Worth Reading

10 Empowering Books for Modern Working Women

By Jennifer L. Jacobson

Having a career can be both rewarding and challenging for anyone, but look closer at modern working life and it isn’t long before differences become apparent in the treatment, expectation, understanding, and assignment of women in the workplace. These biases do not stem from any one workplace, boss, or co-worker. They are part of a larger set of cultural norms, histories, policies, and societal beliefs, that still impact working women, no matter how much any individual woman may try to lean in or have it all.

Acknowledgement is the first step to creating a better work ecosystem where people of all genders are considered equal. The sooner we acknowledge that long-held-to cultural beliefs and practices still attribute to the struggle of women in the workplace, the sooner we can move forward and see problems for what they are. Having a career can be challenging for women in ways that must be understood before they can be dealt with, every step of the way, by women in at all stages, and types of work.

This is a list of books designed to empower women, from a variety of viewpoints and workplaces. Some of the books focus on how to get ahead, some focus on achieving “live balance,” some are funny, some are profound, some are observations of famous successful women, and some are professional advice on how to deal with difficult subjects women often struggle with.

Whether you’re reading these books yourself or buying them for a friend, it is my hope that that they will give the working women who read them a context for many of the challenges they face, and a framework for moving forward together.

And for those of you who think you’re too busy to read, I must stress that it’s always worth it to broaden your mind and perspective, even if only a little at a time. Developing a lifelong habit of reading is one of the best things you can do–not only for your career, but for your own personal wellbeing. And with the convenience of reading from your Kindle, your phone, or even listening to Audible during your daily commute, reading insightful books can easily become a cherished part of your life.

  1. Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office by Lois P. Frankel

This practical, hands-on book reveals the ways in which working women often underestimate and sabotage themselves, based on lessons learned in childhood (the “nice girl” mentality). The book then covers specific tactics to overcoming career roadblocks that are often specific to women.

Lois P. Frankel teaches readers how to eliminate these unconscious mistakes and offers coaching tips that can easily be incorporated into social and business skills. Hundreds of thousands of women have found career opportunities they never thought possible-at every stage of their career, from entry-level to the corner office.

  • Mistake #21: Multi-tasking. Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should do it.
  • Mistake #54: Failure to negotiate. Don’t equate negotiation with confrontation.
  • Mistake #82: Asking permission. Children, not adults, ask for approval. Be direct, be confident.
  1. Unfinished Business: Women Men Work Family by Anne-Marie Slaughter

When Anne-Marie Slaughter accepted her dream job as the first female director of policy planning at the U.S. State Department in 2009, she was confident she could juggle the demands of her position in Washington, D.C., with the responsibilities of her family life in suburban New Jersey. Her husband and young sons encouraged her; she had a tremendously supportive boss, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; and she had been moving up on a high-profile career track since law school. But then life intervened.

The reactions to her choice to leave Washington because of her kids led her to question the feminist narrative she grew up with. Her article for The Atlantic, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” created a firestorm, sparked intense national debate, and became one of the most-read pieces in the magazine’s history.

Now, Anne-Marie Slaughter returns with her vision for what true equality between men and women really means, and how we can get there. She uncovers the missing piece of the puzzle, presenting a new focus that can reunite the women’s movement and provide a common banner under which both men and women can advance and thrive. With moving personal stories, individual action plans, and a broad outline for change, Anne-Marie Slaughter reveals a future in which all of us can finally finish the business of equality for women and men, work and family.

  1. Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, by Angela Duckworth

This book is a practical and scientific approach to not giving up. It’s a powerful shot-in-the-arm for women and anyone looking for the secret to finding and doing meaningful work.

Pioneering psychologist Angela Duckworth shows that the secret to outstanding achievement is not talent but a blend of passion and persistence called “grit.” Duckworth takes readers into the field to visit cadets struggling through their first days at West Point, teachers working in some of the toughest schools, and young finalists in the National Spelling Bee. She also mines fascinating insights from history and shows what can be gleaned from modern experiments in peak performance. Finally, she shares what she’s learned from interviewing dozens of high achievers.

