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What Works for Women at Work: Four Patterns Working Women Need to Know

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An essential resource for any working woman, What Works for Women at Work is a comprehensive and insightful guide for mastering office politics as a woman. Authored by Joan C. Williams, one of the nation's most-cited experts on women and work, and her daughter, writer Rachel Dempsey, this unique book offers a multi-generational perspective into the realities of today's workplace. Often women receive messages that they have only themselves to blame for failing to get ahead--Negotiate more! Stop being such a wimp! Stop being such a witch! What Works for Women at Work tells women it's not their fault. The simple fact is that office politics often benefits men over women.

Based on interviews with 127 successful working women, over half of them women of color, What Works for Women at Work presents a toolkit for getting ahead in today's workplace. Distilling over 35 years of research, Williams and Dempsey offer four crisp patterns that affect working women: Prove-It-Again!, the Tightrope, the Maternal Wall, and the Tug of War. Each represents different challenges and requires different strategies--which is why women need to be savvier than men to survive and thrive in high-powered careers.

Williams and Dempsey's analysis of working women is nuanced and in-depth, going far beyond the traditional cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all approaches of most career guides for women. Throughout the book, they weave real-life anecdotes from the women they interviewed, along with quick kernels of advice like a "New Girl Action Plan," ways to "Take Care of Yourself," and even "Comeback Lines" for dealing with sexual harassment and other difficult situations.

Up-beat, pragmatic, and chock full of advice, What Works for Women at Work is an indispensable guide for working women.

365 pages, Hardcover

First published January 17, 2014

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About the author

Joan C. Williams

25 books54 followers
Professor Joan C. Williams is Distinguished Professor of Law, 1066 Foundation Chair, founding Director of the Center for WorkLife Law at University of California, Hastings College of the Law, and Co-Director of the Project on Attorney Retention (PAR).

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 71 reviews
Profile Image for Cindy.
407 reviews116k followers
April 25, 2019
I commend this book's efforts with including women of color in their surveys with transparency for their limitations in inclusivity with regards to which professions were interviewed. I also commend this book for pointing out the flaws in common advice for working women and how it often pigeonholes or blames femininity, as well as the generational gap of how women view other women should act. I started the book hopeful to see solutions since the authors emphasize that it's not just important to point out the issues, but to create an action plan for it as well. However, the book ended up leaning heavily into listing what those problems were, while fewer pages were spent on solutions other than a few bullet point tips. While the research and anecdotes about these issues were thorough, I was hoping that there would be an equal amount of effort spent into what solutions have been effective for women to succeed at work, especially considering what the authors promised in the beginning and the title itself. For the advice that was given, I wish there were more specific examples for problem-solving rather than general solutions that I am familiar with already. Rather than quick bullet points, the same amount of research put into effective solutions would have been much more compelling.

I thought that the mother-daughter collaboration of this book was unique because it aimed to alleviate the generational gap of how we view feminism; however, I personally don't think the daughter represented my generation or the modern workplace as well. The issues listed throughout the book felt more dated and prevalent in specific types of workplaces that may be more conservative (law offices, etc) but are irrelevant to my workplace. My workplace is family-oriented and therefore has a respect for work-life balance and maternity leave; the attire here is very casual and I'm part of the creative team, so I wouldn't have to worry about dressing too "masculine" or "feminine". The issues and advice listed out in the book are therefore not relatable to people working at a startup or agency environment, because instances of sexism or bias take form in more subtle and complex ways for the modern-day office, and it is just as important for them to be addressed as well.
Profile Image for Joshunda Sanders.
Author 15 books400 followers
August 30, 2016
I'm a self-help book junkie. It has always been a guilty pleasure for me to read these books, going back to seventh grade. I was looking for adult guidance on how to be and live in the world. These books seemed to be authoritative tomes.

So, I gobbled them up, two or three or four at a time. When I got older, I would read ones like this one, or Lean In: Nice Girls Don't Get the Corner Office (Lois Frankel) delightful reads that were also a little problematic since they were subversively or overtly about white women while excluding women of color (Eat Pray Love is the first that comes to mind, along with a couple Suze Orman books).

