the intimidation factor. Poker has a rep of being “just for the boys.” Do you remember the first time you ever walked into a poker room in a casino? Even the most confident woman will feel some form of trepidation. The first time I walked into one, it was hard to force myself to walk to the other side of the room. I can stand up in a room of 600 people and give a presentation, but the poker room scared me.
In many ways, poker is a legitimized boys club just like many of the companies we all work for. Just look at the major poker franchises. The big poker organizations, like WPT & WSOP, really have not fully embraced women yet. They are missing a big opportunity—women are responsible for 80% of consumer spending on products. They need to figure out how to talk to this group beyond just featuring a hot woman in one of their commercials. It’s a mindset they are missing. Women will help elevate the sport, and add a little class. With the exception of Annie Duke and Vanessa Russo, the women of poker have not really been given the visibility and the opportunity men have. The women of poker need to be better business people and take advantage of their popularity, and poker’s popularity, while they still can. I think women could help clean-up and refine the reputation of the game.
There has been much discussion lately on whether or not there should be all women’s tournaments. As much as it pains me to say this, I believe it is good for the game. Yes, separating men from women perpetuates that there is a difference between the sexes. However, I think that the all-female events encourage more women to get in the game. I know from the students I teach that these beginners are much more comfortable entering an all female event. So while in the short run the same-sex table may seem like a set back, long term if it gets more women comfortable with the game it will be a good thing.
We all know that women have always coped with a double standard when it comes to being judged for the same actions, qualities, or achievements as men. An aggressive woman is often labeled as “bitchy” while if a man plays the same way, with the same actions and bravado, then he is congratulated.
Look at what happened at the 2008 World Series of Poker Main Event. Tiffany Michelle was the only woman to make the top 20, and the media focused on her intensely. Michelle played aggressively, with a lot of attitude, as many men have before her. At one point, she called “the clock” on a player in a big hand. The backlash she received was extreme. The men at the table, and later the poker media and online forums, tore her apart for what they called a horrible breach of poker etiquette. In fact, if you watch her on TV, she does come off as being somewhat obnoxious and antagonistic. However ,we know they edit the footage to make for good TV. In several online interviews, she explains that the rapidly escalating blinds caused her to call the clock to protect her chip stack. Now flash forward to several months later, to the World Series of Poker Europe, where a male player, Bengt Sonnert, faced a nearly identical situation. With about 20 players left in the competition, he called “clock” on an important hand that was taking too long. This time, however, no one at the table, in the media, anywhere, made a peep of protest. I guess men are expected to behave this way, but women are not.
So then what do you do about the double standard? First, accept that it exists. It’s there, it’s unfair, but you can thicken up your skin and make it work for you. In fact you should learn to embrace it. Use it to your advantage whether it is in poker, business, romance or even politics.
As I discuss in my book, PokerWoman: How to Win at Love, Life, and Business Using the Principles of Poker, when Hilary Clinton became the first woman to put in a serious bid for the presidency, she resisted using her feminine wiles. At times she went on the offensive against her opponent, turning on the aggression. That would be ok as we need a strong President. However, she seemed to be fighting her more feminine traits, her vulnerability, her heart, her appearance which could have worked to her advantage. And so even though Clinton possessed the intelligence necessary for the position, the end result was that she came across as unlikable. Sarah Palin, on the other hand, absolutely relied on her feminine wiles while on the campaign trail. She portrayed herself as a mother, a best friend, and even sometimes a bookish sex symbol. And, in fact, the public loved her persona—that is, until she began to appear less and less intelligent. But what might have happened had Hilary Clinton let herself come across in a similar way to Palin, as vulnerable, motherly, and feminine—while having the chops to back it up? A woman need not always play like a man to get ahead. She has her own chips, and if she plays them in her own style but with skill and strategy, her chances of success at the poker table and in life is very high. Guys have no trouble asking for and going after what they want. Women are told not to offend, not to be “bitchy.” But no criticism should stop you from going after what you want and getting it.