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

3.91  ·  Rating details ·  537 ratings  ·  69 reviews
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 wor ...more
Hardcover, 365 pages
Published January 17th 2014 by New York University Press
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Apr 25, 2019 rated it liked it
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 ...more
Joshunda Sanders
Jan 27, 2014 rated it really liked it
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 overt
Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship
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 di
Kressel Housman
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 an
Dec 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: management
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
Rhiannon Johnson
Oct 29, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
Jul 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
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 decis ...more
cynthia Clark
Feb 17, 2014 rated it really liked it
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 t ...more
Dec 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
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 be ...more
Jul 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: work-women
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 w ...more
Jun 09, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: women, leadership
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 t
Sep 09, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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 achievem
Shelli McDowell
Nov 14, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
Bilal Hafeez
Jan 24, 2016 rated it it was amazing
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 tightrop
Nov 30, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: every woman
Shelves: women, leadership
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 advi
Jul 21, 2015 rated it liked it
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 ...more
Feb 16, 2014 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
May 15, 2015 rated it liked it
A lot of this book is useful and interesting advice. I did appreciate the focus on race and how race affects stereotype patterns. However, the section on the Maternal Wall erases queer women, and the section on lesbians doesn't even mention bi or trans folks (let alone addressing their unique concerns directly). I also found some of the advice to be inconsistent with any kind of progressive approach to gender politics.

Still, much better than Lean In.
Mills College Library
650.13082 W7244 2014
Jun 19, 2018 rated it liked it
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’ ...more
Jun 19, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: work
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
Irina Ioana
Sep 26, 2018 rated it really liked it
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 stro ...more
Oct 07, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: book-riot-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 et
Oct 26, 2020 rated it really liked it
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 t ...more
Aug 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Sivananthi T
Jun 26, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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. ...more
Dec 27, 2016 rated it it was amazing
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. ...more
Mar 13, 2017 rated it liked it
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. ...more
May 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
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.
May 21, 2017 rated it liked it
only read b/c someone recommended another book by same author and the library didn't have that one. it was fine, not super pertinent to me, but good reminder that others face more discrimination than me.

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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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