What Works… and how to make it work

Career advice books aim to change you. It’s no secret. The only way they can produce results is to influence the reader, so they’re going to tell you how you’re doing it wrong (whatever ‘it’ is). On the one hand, you have Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office. On the other, Winning Nice: How to Succeed in Business and Life Without Waging War.

 
On the other end of the spectrum you have the studies in sociology that tell you why women can be at a disadvantage in their careers. Books like Through the Labyrinth: The Truth about How Women Become Leaders describe the world as it exists today, and give you little advice about how to actually navigate it. In my opinion (and despite the titular advice), Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg falls mostly in this camp, too.

 
What Works for Women at Work bridges this gap. Through an NSF grant, Joan C. Williams and Rachel Dempsey identified four key patterns of gender bias that women face in the workplace. Then – and this is the wonderful part – they advise you on how to deal with them, without making the bias your fault.

 

The four key areas they address are:

  • Prove It Again bias: women are judged on their performance, while men are judged on their potential
  • The Tightrope: women are either too nice or too mean.
  • The Maternal Wall: how motherhood, or the potential for it, affects women’s career paths
  • Tug of War: how women fight each other

The authors also do a wonderful job of broadening their audience, and along with it, their message. They emphasize that this book is not just written for women, but also for men to recognize these unconscious patterns that play out over and over again.

 

At the same time, there is recognition that in many cases (as in my example of “too nice” and “winning nice”, above) that opposing strategies can both be effective. It’s all about recognizing the situation and understanding your response to it. For example, they warn against taking on office housework, but also offer ways to turn those types of tasks to your advantage. My shortened version of their list:

 

  1. Take something else off your plate.
  2. Negotiate for a higher-status team member to help you out, so that you build valuable connections with someone at your company.
  3. Ask for a direct report to a higher-up.
  4. Secure a budget (money is power).
  5. Establish a sunset and succession plan.

 

And finally – realistically – the end of the book focuses on how to know when you need to leave.

 
Overall, this book both opens your eyes and puts tools in your hands. It’s enthusiastically recommended for both men and women professionals.

 

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