I have seen women — never men — being asked if they needed to leave a board meeting because it would be ‘late for their kids’. I have been present when others decided that a woman couldn’t ‘cope’ with whatever challenge they had in mind, because of ‘family commitments’. I have coached women to believe that asking for a pay hike is not career suicide. Societal expectations for women are different and that shapes both individual behaviour and corporate dynamics.
This book clearly acknowledges that these factors are at play but makes the point that even as we work towards changing these, it will take longer and require more participants. The focus of this book, thus, is on behaviours that can and should be changed.
I have heard women say that they couldn’t possibly ask for a better incentive or promotion because their ‘work should speak for itself’. I have watched senior executives — women — burst into tears in meetings. I have heard women offer blunt excuses for being late or missing work. And I have seen women who think nice girls don’t sing their own praises.
I thought I noticed these things because I was not a nice girl, a ‘lady executive’. A corporate shrew, perhaps, as I tried to consciously avoid these pitfalls. This book co-authored by Sally Helgesen and Marshall Goldsmith — whose workshop I had the pleasure of attending at Outlook Business Leading Edge — is reassuring because it tells you, backed by research, that these issues are common; normal in fact.
This book is the female-friendly version of What Got You Here Won’t Get You There by Goldsmith — which I read and found very useful. It develops on the same theme — that habits and traits suitable for a junior executive will not help you get to the top. You need different skill sets at different life and career stages. The difference is that this book recognises that due to a number of factors, women have different habits that hold them back. Women also respond differently to feedback or attempts to change, tending towards being upset and mortified rather than defensive.
How Women Rise puts a structure to self-defeating behaviours by identifying 12 habits that are holding you back. You realise that these bad habits are not personal aberrations or a reflection of the inner self, but common issues around the world. Even more helpfully, the book devotes a chapter to each habit and shows you how you can stop doing it.
My key insight from this book is that it is hard to get people — or yourself — to start doing new things, however good they may be for you. We are already overburdened with activities and additional busyness just adds on to our to-do list that never gets done. What is much simpler is to list things you should stop doing. Stop saying yes to everything. Stop taking every phone call. Stop volunteering for every committee. Stop that 3 p.m. doughnut. You get the drift.
Grab this book if you are scared to put forward ideas. Or claim credit for your work. If asking for a promotion is just too embarrassing. Or you’ve got career feedback you’re not sure you can handle. Or if you have a feeling of ‘stuckness’. It just might be the thing to get you out of your rut.