Book Review: Strategies for Women at Work

Janice LaRouche and Regina Ryan, Avon Books

 

This book is intended for women who have been generally socialized into ‘feminine’ roles and behaviours, and who may not have had the right mentorship to understand and deal with challenges in the workforce.  Perhaps some things have changed in the years since this book was written but the continued disparity in the numbers of women at the top of companies suggests otherwise.

The first chapter of the book describes 23 typical ‘blocks’ the author suggests women are socialized into; for example, ‘the play it by the rules’ block, or ‘the perfection block’.

The next seven chapters are named according to ‘situation’ challenges (eg, ‘I’m having trouble with my boss’) with many sub-sections of difficulties one may be facing (‘My boss is disorganized’, I’m afraid to tell my boss I made a mistake’).

In the Conclusion, there are two appendices that sort the topics in the book to provide the reader with easier access to their particular situation or interest.  Please read a sample extract from the book below:

 

 Chapter 6.  I'm Having Trouble Being the Boss, Section 3. I have trouble making decisions, pp. 256-258

The essential difference between being an assistant director or an assistant manager and having the full directorial or managerial title is, of course, the level of responsibility that goes with each job.  The boss is held accountable for the sum total of things.  He’s paid to make the decisions and bear the responsibility for whatever happens.  He’s rewarded when things work out and he risks being sacked when they don’t.

Many women are beset with uncertainties about making an ultimate decision – one that fully commits them and others.  To suggest, propose, argue, defend – yes, but to take complete responsibility for the outcome – no.

Lack of judgement is not the problem, it’s very likely that you possess and have already demonstrated your good judgement.  Rather, the problem is one of risk – of sticking your neck out and making decisions on your own.  Women generally lack the experience of being the final decision-maker, someone who operates without an okay from a higher-up.  Men know at a very early age that they will grow up to be responsible for themselves – they are the ‘in-charge’ sex.  They don’t long for a superior species to validate their decisions – they are the superior species and the higher authority: the chairman of the board, the president of the company, the head of the family,  the chief muckety-muck of this-and-that.  Early on, they practice making their own decisions because they don’t expect to find a better resource than themselves.

Women, conversely grow up with the opposite notion – that there will always be someone to help them, and further, that they need help to cope with the ‘big’ decisions.  Even women who get along very well on their own will slide back into a leaning relationship after a brief stint of flying solo.

Most women are used to having their opinions validated in their helping roles – as secretaries, assistants, wives, and daughters – and they freeze when they have to count on themselves.  The belief that we need an okay for everything has been too deeply ingrained.

Both men and women seek out information and opinions.  Typically, men use other people’s thinking as resources to help them come to a conclusion, to help them make up their own minds.  Women, on the other hand, will look to others for concurrence to give them the confidence to go ahead.

Now, suddenly, as a supervisor or manager, you are expected to make more decisions, to take more initiative, to function with less direction.  You may talk things over, and certainly you have to let your boss know what you’ve decided about the more important issues – but the higher you go, the more you have to make decisions on your own.

In addition to the dependency habit, women resist making decisions for fear of making a mistake.  It’s as if we believe that whatever we have to give is not enough – our value is not sufficient to offset our errors.  In many women’s minds, to risk being wrong is to risk being without value – perfection is the only ticket to acceptance.  Like a hostess who panics at the thought of some imperfection – for example, running out of the roast beef at her dinner party – imagining that this would mean that she herself is not a success – the woman boss who is ‘guilty’ of some lapse or error in judgement imagines that she herself is a complete failure.  But it’s the sum total of your qualities – the entire meal, the evening, the way you operate on your job, your personality – that determines how people see you.

The unrealistic yearning for an unrealized perfection stands in the way of getting experience.  It can- and often does – make you want to work at a job below your level in order to safeguard your idealized fantasy of the ‘perfect’ you.

Rather than become obsessed over a possible error, the trick to compensating for your mistakes is to make more decisions, not fewer.   To protect yourself against errors is to stand still – but the more decisions you make, the more errors you will risk, and the more opportunities for success you are bound to have.