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Four patterns of behavior that women at work need to understand

What Works for WomenIn What Works for Women at Work: Four Patterns Working Women Need to Know, Joan Williams and Rachel Dempsey focus on “four crisp patterns that provide the framework for this book”:

o Prove-It-Again! is exactly what it sounds like: Women are forced to prove their competence over and over, whereas men are given the benefit of the doubt. For women, narrower margins, higher standards, less leeway, etc.

o The Tightrope is a [begin] prescriptive bias) stems from assumptions about how a woman [begin italics] should [end italics] behave. It’s a double bind: women often find that if they behave in traditionally feminine ways, they exacerbate Prove-It-Again! problems; but if they behave in traditionally masculine way. they are seen as lacking social skills. Women risk being written off as “too feminine” when they are agreeable and accommodating and “too masculine” when they are aggressive and assertive. They feel great pressure to balance others’ expectations which tend to vary from one person to another; expectations that can, worse yet, change without apparent reason.

o The Maternal Wall consists of both a [begin] descriptive bias, in the form of strong negative competence and commitment assumptions triggered by motherhood, and [begin] prescriptive bias — disapproval on the grounds that mothers should be at home or working fewer hours. Women with children are routinely pushed to the margins of the professional world.

o The Tug of War occurs as each woman tries to navigate her own path between assimilating into masculine traditions and resisting them. Women’s different strategies divide them.

What to do? “The conventional advice is that women’s careers derail because they don’t have enough ambition, because they don’t ask, because they choose children over career — in other words, because they’re not enough like man. This advice can hurt women’s careers, because women who don’t ask get in trouble for failing to make it clear what they want, women who do ask get into trouble for failing to fulfill others’ expectations about how a woman should act.”

In my opinion, the abundance of information, insights, and counsel that Joan Williams and Rachel Dempsey provide in this book can be of incalculable value, not only to male and female supervisors but also to those entrusted to their care. I hope to live long enough to see the day when there are no gender issues in the workplace, only business issues. Whatever works for some people should work for all people.

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