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

by Joan Williams and Rachel Dempsey New York University Press
Pub Date:
Pbk 394 pages
AU$33.99 NZ$34.77
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Up-beat, pragmatic, and chock full of advice, What Works for Women at Work is an indispensable guide for working women.
 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.  

Foreword by Anne-Marie Slaughter 
 1. Introduction: It’s Not (Always) Your Fault 
Part I: Prove-It-Again!
 2. Spotting Prove-It-Again! Patterns 
 3. Prove-It-Again! Action Plan 
Part II: The Tightrope
 4. Spotting Tightrope Patterns 
 5. Tightrope Action Plan: Neither a Bitch
 6. Tightrope Action Plan: . . . Nor a Bimbo
Part III: The Maternal Wall
 7. Spotting Maternal Wall Patterns
 8. Maternal Wall Action Plan 
Part IV: The Tug of War
 9. Spotting Tug of War Patterns 
 10. Tug of War Action Plan 
Part V: Double Jeopardy?
 11. The Experience of Gender Bias Differs by Race 
Part VI: Leave or Stay?
 12. Leave or Stay? Reading the Tea Leaves 
 13. Leave or Stay? Don’t Dismay 
Part VII: 20 Lessons
 14. The Science of Savvy in 20 Lessons 
15. Conclusion: Jump-Starting the Stalled Gender Revolution
Selected Bibliography 
About the Authors 

"If you’re a working woman searching for the best pocket guide to success at work, here it is. Prove-It-Again, the Tightrope, The Maternal Wall, the Tug of War, Double Jeopardy—the distinguished scholar Joan Williams and her daughter guide women through each of these sticky wickets. Their invaluable advice is no substitute for broader changes in the workplace, they note, but it can help position more women to accomplish that change."-Arlie Hochschild,author of The Outsourced Self

“Having sifted through many of the debates about how much women can and should succeed, Williams and Dempsey finally offer a template on how women can do that and how the workforce can support this integration; whether these women are homemakers or management, this book is a confidence booster. A much needed look at what women might want, but what society needs.”-Amy Richards,author of Opting In

"Williams and Dempsey provide the essential bridge between research findings on prejudice and discrimination and the problems that women experience at work. Solutions exist, and these authors present them. What Works for Women at Work is a must-read book for everyone committed to creating gender-fair workplaces."-Alice H. Eagly,author of Through the Labyrinth

"Forty years later, gender bias shouldn’t exist in the workplace, but it does, in large part because many of us don’t recognize its most common forms. That’s a pitfall—and for me, at least, a pratfall. Reading What Works for Women at Work would be a good first step in avoiding both."-Theodore Kinni,Strategy and Business

"Written by a mother-daughter duo, this decidedly unwonky examination of gender bias doubles as a playbook on how to transcend and triumph."-Abbe Wright,O, The Oprah Magazine

“It’s great to have a smart compilation of helpful suggestions put together not by two self-help gurus but by two women who understand that all their advice might still not be enough. Besides, make no mistake: the guidance they offer is often quite good, and I suspect few women will not find either a strategy they’ve successfully used in the past or one they can utilize in the future within its pages. […] It pretty much sums up what happens to all too many women today.”-Women's Review of Books

"This title is many steps beyond Lean In (2013), Sheryl Sandberg’s prescription for getting ahead in business. What Works for Women at Work is filled with street-smart advice and plain old savvy about the way life works in corporate America."-STARRED Booklist

"[The book] identifies four overall patterns of gender bias that high-achieving career women face."-Jazelle Hunt,Black Voice News

"In their compelling new book, Williams (Distinguished Professor and Director of the Center for WorkLife Law at the University of California, Hastings College of Law) and Dempsey (a student at Yale Law School who blogs for Huffington Post on women's issues) spell out the two sets of rules, higher standards and closed doors that many women encounter on the job these days."-Kerry Hannon,Forbes

"Joan Williams and Rachel Dempsey clearly and vividly detail the double standards and the dead ends that so many women face in the workplace. Fortunately, the authors also provide easy-to-follow strategies to counter these scenarios. This book can help women claim their seat at the table and lean in to their careers."-Sheryl Sandberg,author of Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead

"Much of its advice is solid career counsel for anyone looking to move up...ultimately the tone of this book is quite hopeful...[T]his book's message: If we make ourselves and the men in our lives aware of the roadblocks women still face, and we use some of the many tools the authors offer in this volume, we are likely to see women move ahead more quickly. In fact I wish there were a way to interest men in reading this book. They would get the most out of it."-Susan Adams,Forbes.com

"The book's plentiful examples and suggestions provide smart strategies for federal workers to find work/life balance without calling their commitment to career into question."-Katherine Reynolds Lewis,The Business of Federal Technology

"The insights from cognitive psychology and social psychology, and the tips gleaned from experience, that this book brings to bear on experiences of gender in the workplace are worth learning."-Feminist Economics

"The book offers women advice for asking for promotions or pay raises, while acknowledging that women who ask for these things can be considered masculine in ways that might undermine their success. I particularly appreciated reading about the toxic competition between women at work that can also hinder the success of women collectively."-Joshunda Sanders,Salon.com

"Deftly combining sociological research with a more casual narrative style, What Works for Women at Work offers unabashedly straightforward advice in a how-to primer for ambitious women....The authors plow nimbly through decades of research, transforming what could have been dry and impenetrable statistics into attention-grabbing revelations."-Debora L. Spar,The New York Times Book Review

"The book offers an accessible and sound model of problems faced by women climbing the corporate ladder, and presents clear strategies to take while waiting for business to catch up."-Publishers Weekly
Joan C. Williams is Distinguished Professor and Director of the Center for WorkLife Law at the University of California, Hastings College of Law. Her books include Unbending Gender: Why Work and Family Conflict and What to Do About It and Reshaping the Work-Family Debate: Why Men and Class Matter.


Rachel Dempsey is an attorney and writer. She received her J.D. from Yale Law School in 2015 and her B.A. from Yale University in 2009. She lives in Los Angeles.