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Nonfiction Books – Three Stars – Some Merit

If you click on a cover and make any purchase from Amazon in the same session, I receive a small commission. It’s a way for you to support my reviews (if you like them).

***

Breaking the Glass Ceiling: Can Women Reach the Top of America’s Largest Corporations? – Ann M. Morrison and Randall P. White – 1987. Reading: Addison-Wesley

Sponsored by the Center for Creative Leadership, this book grew out of interviews with 76 female executives and their colleagues and compares key factors for success with a similar set of interviews with male executives. The results are not particularly compelling except for the phenomenally accurate prediction by the authors that they “expect to see no more than a handful of women reach the senior management level of Fortune 100-sized corporations within the next two decades, because the barriers that keep women out of senior management today will remain.” Wow. When they wrote, there were 4 female CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, and they predicted a similar number would be at the top of Fortune 100 companies—in 2011 (25 years later), there were 6. Now, that’s what I call close. Remember, too, all the writing in the 90s about how women would take over the senior ranks in a decade? All wrong. Ann and Co got it right way back then.

***

The Confidence Code: The Science and Art of Self-Assurance—What women should know – Katty Kay and Claire Shipman – 2014. New York: HarperCollins

In this recent book, the authors attempt to bring together all of the work that has been done to understand what constitutes confidence: what it is and how you can get it. They draw from genetic and psychological studies, observations of rhesus monkeys, examples from business, military, academic and sports environments, as well as their own experiences building their careers in television journalism, along with surprising detailed anecdotes from their children’s lives. The result is a musing, if sometimes meandering survey, of “where we are” on the topic of confidence in various fields rather than an advice book, which, given the unscientific nature of many of the studies, was a wise choice. In some studies, correlation is confused with causation, other psychological studies are run without controls, and observer bias could influence the findings of still others. But the book does not pretend to stand up to scientific scrutiny; it doesn’t even include an index.

If you are new to the issues surrounding confidence, this book would serve as an excellent introduction. In particular, the chapter entitled “Wired for Confidence” includes factual and up-to-date information on our genetic makeup, its effect on our self-confidence, and the power of our environment, parents, and own self-talk to affect our brain chemistry. I grew impatient in some parts of the book where the information or conclusions were unactionable, or have been better presented in other books, but I was very pleased when the authors drew from the world of women’s sports to emphasize that confidence grows from practice and success on the ball field which lead to mastery. This is the most important takeaway about confidence: it can be achieved, but it requires dedication, effort, and willingness to fail. It can’t be learned from a book.

***

The Female Advantage: Women’s Ways of Leadership – Susan Helgesen – 1990. New York: Bantam Doubleday Dell

Sally did a good job here of just documenting the behaviors of some successful executives with no agenda or interpretation. Nice to see an honest piece of work. For my purposes, I felt I had to discount the profiles in non-profits, of women who started their own company or had inherited one from their relatives, or who were in HR, which really left me only one to analyze. And I wasn’t convinced that one didn’t make a lot of mistakes along with exhibiting some good basic management practices. It does make you think that there’s more than one way to skin a cat here, which is probably the most accurate conclusion. Women with different styles and attitudes can be successful in different situations in different corporations. Gee, who knew.

***

For Women Only: What You Need to Know About the Inner Lives of Men – Shaunti Feldhahn – 2004. Colorado Springs: Multnomah Books

This Christian author interviewed men to understand how they think (imagine that novel approach), and her conclusions are somewhat predictable but heartfelt and sometimes quite moving. Guess what, men really do want women to understand and care for them.

 

***

The Girl’s Guide to Being a Boss (Without Being a Bitch) – Caitlin Friedman and Kimberly Yorio – 2006. New York: Morgan Row Books

Once you get past the tough title, there’s lots of sensible advice here although I had the sense that the co-writers split the writing rather than writing each section together, so the tone seems somewhat uneven. A friend of mine was asked to remove the cover of this book on an airplane, so that her companion’s young daughter wouldn’t have to look at the word “bitch” the entire flight.

***

How Remarkable Women Lead: The Breakthrough Model for Work and Life – Joanna Barsh and Susie Cranston – 2009. New York: Crown Business (a division of Random House)

The tome-like aspect of the book will put off some readers which is unfortunate because its message is helpful and friendly. Written by two McKinsey women, it should have perhaps gone through a thorough editing process. One startling discovery is that women seem to fall into two camps when considering whether they would be successful if they decided they wanted to be an architect. As a result, I always ask this question of prospective clients.

***

How To Be a Woman – Caitlin Moran – 2012. New York: HarperCollins Books AUDIOBOOK narrated by Caitlin Moran

Caitlin’s feminist treatise is part memoir and part tirade, often funny, sometimes too-edgy-for-me crass. I was a bit surprised that someone who is willing to go into too much personal information about masturbation and her abortion didn’t say a word about losing her virginity, or even much about sex. Now we’re squeamish about that? She takes on the usual targets with glee – clothes, body hair, maternity, genitalia – and her observations are often spot on, but several times it occurred to me that I would rather be listening to her talk about Melody Maker.

