Only 4% of the players in one of the most important poker tournaments of the year, the World Series of Poker Main Event, were women. The same percentage holds true for female CEOs at Fortune 500 companies. Coincidence? Doubtful. The poker table very much mirrors the boardroom table.
Sheryl Sandberg opened up a much-needed discussion of the gender gap in her acclaimed book Lean In. No matter how you feel about the topic, it has brought to life an important issue. Women are in the game, but not necessarily in the capacity that they should be. The same holds true at the poker table. The real question is why. Is it because they’re up against the boys’ club, or are they not really that interested?
When it comes to you, you need to be honest with yourself and see what the real reason is. If you decide that you want to take your rightful seat at the table, you need to just sit down and take it. Don’t wait for a warm welcome or an invitation. It can be intimating at first, but after you do it a few times it starts to feel natural.
Want to practice? Try walking into a poker room in a casino even if you have no intention of playing. Take a stroll from the check-in to the back of the room. The first time I ventured in and decided that I wanted to play, I could barely make it from one end to another. All I could see and feel were 200 very unfriendly-looking people—mostly men—looking up at me, wondering if I even knew how to play the game. People like to play with people who they feel comfortable with, and generally men feel most comfortable, at the poker table and in business, with other men.
I was recently having lunch with a forty-something respected male colleague of mine, and mentioned a women’s empowerment program that I had developed. He offered to send it around to the females in his company. He followed up by saying, “We don’t have a lot of women in the office. It’s not intentional—that’s just the way it happened.”
I knew he really believed that, but I shot back, “You may think it’s unintentional, but it’s not.” He looked up from his chicken salad a little put-off. But then I saw in his eyes that a light bulb went off.
The bottom line is the real world is a gender mix, and if you want to be in the game, you need to confidently and assertively seat yourself at the table with both sexes. There are a lot of female-only events designed to get women to network and support one another. That can be terrific. But is creating the “girls’ club” the best way to break through the boys’ club? Comment, tweet or e-mail, and let me know what you think.