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What Works for Women at Work: Four Patterns Working Women Need to Know Format Kindle
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Joan Williams and Rachel Dempsey focus on "four crisp patterns that provide the framework for this book." They are Prove-It-Again! (a descriptive bias), the Tightrope (a prescriptive bias), the Maternal Wall (both a descriptive and prescriptive bias), and Tug of War (i.e. between accepting or resisting masculine traditions based on various biases). Williams and Dempsey devote a separate chapter to each of the four patterns. Throughout their lively as well as thoughtful and thought-provoking narrative, they provide an abundance of information, insights, and counsel from a wide variety of sources - including their own wide and deep experience - so that their readers will have the tools needed now to navigate the world as they find it.
That said, I commend them for acknowledging, "Simple formulas are highly misleading, not only because different women face different problems but because different women can face different problems at different pints in their careers. The truth is that women have to be politically savvier to survive and thrive in historically male careers." That is, play with much greater skill the hand they are dealt or go find a different game. "Better yet, become the dealer or invent your own game."
These are among the dozens of business subjects and issues of special interest and value to me, also listed to indicate the scope of Williams and Dempsey's coverage.
o "Shifting Perspectives" on women and their problems (Page 10)
o Know the Rules, Then Break Them (15-20)
o Men's Successes Are Attributed to Skill, While Women's Are Overlooked or Attributed to Luck; With Mistakes, It's Just the Opposite (29-34)
o Five Strategies to "Make Achievements Stick" (44-56)
o Eight Strategies to Cope with Gender Biases in the Workplace (89-107)
o Spotting Maternal Wall Patterns (127-151)
o Spotting Tug of War Patterns (179-204)
o How to Be a Great Boss (212)
o Five Ways to Support Other Women (216)
o Dealing with Difference from a Young Age (227)
o How Being a Latina Varies from East to West (239)
o Asian American Women (246-252)
o Five "Signs" re Whether on Not Your Workplace Is Right for You (262-273)
o Four Strategies to Leave -- But Not Leave Yourself Hanging (281-288)
o The Science of Savvy in 20 Lessons (293-298)
In addition to the aforementioned primary patterns of resistance to women's advancement (i.e. Prove-It-Again!, the Tightrope, the Maternal Wall, and Tug of War), combinations of other strategies are also offered for the reader to consider. With great care, Williams and Dempsey offer them within a co text, a frame-of-reference, so that their reader is better prepared to select those most appropriate. It should also be noted that observations such as "Men's Successes Are Attributed to Skill, While Women's Are Overlooked or Attributed to Luck; With Mistakes, It's Just the Opposite" do not have universal application, to all women in all situations. For men as well as for women, the most insidious biases tend to be unspoken. In many instances, they are illegal.
According to Joan Williams and Rachel Dempsey, they focus on what women can do for themselves, given the fact organizations are changing so slowly and so insufficiently. Women need tools now to navigate the world as they find it. But the real solution is to level the playing field." I agree, presuming to add that institutional solutions can substantially benefit men as well as women. Therefore, men need to become actively involved.
What works best for women at work will work for men as well.
Despite the title, What Works for Women is long on problems women can face in the workplace, and short on solutions. There are four major problems discussed. First, women’s accomplishments tend to be discredited or forgotten more easily than men’s, and men tend to be viewed as more competent and having better leadership qualities. Second, women are disliked if they’re too aggressive, but not respected if they’re too passive or girly. Third, mothers often aren’t seen as serious employees, or are judged as bad mothers if they are. Fourth, all this pressure can cause women to feel they must compete with each other for a limited number of “female” seats, or to resent or feel the need to dissociate themselves from other women, particularly those who have made different choices.
As far as the discussion of problems, the book is thorough and backs up anecdotes with research. The tone is non-judgmental and the authors take a big-picture view – noting, for instance, that women don’t just make less money because they’re too timid to negotiate; women who do negotiate their salaries are seen as less likeable to work with. So success isn’t simply a matter of overcoming your own ingrained expectations, when those around you have them as well.
How to succeed, then? The book has less to say about that, and much of what it does say is fairly general or obvious. For instance: keep track of your accomplishments so you’ll have them on hand when you need them; if you’re seen as too aggressive, add a feminine touch to your appearance or presentation; make clear your commitment to your job when you take maternity leave. The book doesn’t get into specific examples of problem-solving and its suggestions don’t seem particularly new or insightful. Here, the authors’ commitment to not insisting on one “right way” to be a woman can make the book seem wishy-washy; readers will only follow the advice they deem helpful anyway, so might as well give some even if it doesn't apply to every woman. If you’re looking for concrete tips, better go for something like Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office instead.
As far as representation goes, this book gets points for addressing the concerns of diverse women; however, it does so in a fairly shallow way. More than half of the authors’ interviewees were women of color, but the 38-page chapter set aside for discussing racial dimensions of sexism focuses entirely on describing specific stereotypes and problems faced by women of color, without addressing any proven strategies for dealing with this. Instead, like much of this book, it mostly seems there to depress readers (“This has been a very lonely life,” one black professional is quoted as saying). Other chapters briefly address lesbians – along with black women, you may be able to get away with more aggression than straight white women can – and acknowledge that not all women want children – if not, you’ll make more money than mothers, though you may also have to fight expectations that you will be available 24/7 because you have “no life.” As far as the intended audience goes, like every other business book I am aware of this one focuses on the professional class; most of its examples come from corporate law or consulting, as well as some from academia.
Finally, the book is a mother-daughter collaboration, in an attempt to bridge the generational divide. But to me as a younger woman, this was minimally successful – Rachel Dempsey, the daughter, is the only 20-something whose input seems to have gone into the book (the 127 women interviewed were all at the top of their fields, and while the authors state that their ages ranged from 30s to 60s, it seems weighted toward the older end of the spectrum). And per the introduction, Dempsey’s role was apparently the writing itself, while Williams was responsible for the content. To me as a 20-something, it felt a bit dated. For instance, by referring to pants as “masculine” attire – I suppose the reminder that people in their 50s and 60s may think so could be helpful, but to me they’re gender-neutral, and a woman in well-fitting pants hardly looks masculine.
At any rate, I think this book is a good contribution to the literature on the effects of sexism in the workplace, but it is definitely not a how-to manual for women simply looking to learn more about how to succeed. If you have dealt with the four problems discussed, it could be a worthwhile read for you. As for me, I was disappointed and should probably have taken the time instead to read Lean In, or re-read Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office.
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