What this book is about
The Glass Wall refers to the differences between men and women in how they communicate, think and behave. The book looks at this divide and how it prevents women from achieving their full potential in the work place.
I first heard about The Glass Wall when Unerman and Jacob came onto the radio to promote the book which was published in September. Unerman is the Chief Strategic Officer at Mediacom, an agency my company is a client of, whilst Jacob is the CEO of Pearl & Dean. As women at the top of their respective professions, I figured I could lend an ear and an eye to what they had to say.
What it promised to deliver
The book essentially promises to provide easy-to-apply strategies for success, whether the reader is a woman looking for a career boost (“on the way up” as they call it) or a manager (“from the top”) looking to harness the power of their female workforce.
There are 41 (some overlapping) strategies for each reader type, split over 7 chapters that represent areas of the male-female divide, usually supported by studies. For instance, the first chapter on Ambition had some striking statistics:
How it delivered
The strategies are a satisfying mixture of modifying your behaviour and being true to yourself. For instance, as a woman you may need to consciously talk more about your great work in order to stand out against men who naturally show off more. Simply getting on with it and being brilliant at your role without promoting yourself will lead to you getting passed over.
Some of the strategies are trickier to implement than I believe the authors realise for women who haven’t spent 20 or so working years fighting, bottling and unleashing their frustration. For instance in the Anger chapter two strategies include taking the power back when you are undermined and confronting people who exclude you – scenarios which are complex enough to deserve entire chapters of their own. The book did raise a smile out of me though when I read a tactic I’ve used myself under the subheading “Go feral”!
What makes the book very readable is the fact that in balance to the social studies and interesting stats, there is a wealth of anecdotes and case studies from real women facing different situations you might be able to relate to.
Some great points
Strategy #37, being “Always on” is about constantly being judged whether you are aware of it or not. Other techniques go hand in hand with this such as body language, inputting at the very start of a meeting so as not to have your point left behind later, and sitting near the boss.
#13 Speaking their language. This was a woman’s story about how she presented an idea to her boss and he shot her down immediately. She came back to him with it expressed using a football analogy and he loved it. The moral of the story is that rejection is usually of the format of the idea, not the idea itself and that flexing your communication style is the key.
#34 Playing the numbers game, or in other words “Don’t ask, don’t get” – one of my favourite mottos. Men are four times more likely to ask for higher pay than equally qualified females are. Researchers concluded this is a learned behaviour that dates back to childhood games where boys play more aggressively (plus are socially reinforced to do so) and learn that asserting themselves can mean a potential win. Men are more comfortable hearing the word “no”; women might give up after that first disappointment when instead they must keep going past the second, or third for that matter.
When it came to the advice for management, a lot of it was about changing cultures through leading by example – they didn’t pull any punches and I would be amazed if any leader committed to working against all of the unwritten, ingrained behaviours that are highlighted in the book that we take for granted in society.
What could have been better
The introduction was very long winded. In fact, there was a Foreword, a Preface and an Introduction. The scene setting could have been a lot more concise, I definitely got frustrated waiting for the book to start giving me the actual strategies. The scene setting was mostly trying to convince senior leaders why having equal representation on boards is good for business which I didn't need telling - perhaps it would have been more fruitful to write separate books for the two audiences.
One question I was curious to see how they would handle was that of sexual dynamics in the work place. Unfortunately they didn't do it justice. The topic was only covered at a shallow level, with a few pointers on dealing with inappropriate comments/“jokes” and how to style it out when your private life becomes talk of the office. More investigation and tried-and-tested advice is needed in this area; just look at any online Q&A forum and you'll see hundreds of women asking what do if they fancy their boss or how to reject the advances of a work colleague without damaging their career.
Finally, there needs to be more recognition that not all women conform to these “truths”, the implication being that the entire book won’t be relevant to you. For instance the Creativity and Ambition chapters were interesting but didn’t apply to me which might imply I’m more “masculine” in those respects. That said if you are in a hurry, there is a helpful key to navigate you to the most salient chapter e.g. answering yes to “Do you feel like giving up?” or “Do you take things personally?” leads you straight to the section on Resilience.
Overall this book provides a fun, passion-inciting, and addictive read, and I will certainly refer back to the book in order to keep some of the strategies fresh in my mind. I would recommend The Glass Wall to any working woman: it may help you decide what you want (whatever it is) and it will definitely reinvigorate you to go out and get it.
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