Erin Lydon: Bringing Game-Changing Leadership Skills to Girls and Women
Ladderworks is a publishing platform of diverse picture books and online curriculum with the mission to empower over a million kids to become social entrepreneurs. Our current series features interviews by our interplanetary journalist Spiffy with inspiring Social Entrepreneurs, Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Builders, and Changemakers who are advancing the UN SDGs.
Spiffy here! I’m back with the scoop on the changemaking leaders of Planet Earth. As the only interplanetary journalist stationed on this blue planet, I’m thrilled to present this galactic exclusive with Erin Lydon, the president of Poker Power. Let’s see what she is doing to make a positive impact in the world.
Spiffy: Thanks for joining me, Erin! Tell me, what challenge are you addressing through your organization?
Erin: Glad to be with you, Spiffy! In order to be “it,” young girls need to see “it.” Women only hold 8% of the CEO roles, and, as such, leadership paths aren’t visible for the next generation. It is the conversations happening outside the boardroom that so often determine who gets a seat in that boardroom. We need to get more women into those seats—into the flow of information, allocating the money, and taking the business risks. And that’s where learning to think, strategize, and compete like a winning poker player becomes a game changer.
Spiffy: What motivates you to do it?
Erin: Twenty years ago, I started my finance career on Wall Street when pay was secret and pregnancy hidden. At that time, I was surrounded by a lot of men…and a lot of poker. But I never took my seat at the table because I believed then, and I still believe today, that there is a force field surrounding tables of power that keeps women from sitting down, playing, and competing. Our mission is to teach a million girls and women how to stack their skills, negotiate, and take calculated risks by gamifying key leadership lessons with poker gameplay. No gambling is permitted. No real money transacts.
Spiffy: What is the impact of your work?
Erin: A pandemic success story, Poker Power was founded in 2020 to bring game-changing leadership skills to girls and women. We built a first-of-its-kind, gender-neutral poker app and have scaled to over 40 countries with 150 corporate partners. Those relationships allow us to deliver free education to schools and colleges including an innovative, virtual program in Kenya that will reach 5,000 high school and university girls and a five-year partnership with Northwestern’s Kellogg Center for Executive Women where we bring the power of poker to future business leaders.
Spiffy: Tell me about a recent initiative by your organization. What impact does that make?
Erin: Our partnership with Global Giveback Circle provides a life-altering leadership program for girls in Kenya. Many of our students come from marginalized backgrounds and struggle to prepare for university and future employment. Our bespoke program offers weekly 60-minute sessions that include poker lessons translated to real world success strategies coupled with interactive gameplay on our app, which fosters community engagement and socializing. The girls build confidence while sharpening their skills in negotiation, math, and risk assessment.
Spiffy: Is there anything else you would love to tell our audience?
Erin: Prior to leading Poker Power, I had never played the game and held many of the negative stereotypes that prevent women from sitting down at the poker table. I was unsure of the rules, intimidated by the complexity, and felt unwelcome at the male-dominated tables. Through building this startup, my confidence and gameplay skills have skyrocketed, and I truly believe reframing the game as leadership and professional development empowers girls and women of all ages to take the seat they deserve at every table where they want to sit.
Spiffy: Thanks for speaking with me today, Erin—it’s been an honor!
Erin Lydon leads Poker Power. Previously, she was the strategic advisor to the management team of Evil Geniuses, a global esports organization. She served as an independent corporate director on the boards of Marbles and Roomlinx. She began her finance career at JPMorgan. Erin received her MBA from Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management and BA from Bates College. (Nominated by Ruchir Shah. First published on the Ladderworks website on February 3, 2023.)
© 2023 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by George Romar. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. For the Ladderworks digital curriculum to help K-3 kids advance the UN SDGs, visit Spiffy's Launchpad: Creative Entrepreneurship Workshops for K-3 Kids and their caregivers here.