When I entered the world of work, technically when I was 14, but in a more serious, I-should-have-a-career-when-I-grow-up kind of way when I was doing internships as an undergraduate, it would have been incredibly helpful for me to have had a book like What Works for Women at Work. I plan to write more about this in other spaces, but basically, the idea that women undermine other women, that we can be either too feminine or too masculine and that all women -- whether they intend to have children or not -- hit a Maternal wall, is tremendously important. More than a hundred women were interviewed for research that led to this book; including 60 women of color scientists (which *never* happens) and others who were interviewed as part of the New Girls Network.

I love that Joan C. Williams co-wrote this with her daughter, Rachel. I like, too, that they are honest about the limitations of the book, of which there are few, though one of the obvious blind spots of books like this is that they target middle and upper-class business people entirely. (It doesn't hurt that while women are 47 percent of the U.S. workforce, they buy 60 percent of all books -- though like most adults, they prefer fiction.) When I met her at a book-signing, Williams said that she is raising money to write more about the Double Jeopardy that women of color face in the workplace. She also said that it was tricky getting women of color to show up and talk to her because they were so freaked out about talking openly about the biases they face.

Initially, when I started reading this I considered it superior to Lean In, but I think that's actually unfair. It works well to fill in the gaps that Lean In doesn't address, which is essentially how you can Lean In in the workplace without getting fired and losing the job that you so desperately need. I think both should be read by women and men in tandem instead of one over the other.
Profile Image for Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship.
1,161 reviews1,256 followers
January 10, 2016
If you work in a male-dominated environment and find that you aren’t advancing as quickly as your work should merit, or that there’s gender-related tension, this may be the right book for you. I picked it up simply thinking that the occasional career advice book couldn’t hurt, but didn’t find any takeaways to apply to my own work in the near future.

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.
Profile Image for Kressel Housman.
974 reviews226 followers
July 15, 2016
I always feel some inner resistance to reading these career self-help books. While they usually pinpoint my mistakes with dead-on accuracy, they also leave me feeling inadequate when it comes to applying their advice. The best example of that was with Nice Girls Don't Get the Corner Office, whose advice was, “Quit being a girl; start being a woman.” It made perfect sense to me, but it’s hard to change a lifetime of ingrained habits.

I heard of this book through an author interview on the radio and concluded that the book would probably be good for me so I should push through my usual inner resistance. I expected the book to be similar to Nice Girls, and in fact, it cited Nice Girls in the Introduction, but mostly to distinguish itself. The book argues that for all the girl vs. woman distinctions in Nice Girls, it’s still telling women to “man up.” This book warns that while women do have to change their girlish habits, they should also be aware that a backlash usually follows. In other words, it’s not all on us, nor is it all our fault. It’s not even mostly our fault. The fault is in people’s biases. Competence is seen as a masculine trait, and submissiveness/compliance as a feminine trait, and it’s a hard balance to strike.

The book goes on to describe in great detail the four patterns of bias working women have to overcome. First, there’s the “Prove It Again” bias: women have to work twice as hard to be thought of as half as good. Then there’s “the Tightrope:” women who get respect are often simultaneously disliked, and women who are liked are often not respected. The “Maternal Wall” is the belief that mothers must give 100% to their kids, and employees must give 100% to the company. How can any working mother possibly do both? Finally, there’s “the Tug of War,” which is fighting amongst women. The book also contains a chapter on how these biases play out for African American, Latina, and Asian women. There’s nothing about Hasidic women, but the author can always use my input to her on that. I’ve already written her a letter for career advice.

Though the book got repetitive in spots (how many more illustrations of Bias X do I need?), I absolutely related to it. Not only did the author come across as an expert, her tone was so warm, inviting, and helpful that, as I said, I wrote to her for career advice. She proved her competence and balanced herself firmly on the tightrope of likability and respectability. I want to learn more from her, and I trust her to have the answers. That’s the highest compliment I can pay to any self-help book. 5 stars.
Profile Image for Bryn.
29 reviews1 follower
December 11, 2018
A very complete look at bias in the workplace and society in general. The authors describe four general patterns of bias with suggestions for how to combat each one. Opinions are backed by data, academic studies, and surveys. Points are well illustrated by anecdotes from the many interviews they performed.

While not specifically about race, race is discussed. The authors frequently point out the differences in statistics between white women and minorities and dedicate one of the longest chapters in the book specifically to the different biases faced by minority women.

