A friend approached me the other week wanting to talk about a couple of experiences she had recently had in work that had surprised and concerned her. She has recently moved into an executive role and had come home after her second negative experience with a male colleague, saddened by the realisation that there are things she is likely to experience and will need to deal with purely on the basis that she is a woman.
She came to me because she knows I have spent years promoting gender equality in the economy, supporting women leaders and working with employers to ensure workplaces that allows them to succeed. She was shocked and disappointed by what had happened and wanted to know what she could do to prevent it in the future.
Sadly, gender stereotypes are entrenched and we still have a long way to go before the cultural and social ‘norms’ which hold women back are fully addressed. Whilst gender equality has come a long way, it is far from done and there is still a lot that needs to change before women can truly succeed.
In response to my friend’s anguish, I provided her with an essential reading list for women who want to get on.
These books don’t have all the answers but they do allow a better understanding of what is at play allowing us to better understand the dynamics and therefore how to respond when your male colleagues say or do something that weakens your authority.
- Executive Presence, Sylvia Hewlett – in this book, Hewlett identifies what it takes for others to perceive you as a leader. You might have got there as a result of qualifications and experience but to be successful as a leader, you need to have ‘executive presence’ which is a mix of appearance, communication and gravitas. You can buy the book on Amazon or find out the key points in this presentation.
- Your body language may shape who you are, Amy Cuddy – this work shows how body language can change people’s perceptions and also how you can change your own chemistry through different positions. It shows how men and women use space and how women can increase their levels of testosterone and therefore confidence. Cuddy’s ideas reached the world through this TED talk.
- You just don’t understand: Men & women in conversation, Deborah Tannen – this is one of the most useful books I have read because it increases our understanding of how men and women use language differently. In this book, Tannen shows us how women use language to build relationships and men use it to preserve status.
- Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg – This book was huge in 2015, sharing valuable insight from Facebook’s COO who draws on her own experience as a women in business, sharing tips that will ensure you are taken seriously. Key takeaways for me from this book were making sure women have a seat at the table and having the confidence to speak up.
Is there an essential book on your reading list that we should know about? Please share in the comments below.