***

If You Can’t Say Something Nice, What DO You Say? – Sarita Maybin – 2006. Book Surge

Sarita offers practical approaches and actual phrases for times when you have to say something that’s not ‘nice’ but you don’t want to wreck your relationship. Most of this slim volume addresses work situations, but I enjoyed the sections on how to turn down a request for a date and how to answer the question Why? Having specific examples of what you might say is very useful. Sarita is also a wonderful, warm, and funny speaker.

***

In the Way of Women: Men’s Resistance to Sex Equality in Organizations – Cynthia Cockburn – 1991. Ithaca: ILR (Industrial and Labor Relations Report) Press

Cynthia reports on four case studies she undertook in the UK in 1990 or so, exploring the progress toward gender parity in a retail company, government service, a local elected body, and a trade union. Although delightfully written, her findings do not paint a pretty picture. They reinforce over and over how systemic patriarchy and capitalism benefit from women’s subordination. She explores subtle and interesting ideas regarding corporate exploitation of women’s sexuality, the defeat of feminism, how arguments that men and women are different, or the same, result in the same marginalization of women – intricate dissections of organizational and individual behavior that are a tribute to a fine intellect. I was surprised then when her chapter on “solutions” turns simplistically to legislation and enforcement: extension of the welfare state, 30-hour work weeks, and heavier penalties for discrimination. After she demonstrates a supreme understanding of the complexities behind gender discrimination, I did not expect her to resort to a magic wand.

***

Knowing your Value: Women, Money, and Getting What You’re Worth – Mika Brzezinsky – 2011. New York: Weinstein

Mika spends considerable time complaining about how little she was paid as the co-host of Morning Joe, but mysteriously doesn’t share with us what her salary was. Could it be that she was worried that her salary would appear astronomical to us plebs? She also implies that the publication and publicity of her two books were part of her newly negotiated contract which could make a reader who had bought her book feel manipulated. Many of the quotes from others are interesting, but it’s too bad that Mika’s personal story doesn’t come off well. On the other hand, I’m always glad to see famous women talk openly about money.

***

Language and Woman’s Place – Robin Lakoff – 1975. New York: Harper Colophon

I read this the first time in 1975 when I was in high school, and it’s scary to read it today and see that so little has changed: women still say ‘so happy,’ ‘oh fudge,’ and use tag questions; we still don’t know what to call them (woman/lady/girl); lady is still a euphemism for something distasteful (‘cleaning lady’); married women still give up their names; and we still don’t know what we would call the spouse of a female US President, because we haven’t had one! In terms of ‘progress,’ men now are allowed to use the word ‘braise,’ without drawing their masculinity into question (though probably not ‘kick pleat’), and we do now have nasty jokes about men told by female comediennes. Yay.

***

Leadership Presence – Kathy Lubar and Belle Linda Halpern – 2003. New York: Gotham Books

These two actresses turned coaches lay out dramatic techniques to practice and cement your presence. The exercises are particularly good.

 

***

Manslations: Decoding the Secret Language of Men – Jeff Mac – 2009. SourceBooks, Inc.

Amusing guide about what men are actually thinking (assume it’s about sex) and how to interpret what they say (assume they are trying to get you into bed). Jeff comes across as a nice guy who really is trying to make communication between men and women better although I suspect (hope?) many men would object to being reduced to the complexity of a dog. The table of answers to common problems (“He won’t talk to me about his feelings”) from Your Average Trashy Women’s Magazine, Self-Help Books Written by Other Men, Your Mom, Your Girlfriends, and the correct Manslations Answer is quite funny.

***

Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office: 101 Unconscious Mistakes Women Make that Sabotage Their Careers – Lois Frankel – 2004. New York: Time Warner Book Group

This landmark book focused on the details of women’s appearance, habits, speech, body language, facial expressions, attitudes, cheerfulness, volunteerism—oh boy, it seems as though we can’t do a thing right. It’s worth reading, but an executive’s success depends on more than these superficial issues. Focus on your actions, effectiveness, and results, and don’t worry so much about what you look like.

***

No More “Nice Girl:” Power, Sexuality and Success in the Workplace – Rosemary Agonito – 1993. Holbrook: Bob Adams, Inc.

Solid presentation of the issues surrounding sexual harassment from an early feminist. The tone may appear a bit dated to younger readers, but the book reminds us that these problems have been around for a long time and don’t appear to be going away. Nice job.

 

***

The $100 Startup: Reinvent the Way You Make a Living, Do What You Love, and Create a New Future – Chris Guillebeau – 2012. New York: Crown Business

I quite enjoyed this book although most of it is common sense and weighs too heavily on specialized case studies. It is good to be reminded that people have been creating small businesses for hundreds of years before entrepreneurship was a thing, and it can be as simple as buying a carpet cleaner and starting a carpet cleaning business. The notion that if you just do what you love and money will follow is too woo woo for me, but Chris emphasizes the practical side of business (making money, selling, taking action) which I appreciated.