An important book for any professional woman to read. Equally important for any enlightened manager to read.
Profile Image for Rhiannon Johnson.
835 reviews249 followers
March 9, 2015
This book is a great addition to "Lean In" and covers aspects other books such as "The Feminine Mystique" missed. For example:
"The women who were interviewed for this book, represent a wide range of ages, ethnicities, ad backgrounds. Joan C. Williams interviewed 67 women for The New Girls' Network. These women were roughly 40 to 60 years of age and at the top of their fields. They worked in business, medicine, academia, government, and the legal profession. Three ran their own businesses. Eleven identified themselves as women of color, specifically as black (or African American), Latina, and Asian (or Asian American). The interviews were conducted over the phone between June 2, 2010, and November 6, 2012."

"For the National Science Foundation Project, 60 women-of-color scientists were interviewed by Erika R. Hall, a PhD candidate at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. The scientists interviewed represent a variety of scientific disciplines Most of the women worked in academic settings. They identified as black (or African American), Latina, and Asian (or Asian American). These women were roughly 30 to 60 years of age. The interviews were conducted over the phone between June 4, 2012, and October 5, 2012."
With a foreword by Anne-Marie Slaughter, Williams and Dempsey identify four patterns of behavior that create the primary obstacles to women's advancement to leadership positions across every industry:

The Tightrope
The Maternal Wall
Tug of War
After detailing these four behavior patterns, the authors give readers great section such as BADASS WOMEN WHO BROKE THE RULES, options for how to respond to various situations, and how to protect your rights.

** I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review **
Read my entire review here:
Profile Image for Gaelen.
381 reviews11 followers
July 11, 2017
As a journalist who became a transactional attorney, I've spent my whole life in mostly-male careers. While I experience overt gender discrimination much less often than I did 20 years ago, more subtle bias is still a huge problem, especially in the tech industry. An example is the common situation in which a company has almost no women in senior roles and talented women somehow don't get promoted beyond the mid-level manager mark -- yet the CEO insists there's no problem because personnel decisions are always "merit-based," despite a lack of discussion around the gendered conditions that color how "merit" is viewed and who is given the opportunity to display it. This book gets right to the heart of where this problems originates. By breaking unintentional gender bias down into four specific manifestations, the author provides specific, relatable situations and strategies for addressing them. Unlike "Lean In" and their ilk, "WWFWAW" places the blame where it belongs -- on the system, rather than on the individual -- but still provides useful guidance for how to work within those systematic problems... and maybe even help to change them. I would highly recommend this book to any of my female colleagues, and all men in leadership roles.
Profile Image for cynthia Clark.
126 reviews7 followers
May 18, 2014
This is an extremely resonant and valuable book for professional women and anyone who works with them. I was really glad that my local library had it, but actually disappointed that there wasn't a wait list to check it out. In my opinion, this book should be getting much more attention than "Lean in." No offense to Sheryl Sandberg, but her book is just one (very advantaged) woman's perspective on her own career and experiences. This book draws on numerous interviews with professional women and the mother-daughter authorship provides invaluable perspective on the generational differences of professional women and how they play out between women in the workplace. If I were to summarize this book in one sentence, it would be that women have to be more self-aware and politically savvy than a men in similar situations in order to succeed in corporate America as it currently exists.
Profile Image for Tiffany.
496 reviews
September 11, 2015
I'm afraid I didn't find this quite as good as Glynnis did (sorry, Glynnis!). I thought it was too heavily biased towards the law field, as well as larger, professional offices. I think small, casual-environment startups may be a different animal. It's simultaneously gratifying and depressing to hear all the science and statistics supporting the fact that women have a harder time in the workplace than men. I would have liked to see more information focused on strategies and coping mechanisms and less on descriptions of how bad it is. But, given that they were hoping to appeal to men as well as women, education on the problems can be valuable.
Profile Image for Vrinda.
166 reviews5 followers
May 13, 2022
This book had some useful insights and I learned some things. It was well-researched, but a lot of it had to do with describing problematic dynamics, patterns, and trends… without necessarily offering solutions. I think the best takeaway was the importance of carefully taking notes on one’s accomplishments at work to be able to counter (even subtle) bias with facts at appropriate moments. And the importance of a network.

