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Step 1: get a seat at the table. Step 2: play to win!

I am reading a fantastic book at the moment called PokerWoman: How to Win at Love, Life, and Business using the Principles of Poker by author and entrepreneur Ellen Leikind, and I want to share some lessons from it with you today. The book is about how to apply poker strategies to your personal life and career to achieve success. The book starts out from the observation that not many women take a seat at the poker table, just as not many enter highly paid, male dominated professions.

In a sense, long before the glass ceiling enters to limit opportunities, many women are limiting their career opportunities by their choice of degrees, entry level jobs, and hobbies. They shy away from activities dominated by men because they don’t feel at home or are afraid they will be the odd one out. By choosing not to take a seat at the table, they miss out on valuable opportunities to learn and advance. I have observed this in my job many times. First of all, only about 20-30% of applicants to investment banking jobs are female. When they get hired, they tend to be less aggressive to go for the well-paid trading jobs, as these are currently predominated by men. I know that on the trading desk, it’s not that women don’t get hired or don’t advance. It’s usually that they don’t even try to get hired. When we try to recruit traders from the graduate class, at most 1 out of 10 candidates who want to work for our desk are women, even if we explicitly encourage them to talk to us. When we do offer them to try out our desk, they often opt for a sales desk instead at the last minute out of fear they won’t succeed.

Many female young professionals like to play it safe and lack the overconfidence that tends to help male candidates take a shot at very competitive roles and positions. And lesson number one from the book Pokerwoman is: be in the game. If you’re not in the game, you can’t win!

It made me think about a lot of situations where women shut themselves out of the game. They don’t learn computer languages or product design, they are less likely to invest in the stock market, they are more likely to leave the workforce or reduce working hours after having children, and these are all ways of shutting yourself out of the game. Though these decisions can make a lot of sense on an individual level, the overall effect is unfortunately that we continue to be under represented in political and economic decision making, as apparent in the World Economic Forum at Davos (I highly recommend this Bloomberg article on Sheryl Sandberg and diversity at Davos).

It’s a great read so far and I am expecting to learn much more as I continue reading this thought provoking book. To sum up the lesson today, step one is to get a seat at the table! Step two is to play to win! Have a good week everyone!

By the way, for those of you who want to earn a seat at the table, make sure you apply to McKinsey’s Next Generation Leadership Workshop!

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