What’s Missing From "What Works For Women at Work"

what-works-for-women-at-workThis week I read about a new book for professional women. It’s called, “What Works For Women at Work,” and it promises to provide women an “essential toolkit” for getting ahead at work. The authors, a mother-daughter team, interviewed 127 highly successful professional women, and compiled huge amounts of research to identify key challenges facing women and offer intensely practical, pull-no-punches advice for navigating those challenges.

Sound too good to be true?

Well, it is and it isn’t.

Let me tell you the good stuff first.

The best thing about this book, in my opinion, is that it doesn’t stop at identifying problems, but seeks to offer specific and practical solutions, right down to the nitty-gritty, “what do I say when x happens?” kind-of-stuff.

I get so frustrated when I read something that laments the challenges women face at work without offering solutions. Don’t get me wrong, What Works For Women spends plenty of time identifying the challenges and biases women face, but it goes further too. The authors draw on their interviews with highly successful real working women, sharing what works (and what doesn’t).

To combat the challenges women face, the authors recommend that we employ what they call “gender judo,” taking the same feminine stereotypes that can hold women back, and using those stereotypes to our advantage. A great example addresses the paradox of self-promotion. To advance at work, it’s important that people are made aware of your achievements and successes, but research shows that people—men and women alike—tend to find it “distasteful” when women self-promote (while self-promoting men tend to be perceived as confident).

The authors’ “gender judo” answer is to form an informal group (a “posse”) of men and women committed to publicly celebrating each others' accomplishments. That takes a classic female stereotype—the selfless, supportive woman—and puts it to work in your favor. You congratulate and promote others, trusting them to do the same for you. That way, your accomplishments get recognized without you being the one to draw attention to them.

What Works For Women at Work seems to offer lots of great, practical ideas like this one.

And now I have you wondering, “so what’s not to love?!?!”

The truth is, I wondered the same thing. As I read through excerpts from and articles about this book, something felt “off.” Despite page after page of what was basically sound strategic advice, I felt increasingly nagged by something that just wasn’t sitting right with me. “What is wrong with me?” I thought, “I should love this!”

Here’s the thing.

The book represents what is, for me, a stark picture of what my professional life would probably look like without faith. I don’t know where the authors stand on faith and I’m not faulting them for not writing a Christian book.

But when I read something like this, full of exhaustive (and exhausting) lists of things you must worry about, avoid, or do as a woman to achieve “success,” I can’t help but be aware—and oh-so-thankful—that my purpose and my success are defined differently.

I am thankful for my work. It’s challenging and exciting and energizing; and I want to be good at it. But my work--successful or not--doesn’t define me.

Yes, I do want to see my career advance, but ultimately, the reason I work is to serve God, to honor His purpose for my life, and to use the gifts He gave me in the best way I can. Ultimately, it’s not about me.

There’s so much freedom in that truth!

Freedom, and grace. There’s freedom to make mistakes, and grace when you do. Freedom to make the nonstrategic--but right--choice; to turn down the promotion that’s wrong for your family, or to offer forgiveness to a colleague who maybe doesn’t deserve it.

Books like this one don’t leave a lot of room for those kinds of choices.

So, that’s where I stand. What Works For Women at Work isn’t bad, but it is incomplete, and you should keep that in mind if you decide to pick it up. Take what you can from the very practical insights and tips, but rest assured that God has a plan for you that goes beyond any cutely-named gender equalizing strategy!

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:37-39).

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Have you read What Works For Women at Work, or something like it? What advice stands out to you? What’s missing?