I *didn’t* find the chapter on women of color to be very well done. Even though it was trying to speak to challenges and stereotypes faced by different racial groups, it felt a little like it was reproducing those stereotypes. And I also didn’t think it sufficiently acknowledged the diversity within groups like Latinas, Asians, etc.
Profile Image for Jenn.
163 reviews
December 4, 2017
I thought the authors handled the issues women face in the workplace in the best possible way. They talked about each issue from various angles and presented ideas women can consider for dealing with them. I appreciated that they always acknowledged that what works for one person won't necessarily work for another. It can be good just to read something like this to understand how many other people out there are facing the same issues and it's not just you. Then you can decide for yourself the best way to handle it by taking into account what others who have been successful in their professions have tried before you.
Profile Image for Jenna.
32 reviews
July 4, 2017
I started off not really liking this book because it felt gross to be told how to dress and how to speak, but I appreciated that the authors emphasized that they don't mean you *should* do this or do that, but that you *can* if you need to. Unlike some other books on this topic, the authors seem to recognize that, as individuals, we cannot always afford to do and say what we actually want to when we're faced with gender bias and sexism. Most of all, I appreciated the opportunity to read a book with which I did not entirely agree nor did I entirely disagree.
Profile Image for Tessie Varela.
43 reviews7 followers
July 13, 2022
Excellent explanation of gender bias!

“Bias against women fuels conflict against other women. Stop judging other women on the right way to be a woman, and keep in mind that we’re all fighting our own battles.”

“What’s needed instead are careers in which men as well as women can, without stigma, take a family leave or career break or reduce their hours withour falling off the career track.”
Profile Image for Bev.
95 reviews8 followers
June 9, 2014
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.

Also posted at EveryDayHas
Profile Image for Hilary.
2,005 reviews52 followers
September 17, 2013
This is a interesting and thought-provoking explanation of the four key problems women face in the workplace, both from men and from other women. The authors have a background in law, but reference studies of women in all areas, and the example scenarios and responses are relevant across the board.

Through many years of study and focused interviews of successful women, the authors identified 4 main patterns that affect women at work: Prove It Again! (men are judged on potential, women on achievements), the Tightrope (act passively and you're liked but not respected, act assertively and you're considered pushy - respected but not liked), the Maternal Wall (regardless of whether you currently have children), and the Tug of War (a generational factor often affects women, leading to conflicting attitudes in the same workplace). They also had a separate study focusing on women of color: black, Asian and Latina to see where their experiences differed from the group as a whole.

I'm one of the lucky minority who has never had any of these issues, even when working in a male-dominated area and as the only woman in the department, but even so I've seen the effect of these patterns on other women, I'd just never consciously thought about the gender bias in this way. The 20-takeaways section at the end is particularly helpful as a refresher and as a quick reference you can give to someone else, and I may suggest this as a preview of the book as a whole.

This book is for anyone who wonders, like the authors, when was the last time a man was asked how he was going to manage his career once he had children...in short, anyone who wants a better awareness of gender and racial bias in the workplace. Highly recommended.

Disclaimer: I received a free ARC from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Shelli McDowell.
34 reviews
January 5, 2015
Depending where you are in your career and what particular challenges you face - this book might be your life saver. This book identifies the four patterns seen in the workplace that prevent females from moving into positions of leadership: 1) Prove it again, 2) The Tightrope, 3) The Maternal Wall, and 4) Tug of War.

For each of these obstacles, the authors (a very intelligent and accomplished mother daughter team) provide examples from top women executives and also a plethora of research in the area of work life balance. Each pattern is well defined and followed up with action items you can try out to see if you're able to better navigate these very sensitive and difficult situations.

The key takeaways for me are the following:

1) Stop judging other women and recognize when you are being penalized for not fitting into someone else's idea of the perfect woman. There is no perfect woman, mother, employee... so figure out who you are and be authentic while also working your tail off. If you continue to feel pressure to be something else - find a different job.

2) Even if you are feeling discriminated against or treated unfairly, make sure to use a great deal of tact and professional savvy in managing the situation to retain your reputation and relationships.

3) Figure out what you want! Perhaps the most difficult, and then be prepared to find opportunies that will allow you the professional happiness we all deserve.

