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What Works for Women at Work

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

Joan C. Williams
Rachel Dempsey
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 394
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  • Book Info
    What Works for Women at Work
    Book Description:

    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 evenComeback 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.

    eISBN: 978-1-4798-1468-8
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-x)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. xi-xii)
  3. Foreword
    (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 that mean a book like this still needs to be written, the workplace will be a better place, the United States will be more competitive, and the intertwining of work and family life will be easier for all caregivers.

    What Works for Women at Workis...

  4. Preface
    (pp. xix-xxx)
  5. 1 Introduction: It’s Not (Always) Your Fault
    (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 and her husband—a lawyer at a big law firm in town—decided to have a baby and got pregnant. She took off the full six months allowed at her company; her baby is now 11 months old.

    Recently, though, Jennifer found out that her compensation is...

  6. Part I: Prove-It-Again!

    • 2 Spotting Prove-It-Again! Patterns
      (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?

      In other words, when you think of the typical professional, do you think of a man or a woman?

      If you’re like many Americans, your image of a successful professional is both male and masculine. Think Gordon Gekko and his anger, think Don Draper and his arrogance, think Mark Zuckerberg (real or fictional) and...

    • 3 Prove-It-Again! Action Plan
      (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 be successful, and proving it again gracefully is probably the best you can do.”

      A Catalyst study of women holding the title of vice president or above in Fortune 1000 companies found that a resounding 77 percent of respondents said consistently exceeding expectations was...

  7. Part II: The Tightrope

    • 4 Spotting Tightrope Patterns
      (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 riff on their respective political positions.

      “I believe global warming is caused by man,” Poehler says.

      “And I believe it’s just God hugging us closer,” Fey answers.

      “I don’t agree with the Bush Doctrine.”

      “I don’t know what that is!”

      “But, Sarah, one thing we can agree...

    • 5 Tightrope Action Plan: Neither a Bitch …
      (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 than one pundit attributed her win to her uncharacteristic display of emotion.²

      Crying is a huge taboo for professional women—at one meeting, one New Girl asked the others how they handle tears in the office. The answer was unanimous: just don’t.

      But Clinton is the exception that...

    • 6 Tightrope Action Plan: … Nor a Bimbo
      (pp. 109-124)

      The February 2013 issue ofCosmopolitanmagazine includes an article in which Mika Brzezinski—a cohost of MSNBC’sMorning Joeas well as author of the women’s business advice bookKnowing 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 Elizabeth Warren: “Elizabeth Warren, the newly elected senator of Massachusetts, shared with me that she ‘held the mop’ for too many years. You’re probably thinking, Huh? But it makes sense: Early on as a Harvard professor, she took bad teaching...

  8. Part III: The Maternal Wall

    • 7 Spotting Maternal Wall Patterns
      (pp. 127-152)

      In 2003, theNew York Times Magazinepublished 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 imperative to stay home with their children.

      “I don’t want to be on the fast track leading to a partnership at a prestigious law firm,” says Katherine Brokaw, who holds degrees from both Princeton University and Columbia Law School. “Some people define that as success. I don’t.” She had left...

    • 8 Maternal Wall Action Plan
      (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 whodostay the course at work.

      Of all the types of bias we discuss in this book, Maternal Wall bias is the closest to the surface—and also the least challenged. Few people these days will suggest out loud that a woman’s gender should bar her from opportunities at work or that a woman’s inherent emotional needs...

  9. Part IV: The Tug of War

    • 9 Spotting Tug of War Patterns
      (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: fromWorking GirltoThe Devil Wears Prada, the evil female boss is almost as tired a trope as the prostitute with a heart of gold. For all the trendy new names, it’s just a rehashing of the same old story.

      “Female rivalry in the workplace may sometimes be as important as sexism in holding women back in their careers,” opined...

    • 10 Tug of War Action Plan
      (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 recognizable, and they didn’t want to be outed. But the reasons went deeper. Somehow these conflicts were just deeply troubling.

      The issues that spark Tug of War are deeply personal. Controversy about the “right way to be a woman” gets to the heart of the most personal decisions we’ve made in constructing our identities and our lives, and it’s almost impossible not...

  10. Part V: Double Jeopardy?

    • 11 The Experience of Gender Bias Differs by Race
      (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 associate who was to become her husband—and later the 44th president of the United States. Michelle eventually left Sidley Austin to start a youth mentorship program for urban children; after her first child, Malia, was born, she began working as a vice president for the University of...

  11. Part VI: Leave or Stay?

    • 12 Leave or Stay? Reading the Tea Leaves
      (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 or labeled a bitch. In chapter 8, we discussed how mothers can overcome or avoid stereotypes that they are less competent and committed than their peers. In chapter 10, we discussed what to do to defuse potentially...

    • 13 Leave or Stay? Don’t Dismay
      (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 knowledge expected of senior employees. There are certain points when you may be particularly vulnerable—right before or after having a baby or in response to a particularly time-consuming project, for instance—and it’s important to maintain some perspective on whether the situation will improve with time.

      One New Girl remembered a talented lawyer who had worked at her...

  12. Part VII: 20 Lessons

    • 14 The Science of Savvy in 20 Lessons
      (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.

      Women often have to provide more evidence of competence than men in order to be seen as equally competent. You may have to prove it again, butdon’tprove it so often you burn out.

      If you have a trust fund and enjoy...

  13. 15 Conclusion: Jump-Starting the Stalled Gender Revolution
    (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.

    One reason the gender revolution has stalled is because of implicit bias. The typical implicit association training sends a simple message: we are all biased. True, but not very useful. In order to help people spot and correct for bias, what they need is to understand how bias plays...

  14. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 303-306)
  15. Notes
    (pp. 307-338)
  16. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 339-348)
  17. Index
    (pp. 349-364)
  18. About the Authors
    (pp. 365-365)