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Ross Alumni’s Startup Empowers Members of Michigan Business Women with Important Leadership Lessons From Poker

By Alexa Tran

Going “all-in” to enhance their leadership skill sets, students at the Ross School of Business recently learned fun lessons on how to advance as women in business using the game of poker. 

Members of the undergraduate and graduate chapters of Michigan Business Women participated in a program with Poker Powher, a company founded by Jenny Just, BBA ’90, to teach female students how to play poker. 

By partnering with universities and organizations like MBW, Poker Powher seeks to demonstrate how poker playing skills can help empower women in the business world. 

Jazymn Becker, MBA ’21 and president of MBW’s MBA chapter, said that Poker Powher’s mission aligns with the mission of MBW: to create an inclusive space for all women and students at Ross through personal and professional development.

“A partnership with Poker Powher not only addresses the challenges women face in learning a male-dominated game like poker, but also provides space for MBA and BBA women to connect while learning something new,” said Becker. “The tie between both personal and professional development made this event fun as well as a unique learning experience.”

About the partnership 

Poker Powher’s four-week program for MBW members featured weekly hourlong sessions that combined instruction with gameplay. The virtual classes were taught by the company’s experts. The poker games took place on an app, with the students divided into small breakout groups. 

Erin Lydon, managing director and general manager of Poker Powher, explained that the company’s program gives women actionable steps through poker that they can use for business success. 

“I see women laughing and taking risks with their gameplay, failing, and being supported by their classmates and teacher, then playing the next hand and the one after that,” Lydon said. “This is stacking your skills, your confidence, critical thinking, and decision making — all leadership qualities that can be taught and practiced to help women level-up. Poker can help close gaps and open doors to create opportunities for women to advance, and we were so honored to bring this to women at the University of Michigan.” 

MBW member Marisa Zelip, MBA ’22, said she enjoyed Poker Powher’s program.

“The sessions were hands-on. We weren’t listening to someone lecture at us for an hour; we actually got to play out the lessons together,” explained Zelip. “Plus, our coach had great anecdotes and firsthand experiences that she shared with us. It was very conversational.”

Lydon said she was impressed by the Michigan Ross students who attended the sessions.

“Ross students are so engaged with the curriculum, so supportive of each other, and so appreciative to have the opportunity to get out of their comfort zones and face their poker table trepidation,” she said. “It is critical that women at the start of their careers — like the women at the University of Michigan — are equipped with the leadership skills that predict success.” 

Advancing women in business 

Learning poker proved to be an opportunity for the MBW members to grow their confidence and develop personally and professionally as business leaders. 

Any time you can learn a new skill, especially a skill that society may have deemed as ‘just for the boys,’ it reminds women of their ability to be successful in other realms of their lives. A small reminder that you can learn something new and enjoy it can push you to explore other ideas, careers, and pursuits.

Jazymn Becker, MBA ’21

Zelip said playing poker is “a low-risk way to learn, test, and grow,” and that through the virtual poker sessions she learned the value of patience.

“It takes a lot of self-restraint to only play the best hands,” she explained. “And there’s more to poker than reading someone to understand when they’re bluffing. You start to recognize players’ confidence, experience, and risk aversion, which is important in the business world.”

In a few weeks, Poker Powher will host a networking and learning event for Michigan Ross alumni — both men and women — to gather virtually to learn poker and play in small groups.