I'm super inspried and excited to kick off 2015 after finishing this book. I also recently heard Joan Williams at a conference and was very impressed. Joan and her daughter are very authentic in this book and its actually really nice to imagine my daughter one day saying such beautiful things about me one day...

Profile Image for Bilal Hafeez.
20 reviews1 follower
January 24, 2016
Perhaps the most comprehensive book on the general topic of women and work. It highlights four patterns that women face that men do not:

1) Prove-It-Again! Women need to keep proving themselves again and again unlike men. They end up getting measured by achievements, rather than potential. This results in burn-out and early career exits or a much more protracted career progression.

2) The Tightrope. Women can be neither too feminine (soft) nor too masculine (cold), so have to tread a fine tightrope, unlike men.

3) The Tug of War . Other women may undermine women as they wish to be part of the male "in-group".

4) The Maternal Wall. Unlike men, when women have children and want to return to work, they're not considered ambitious anymore, so they're put on a separate career track.

How to overcome these? Say "no" to unrecognised support work; build deep internal and external networks; don't be apologetic when making one's voice heard; advertise one's accomplishments and impact; use facts when expressing anger; be aware of one's biases and cover each other's back.

For more like this see Bilal's Blog
27 reviews6 followers
February 23, 2016
This is a fantastic book. It contains really good and concrete strategies for how to deal with certain workplace situations as a woman. I also now understand why some women have to be so feminine, which is that they are so strong that being feminine is how they avoid the “being the bitch” trap.

One way to fight biases is for you to be an individual - not a women. So for me this means to bring more of me to work as opposed to strictly separating work and personal life. I kinda had heard this advice before (especially about American workplaces), but this book finally explained why and provided such convincing arguments that I will actually do it.

I highlighted so many places in this book! Lots of research quoted and summarized. I also liked the sections of “smooth comebacks for rough moments” with verbatim phrases that one can use.

Favorite quote: “Balance the masculine with the feminine. Women need to act masculine enough so they are seen as competent at their jobs but feminine enough so they are seen as competent at being women. “

Every woman should read this.
Profile Image for Audrey.
84 reviews4 followers
October 20, 2014
Good advice for women in the workplace, particularly in traditionally male-dominated industries. Uses actual studies and first-hand accounts rather than vague declarations. Could have used stronger advice when it ended up saying things like "Remember to be like this, but also when you need to be like this completely different thing." Tackles the issue of being a woman of color in the workplace, where other books of this sort tend to only mention race as a sidenote. Overall I found many takeaways that I could apply to my career.
64 reviews1 follower
June 19, 2018
This perhaps somewhat dated work was nonetheless vital in supplying practical strategies for facing the gender bias all women face in the workplace. (This work is for women who female-identify, such as myself.) The notion of casuistry was helpful to me, a technical term for misapplying bias to justify using specious reasoning to rationalize behavior. Learning also to keep a careful record of one’s own achievements—also useful! I’m starting to do this right freakin now. I felt that the book didn’t unpack much of anything about the experiences of women without children, who are punished for their lack of them (perhaps by the perception of being too masculine, as the authors do a good job of backgrounding). After reading this work it was depressing thinking how the workplace is life-hostile, not just mother-hostile. Besides your kids, any kind of personal life is frowned upon, as is the right to keep silent about it—you can’t have one, but you can’t not talk about it. The book oversimplifies that women without children want work-life balance also, and the suggestion that you should use your personal life to strategically--rather than naturally--connect with people felt unpacked to me. While I appreciated the practical suggestions, I hope that we’re approaching an age where we can demand accountability from our institutions—I wanted this book to also provide some practical strategies for fighting harder and from a more firm position of radical choice for women.
Profile Image for Irene.
286 reviews43 followers
June 20, 2017
This book is pretty repetitive and not much fun to read. It is largely worth the effort, though, for the many research citations, and the deep examination of the ways in which race and gender interact to create many different minefields for different kinds of women in the modern office workplace. The writing is not fun or snappy, but it's full of worthwhile insights and specific strategies for women to increase their power at work and in negotiations. The book is heavily geared toward work in a more "traditional" office environment such as law, consulting, or finance (as opposed to creative fields or startups).

I’d recommend skimming it and spending more time with the chapters about race, and whatever else particularly resonates with you if you happen to be a woman. If you happen to be lesbian, trans or nonbinary, this book doesn’t really speak to you, sorry. Find another book.

