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What Works for Women at Work

Four Patterns Working Women Need to Know

Joan C. Williams

Publication Year: 2014

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.

Published by: NYU Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication, Acknowledgments

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pp. xi-xii

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pp. xiii-xviii

Joan C. Williams and Rachel Dempsey, mother and daughter, have written a book that every working woman should read. It is also a book that every man who works with women should read. If women act on the prescriptions in these pages and men begin to understand the deep culturally embedded biases and assumptions...

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pp. xix-xxx

This book started when I began reading a field of research that changed my life. That field, called experimental social psychology, led me to leave my job of 25 years and move my family 3,000 miles across the country. Only then did my career really take off and did I get rid of a heavy load of anger that was warping my personal as...

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1. Introduction: It’s Not (Always) Your Fault

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pp. 1-20

Jennifer is a consultant at a large management consulting firm. Since graduating from business school, Jennifer has worked hard, played by the rules, and thrived professionally. Things are going great for her: a few years ago, she was promoted to the prestigious position of director. Having achieved a measure of job security, she...

Part I: Prove-It-Again!

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2. Spotting Prove-It-Again! Patterns

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pp. 23-42

Imagine the typical professional. What are they wearing? A suit? A tie? Do they have long hair or short hair? How do they act? Are they independent or attuned to others? Dominant or sensitive? Assertive or retiring? When they get angry, do they yell or cry?...

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3. Prove-It-Again! Action Plan

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pp. 43-56

Of the many strategies women have for Prove-It-Again! bias, perhaps the most straightforward one came from a general counsel at a Fortune 500 company: “The best strategy for proving it again is proving it again, right?” she said. “If somebody needs you to prove it again, pointing out that that’s unfair is unlikely going to actually...

Part II: The Tightrope

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4. Spotting Tightrope Patterns

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pp. 59-88

In 2008, as the presidential election approached, Saturday Night Live (SNL) featured a sketch in which Amy Poehler as Hillary Clinton and Tina Fey as Sarah Palin held a joint press conference to address the role sexism had played in their respective campaigns. The women opened with an introduction that segues into a...

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5. Tightrope Action Plan: Neither a Bitch . . .

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pp. 89-108

During a particularly rough week in the 2008 presidential primary season, a voter in New Hampshire asked notoriously controlled candidate Hillary Clinton how she was holding up. She teared up. “It’s not easy,” she said, her voice breaking.1 The next day, in a stunning upset, she won the New Hampshire primary. More...

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6. Tightrope Action Plan: . . . Nor a Bimbo

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pp. 109-124

The February 2013 issue of Cosmopolitan magazine includes an article in which Mika Brzezinski — a cohost of MSNBC’s Morning Joe as well as author of the women’s business advice book Knowing Your Value — provides readers with “The 5 Best Work Rules I’ve Learned.” In Rule Number 3, “Don’t Be Left Holding the Mop,” Brzezinski recounts a conversation she had with...

Part III: The Maternal Wall

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7. Spotting Maternal Wall Patterns

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pp. 127-152

In 2003, the New York Times Magazine published an article called “The Opt-Out Revolution” detailing eight women educated at Princeton who dropped out of the workforce after having children. In the wake of the feminist revolution, the article implied, women were rejecting successful careers, driven by personal choice or biological...

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8. Maternal Wall Action Plan

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pp. 153-176

Staying home with children is a choice many women make. Women should have that choice. So should men. However, this is a book for professional women, so we’ll be focusing on how to deal with the obstacles that emerge for those women who do stay the course at work...

Part IV: The Tug of War

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9. Spotting Tug of War Patterns

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pp. 179-204

Once a year or so, a study or trend piece comes out about why women are bad to work for, about nasty female co-workers, about watercooler Queen Bees and Mean Girls at the office. And then there’s popular culture: from Working Girl to The Devil Wears Prada, the evil female boss is almost as tired a trope as the prostitute...

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10. Tug of War Action Plan

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pp. 205-218

Gender wars can get very ugly. Often, during Joan’s interviews, women who described gender wars often swore her to silence. They felt embarrassed and vulnerable discussing conflicts with other women. One reason was that these conflicts were particularly...

Part V: Double Jeopardy?

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11. The Experience of Gender Bias Differs

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pp. 221-258

Our First Lady is an incredibly accomplished woman.1 Michelle Obama went to Princeton as an undergraduate and then on to Harvard Law School. After earning her JD, she worked for several years at law firm Sidley Austin as an associate specializing in intellectual property, where she was assigned to mentor a summer...

Part VI: Leave or Stay?

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12. Leave or Stay? Reading the Tea Leaves

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pp. 261-274

One of the biggest mistakes you can make is soldiering on in a job that’s not going well long after you should have left. In chapter 3, we discussed ways to get credit for your work in the face of stereotypes that men are better professionals than women. In chapters 5 and 6, we discussed strategies to avoid getting pegged as a doormat...

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13. Leave or Stay? Don’t Dismay

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pp. 275-290

Leaving isn’t always the right option. Bouncing from job to job can have serious consequences: it may make you look fickle to potential future employers, keep you from developing long-term working relationships, or stunt your development of the in-depth skills and...

Part VII: 20 Lessons

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14. The Science of Savvy in 20 Lessons

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pp. 293-298

This book is based on hundreds of experimental studies and nearly 150 hours of interviews. We felt pretty good that we were able to boil them down into just 13 short chapters until someone handed us a challenge: if you really want to change things, she said, give them 20 takeaways. Just 20. So here they are...

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15. Conclusion: Jump-Starting the Stalled Gender Revolution

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pp. 299-302

At the current rate of change, equal numbers of men and women won’t be CEOs of Fortune 500 companies for 276 years, and Congress won’t reach gender parity for nearly a century.1
Equality won’t be on offer until organizations change — and they aren’t changing fast. Gender bias remains a common experience...


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pp. 303-306


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pp. 307-338

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 339-348


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pp. 349-364

About the Authors

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p. 365-365

E-ISBN-13: 9781479814688
Print-ISBN-13: 9781479835454
Print-ISBN-10: 1479835455

Page Count: 384
Publication Year: 2014