Women's Work Maybe someday there won't be a genre of women in business books. Maybe someday the experiences of women in the business world won't be all that different from men's experiences. For now, though, the shelves groan with women's biz books that tellingly share one characteristic: They all deal with women's struggles to triumph over obstacles strewn into their financial and career paths by human biology, corporate tradition, and, of course, men. This month, we look at four new releases in this still-rich vein.
Anne E. Francis probes an especially thorny phenomenon in The Daughter Also Rises: How Women Overcome Obstacles and Advance in the Family-Owned Business. This is not a book of caricature. It shows, among other truths, that Dad does not have to be Archie Bunker to stand in the way of his little girl's success at the family company. In fact, sometimes a father's (or mother's) best intentions may be just the problem, trapping the adult daughter in a childlike workplace dependency.
Francis, a business consultant with a doctorate in social work, draws on her experience of counseling families on the broad spectrum of issues business and (often deeply) personal that arise when blood and business mix. Through cogent, real-world examples and incisive analysis, she sheds light on topics that might seem unfathomable and might seem unrelated to the running of a business. It turns out, for instance, that a mother's repressed envy of her daughter's success, and a father's unspoken discomfort in the presence of his adolescent daughter long ago, can have plenty to do with business when families work together.
The author's language is refreshingly free of psychobabble, taking on daunting psychological subject matter with admirable clarity. For ambitious women and the people who love them, The Daughter Also Rises offers a roadmap to uncharted territory.
It has been argued before that women have their own way of doing business, distinct from the structures of traditional, male-dominated corporate life. Bearing out that argument are many of the extraordinary life stories sketched out in Conversations with Uncommon Women: Insights from Women Who've Risen Above Life's Challenges to Achieve Extraordinary Success (Amacom, $22.95, 0814405207), by Ellie Wymard.
Of the 100 women we meet here, some are famous (former Texas Governor Ann Richards, syndicated columnist Ellen Goodman, Ruth Fertel of Ruth's Chris Steak House), others lesser-known. But they're all in business, whether the business is working behind the scenes in a political campaign or running an arts organization or starting a small business on the kitchen table.
As Wymard's women stretch the bounds of what we normally think of as business, they puncture stereotypes along the way. There's a surprise on nearly every page. When we meet Mary Agee, who gained brief and unwanted fame some years ago as the female executive whose romantic involvement with the CEO led to chaos at Bendix Corp., we don't read some Oprah story of how she has personally grown from the experience. What Mary Agee does these days is not about Mary Agee; it's about making a difference in the lives of troubled women. Productively, without fanfare and without taking sides in the abortion debate, the foundation she runs helps women cope with unexpected pregnancies.
Wymard vividly sketches the turning points in many of these women's lives. In one portrait, for instance, we see successful ad exec Kip Tiernan stopped dead in her tracks in a church aisle, suddenly uttering Holy something (not a word one says in church): It's not a prayer; it's an epiphany, after which she is destined to spend the rest of her life as a gadfly activist on behalf of Boston's homeless.
The author also offers trenchant insights on how women run organizations. One female CEO tells Wymard she wishes she could be tougher on some employees, but senses that she is expected to have a more collaborative style of management because of her gender. People think I'm nice, this executive says, and I'm not sure that's true. They don't give me any choice! Kathleen Neville's Internal Affairs: The Abuse of Power, Sexual Harassment, and Hypocrisy in the Workplace (McGraw-Hill, $24.95, 0071342567) takes us to a darker corner of the working world. It's a little hard to believe that a book like this needed to be written, almost a decade after the nationwide sexual-harassment-sensitivity stand-down brought on by the Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill hearings. Yet here we are on the cusp of a new millennium, and women can't be assured they won't be accosted by a creep while they work. Nor that the creep won't be the boss.
Neville, an educator, arbitrator, and expert on sexual harassment, has spent a lot of time getting inside the heads of victims, harassers, corporate officials, and others affected by harassment cases. Her horror stories of actual cases drive home a point that won't be lost on senior managers who think it can't happen in my shop it can happen, no matter how much camaraderie your employees seem to enjoy, no matter how upstanding a guy your scoutmaster-father-of-three-EVP-for-marketing may seem to be, no matter what boilerplate language you have put in your employee handbook about your supposedly zero-tolerance policy on workplace harassment.
Equally valuable are the detailed composite scenarios that Neville presents in order to explain the varying moral and social perspectives that come into play in harassment cases. The book is like a series of role-playing exercises, inviting readers to see things, just briefly, from the point of view of the board of directors (who may consider it more cost-effective to pay off claims than to lose a valued top exec); the competing lawyers (who tend to spring unwelcome surprises on both adversaries and clients in the course of the settlement process); the victim (often tormented by self-doubt about the incidents); and the harasser (who may be a calculating predator in the corner office or may be Lennie from the mail room, who figures the girls upstairs appreciate being told they're kinda hot).
In these scenarios, the author does not address the possibility of false harassment claims by vindictive employees. (It would be interesting to know whether that omission reflects a partisan stance on her part or the fact that, in herexperience, such claims simply don't happen.) Still, Neville sheds light where there has mostly been heat in the past, moving beyond battle-of-the-sexes polemics to convey real understanding about how sexual harassment happens and how companies can prevent it. Internal Affairs is a comprehensive and eye-opening primer on a subject that today's corporate honchos wish away at their peril.
Enough about women at work what's a lady to do with her hard-earned dough? For starters, don't let some piggish man get his mitts on it. Heidi Evans offers that advice in How to Hide Money from Your Husband . . . and Other Time-Honored Ways to Build a Nest Egg: The Best Kept Secret of a Good Marriage (Simon and Schuster, $20, 0684841878). This is an unabashedly one-sided book. Evans says men are past masters at hiding money from women, whether thepurpose is to finance secret affairs or to keep a wife from getting part of the marital estate in a divorce. It's high time, she argues, that women play the same game.
More intriguingly, Evans finds that women have been hiding money from their husbands since time immemorial. A more than adequate amateur anthropologist, she delves into the unrecorded history of women's home lives, uncovering stories of women who spent lifetimes building secret, five-figure nest eggs. Some wives do it to protect themselves in shaky marriages. Others do it to protect the feckless men they love from their own bad habits.
The book presents plenty of cautionary tales about women who trusted their cheating husbands too much or too long, until divorce brought financial ruin. There are stories of depressingly mercenary men as well as women. But the most interesting relationships chronicled here are the ones in which a little financial secrecy really has been the key to a strong marriage, enabling the woman to feel a measure of control over her life and providing a slush fund from which the whole family benefits. How to Hide Money is an eye-opening look at how money and power are intertwined in a marriage, and how women can hold onto their share of both.
Briefly noted: Even in today's booming economy, shocking numbers of Americans still carry crippling credit-card balances and other installment debts that can leave them feeling financially trapped. Slash Your Debt: Save Money and Secure Your Future (Financial Literacy Center, $10.95, 0965963837), by debt counselor Gerri Detweiler and writers Marc Eisenson and Nancy Castleman, offers a concise and understandable roadmap for getting out of the money pit.
In Generations at Work: Managing the Clash of Veterans, Boomers, Xers, and Nexters in Your Workplace (Amacom, $25, 0814404804), authors Ron Zemke, Claire Raines, and Bob Filipczak address the conflictinggenerational values to be found in any large group of employees. And they look to the future, predicting that today's adolescent Nexters will come full circle, tending to share more values in common with their 60-to-80-year-old Veteran elders than with any social cohorts in-between.
Journalist E. Thomas Wood is an editor with the Champs-Elysees.com family of European language-and-culture magazines.