If you happen to be a male, especially one in a position to manage or hire, I recommend you read it all, carefully. Consider it “eating your vegetables” while something like Lean In is more like snacking on some popcorn.
Profile Image for Irina Ioana.
98 reviews4 followers
September 27, 2018
I tried reading this book in the midst of suffering exactly what this book describes and much worse. It made me angry. I couldn't get myself to continue reading it back then but today being in a much better state can understand the book better and it's actually great! it offers solutions clapbacks and comebacks for the usual bad behaviour that one encounters at work, and it's done so with very gentle advice - the usual midway which women have to walk all the time: never too soft neither too strong, neither too masculine nor too feminine, not too kind but not a doormat.
I also realised that the answer I'm looking for, is not in this book, my negative experience is at the end of the spectrum.
However this is a great manual for anyone starting to work in a male environment especially if this person is a woman.
Profile Image for Mythili.
660 reviews18 followers
October 8, 2019
Book Riot Read Harder 2019 #17: A business book

These books are so difficult for me to read. I wish there were a more structured "choose your adventure" framework for the various chapters and paragraphs, even--like tag each section and let a reader only see those sections that apply to them.

It gets me down to read passages that don't relate to me but that get across the same tiring point: things aren't fixed, you have to constantly think about your women-ness (and POC-ness and lesbian-ness etc etc) in the workplace. I went home in a terrible mood the first day when I'd finished about half the book, and got into my usual just-started-a-new-job-don't-have-enough-to-do spiral of never succeeding.

But the tips are great, and I loved the throwaway pithy reply in each boxed takeaway section. You're never going to actually call your boss a poop butt...but it's cathartic to read (even if, in my case, no boss has ever been a poop butt).
Profile Image for Leslie.
113 reviews
October 26, 2020
This is never a perfect topic to write about, but I think this book does a good job of dealing with a number of different issues in a way that invites you to take or leave the advice based on whatever resonates with you. Unlike some other advice books for women in the workplace, this book is very clear to start with: it's not (always) your fault. Systemic issues are at work here that can't necessarily be solved by leaning in, lowering the tenor of your voice, or negotiating more. I appreciated that this book made an effort to concisely organize a wide range of qualitative advice and supporting data into a digestible format.
My only qualm with this book is the interviewee sets seemed to cover a lot of lawyers (from the authors' network) and scientists (from the NSF research grant), and there may be perspectives missing from tech/other fields and startups.
Profile Image for Jina.
66 reviews
August 28, 2017
This is the tactical guide I had expected from Farnoosh Torabi's book. RDescribes the invisible bias that the current generation of working women is experiencing, which is a new challenge from the blatant bias the previous generations got. Talks about some realistic tactics for dealing with it. I loved the story of a little black dress with a silver pin. Sometimes you have to work with the world as it is, rather than the world we wish it were. Don't have time to review in detail; planning to buy it.
Profile Image for Sivananthi T.
376 reviews47 followers
June 27, 2017
The book analyses four crisp patterns that affect working women: Prove-It-Again!, the Tightrope, the Maternal Wall, and the Tug of War. Each represents different challenges and requires different strategies. The book weaves in stories from women and offers insight into overcoming these challenges. The book doesn't flail from handling issues of conflict between women - especially between single women and married with kids women, and the different expectations of them and of each other.
Profile Image for Sherrie.
237 reviews
December 27, 2016
One of the best books for women in the workplace that I've ever read. The four barriers it outlines are very accurate, and it also gives great strategies and tactics for coping with them. High praise especially for including women of color (recognizing that "women" often means white women) and for not blaming women for their failure to advance, as so many of these books do.
Profile Image for ellen.
75 reviews5 followers
March 13, 2017
A lot of this is not new information. It covers a lot of the subjects I've learned about in podcasts or articles. It is a thorough consolidation of many of the particular blockers women face at work. Many of which you can wind up taking personally if you don't understand where they come from. Of particular note is the chapter on women of different ethnicities, something not often covered.
Profile Image for Yasmeen.
241 reviews17 followers
May 15, 2017
Recommended read for every working woman (and man). It was quite painful but enlightening to see your feelings validated on paper, and what to do about those problems that are effecting your career progression as a woman.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 71 reviews

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