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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Giving Back, part 1

Young professional dilemma: How do you give back to your community?

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You work all day. So the ladies’ social improvement clubs are definitely off the list. Not that they were ever on the list in the first place, really.

You travel for business, and it’s unpredictable. So anything that requires a recurring weeknight commitment is going to be a problem.

Weekends, well, that MIGHT work – assuming you haven’t relocated for your job. Adrift in a city and away from your support network, you might find yourself traveling most weekends to visit family and old friends.

And speaking of weekends? Good luck finding – and participating in community service with – a church when you’re gone half the time. Even if you can brave the storm of church ladies asking where you’ve been.

So you look for one-time opportunities, and schedule things in where you can. Except for some reason, even after doing buckets of paperwork for the Girl Scouts and the local women’s shelter, who are advertising like mad that they need help, you never get a call back.

You’re about to reconcile yourself to only being involved through your checkbook when you see on the library website: Better World Books community service project. They’re accepting book donations (YES!) and also need volunteers to sort and pack books. Schedules are (wow) flexible. How perfect! Sharing your love of books with the world, uncluttering your bookshelf, and spending more time at the library.

Problem solved. Maybe. (Part 2)

Oh, and in case you’re wondering about Better World Books: “Better World Books uses the power of business to change the world. We collect and sell books online to donate books and fund literacy initiatives worldwide. With more than 8 million new and used titles in stock, we’re a self-sustaining, triple-bottom-line company that creates social, economic and environmental value for all our stakeholders.”

A Stitchfix Alternative

I wanted to love Stitch Fix. I really did. I recieved two fixes, and… well… this blog is about things I love, not things I dislike. So we’ll just leave it there.

I started thinking about the aspects of Stitchfix that attracted me. I liked the surprise, the easy returns, and having five choices. I liked the distribution of items: typically 3 tops, a pair of pants or a skirt, and an accessory. Overall, I liked the feeling of rounding out my wardrobe a few items at a time. And, especially, I liked not having to go shopping.

So, even though Stitchfix didn’t work for me, I decided I could capture most of the benefits by designing my own box. I started with Land’s End, and picked five items without getting into the analytical detail that adds stress to shopping. I tried to stick to the same distribution of items, although I did include a pair of shoes in my box. And I told myself – FIRMLY – that returns were allowed. I would only keep the items I really loved.

Although I missed the surprise element, I still felt excited when opening my box, and I liked the manageability of only trying on 5 items. All of them would technically work, but I kept two items: a long necklace and a shirt.

leshirt necklace

Returns were easy enough: For about $7, I used the provided return label and stuck the package in my mailbox. Although Stitchfix returns were free, the Lands End merchandise was less expensive overall, so I just added that $7 mentally to the price of the items I kept. Still reasonable.

Overall, a success! Although it might sound silly (ordering clothes from a catalog is not a new concept) I think this approach will really help me to maintain my professional wardrobe with minimal stress. I plan to set up one box per month, from different retailers. Maybe I’ll try Modcloth next month. Readers, what are your suggestions?

A Mentor in a Book

finerman

Last year, I read Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg, and loved it… right up to the point where she started talking about women and mentoring relationships. That’s another review, of course, but I finished the book feeling confused and disheartened about finding a mentor in my own career.

Finerman’s Rules successfully fills this gap, in two ways. First, early in the book, Karen Finerman lays out an approach to developing mentoring relationships in the workplace. In addition, the whole book is your mentor. Rather than analyzing the current state of women in the workforce, she goes straight to real advice on the topics you’d normally discuss with a mentor: timing career and family, dealing with failure, and managing career transitions.

For me, the book fell short in the many anecdotes Finerman told to illustrate her points. They were all detailed technical stories about hedge funds. Despite my business background, I found them boring and they didn’t help get her point across. If you’re in that industry, then this book is really going to be amazing for you. For the rest of us girls, and men too, it’s still a good solid business read.