***

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business – Charles Duhigg – 2012. New York: Random House

This is another one of those books that might have been more useful as an in-depth article. Why does the business world insist on putting out so many books where you have to wade through tons of anecdotal “evidence” to get to anything meaningful. In the end, there were only a few takeaways, but two were valuable: it is easier to end a bad habit if you substitute another in its place, and reporting to someone else about your progress in changing your behavior is more likely to lead to success. Think AA, coffee, and sponsors.

***

Simplify Work: Crushing Complexity to Liberate Innovation, Productivity, and Engagement – Jesse W. Newton – 2019. New York: Morgan James Publishing

I found myself quibbling with this book, but there is much to like, particularly the effort to make our workplaces better for employees. The writing could have been simplified, such as sentences like, “”Another key determinant of implementation success is change management.” I wish he would have just written that matrix organizations suck, Lean Sigma 6 didn’t work, and open plan offices caused everyone to work at home so they could get something done, but that’s not the language of organizational consultants. I didn’t find the section on personal organization to add much to the literature, but let’s keep working on what he has started with regards to overly complex and bloated corporations.

***

Space Invaders: Race, Gender, and Bodies Out of Place – Nirmar Puwar – 2004. Oxford: Berg

Nirmar’s academic prose addressing the theoretical collision of foreign bodies (females, minorities) with traditional male bodies (the House of Commons) is a bit daunting and can result in some crazy talk (“The male body is invisible as a sexed entity” –ahem), but there is much of interest here, particularly regarding issues of non-whiteness. Some of the artistic representations of “otherness,” especially Antony Gormley’s The Field, are fascinating. Nirmar reminds us that those identified as “other” are hence perceived only to be competent to speak about “otherness,” so bell hooks can only speak about blackness, Marissa Mayer is only asked about female executives, and Zadie Smith is only quoted when she talks about class. White males alone are allowed to speak with authority about humans. She then points out the impossible position “others” are put in when the environment pretends that we are gender- and color-blind, that being different is unacceptable. She writes, “Admitting difference in an organization which asserts that everybody is the same and that standards are neutral. . . goes against a core identify of being a professional.” Sound familiar?
***

Stress for Success – James E. Loehr – 1997. New York: Crown Books

Jim coached professional athletes for years before he began writing and applying sports psychology to the corporate world. This book was quite meaningful to me when I read it years ago, and I continue to see its relevance in today’s world. It is one of the reasons I stress good eating habits and physical exercise as essential to good work performance.

***

Swim with the Dolphins: How Women Can Succeed in Corporate America on their Own Terms – Connie Glaser and Barbara Steinberg Smalley – 1995. New York: Warner Books, Inc.

Very thorough and intelligent book covering many aspects of corporate life. Again, the premise that modern corporations need managers with stereotypical feminine qualities in order to succeed is dubious, and their prediction that by 2000 20 percent of top management slots in Fortune 500 companies would be held by women, well… LOL. In general however, their advice is solid and useful, if sometimes a bit wooly, “Do this, but not too much; be more like that, but not too much. Just be perfect, ok?” The section on humor was particularly strong, except for the example of the obscene poem which someone sent out in lieu of the annual bonus—not too funny.

***

What You Don’t Know and Your Boss Won’t Tell You – Pam Lenehan – 2006. Minneapolis: Syren Book Company

Pam has gathered straightforward feedback from a number of female executives on some sensitive topics. Although she spends an inordinate amount of space discussing dress and makeup, she also gets in some important practical advice. The books suffers from her unwillingness to take a stand herself when the executives offer contradictory advice.

***

Why Women Should Rule the World – Dee Myers – 2008. New York: HarperCollins

Despite its stupid title (again with the stupid titles!), Dee Dee’s book reflects an intelligent mind considering gender differences in areas as wide-ranging as biology, politics, housework, and war. She covers her rather unhappy experience as the first female press secretary (she claims that Clinton gave her responsibility without authority and kept her out of the loop during important times), but the more interesting parts of the book are those when she synthesizes research on gender differences and muses about current events. Her critique of Larry Summers’ foolish assertion that women have less intrinsic aptitude for science and engineering than men is thoughtful and quite relevant today.

***

Women Lead the Way: Your Guide to Stepping Up to Leadership and Changing the World – Linda Tarr-Whelan – 2009 San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers

Linda has devoted her life to trying to get women into powerful positions in our society. While I respect and admire her work, and I understand that she is frustrated by women’s lack of success, the notion that we should implement laws to force companies to put women in management positions and on boards is a non-starter, even for me. I much prefer trying to get women to be successful by empowering, training, and encouraging them, as I do in my book.

Nonfiction reviews:

*****Five Stars

****Four Stars

***Three Stars

**Two Stars

* One Star

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