Among Grit’s most valuable insights:

  • Why any effort you make ultimately counts twice toward your goal
  • How grit can be learned, regardless of I.Q. or circumstances
  • How lifelong interest is triggered
  • How much of optimal practice is suffering and how much ecstasy
  • Which is better for your child—a warm embrace or high standards
  1. In the Company of Women: Inspiration and Advice from over 100 Makers, Artists, and Entrepreneurs by Grace Bonney

This book profiles over 100 influential and creative women from all ages, races, backgrounds, and industries. Chock-full of practical, inspirational advice for those looking to forge their own paths, these interviews detail the keys to success (for example, going with your gut; maintaining meaningful and lasting relationships), highlight the importance of everyday rituals (meditating; creating a daily to-do list), and dispense advice for the next generation of women entrepreneurs and makers (stay true to what you believe in; have patience). The book is rounded out with hundreds of lush, original photographs of the women in their work spaces.

  1. Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most by Douglas Stone  (Author), Bruce Patton (Author), Sheila Heen  (Author)

How many times have you been in a workplace conversation, review, or meeting where the stakes were high and you couldn’t find the words to get your point across, or counter an argument or attack against your idea? Being on the same page with others in a conversation is an important, ongoing dance that changes depending on what is said and the context.

This book addresses how we attempt or avoid difficult conversations every day-whether dealing with an underperforming employee, disagreeing with a spouse, or negotiating with a client. From the Harvard Negotiation Project, the organization that brought you Getting to Yes, Difficult Conversations provides a step-by-step approach to having those tough conversations with less stress and more success. you’ll learn how to:

  • Decipher the underlying structure of every difficult conversation
  • Start a conversation without defensiveness
  • Listen for the meaning of what is not said
  • Stay balanced in the face of attacks and accusations
  • Move from emotion to productive problem solving
  1. Feminist Fight Club: An Office Survival Manual for a Sexist Workplace by Jessica Bennett

Part manual, part manifesto, Feminist Fight Club is a hilarious yet incisive guide to navigating subtle sexism at work, providing real-life career advice and humorous reinforcement for a new generation of professional women.

Hard-hitting and entertaining, Feminist Fight Club blends personal stories with research, statistics, and no-bullsh*t expert advice. Bennett offers a new vocabulary for the sexist workplace archetypes women encounter everyday—such as the Manterrupter who talks over female colleagues in meetings or the Himitator who appropriates their ideas—and provides practical hacks for navigating other gender landmines in today’s working world. With original illustrations, Feminist Mad Libs, a Negotiation Cheat Sheet, and fascinating historical research, Feminist Fight Club tackles both the external (sexist) and internal (self-sabotaging) behaviors that plague women in the workplace—as well as the system that perpetuates them.

  1. Moving Beyond Words: Essays on Age, Rage, Sex, Power, Money, Muscles: Breaking the Boundaries of Gender By Gloria Steinem

Ever wondered how society got this way? Why women’s work is often undervalued? Why women who show emotion are sometimes considered hysterical, while men are considered grounded? This book has the answers.

With cool humor and rich intellect, Gloria Steinem strips bare our social constructions of gender and race, explaining just how limiting these invented cultural identities can be.

In the first section, Steinem imagines how our understanding of human psychology would be different in a witty reversal: What if Freud had been a woman who inflicted biological inferiority on men (think “womb envy”)?

Steinem presents positive examples of people who turn stereotypes on their heads, from a female bodybuilder to Mahatma Gandhi, whose followers absorbed his wisdom that change starts at the bottom.

  1. Every Day Is a Good Day: Reflections by Contemporary Indigenous Women by Wilma Mankiller

This inspiring book’s discussions are centered on the practical, well-lived life. From the perspective of nineteen indigenous women, this book offers interpretations of such topics as ceremony, governance, womanhood, love, and acceptance.

Author and activist, the late Wilma Mankiller has garnered the thoughts these women–a physician, an attorney, ranchers, professors of American Indian studies, an urban planner, a cultural anthropologist, artists, poets, musicians, and an Onondaga Clan Mother– who reflect on many topics. Spirituality, which connects all indigenous peoples, means respect for the earth and all living things. Land is crucial to all tribes, as shown by the Dann sisters, Shoshone ranchers struggling to defend the sacred ceremonial grounds of their ancestors, and Sarah James, who fights for her Gwich’in tribal rights to protect caribou birthing grounds from oil and gas exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Profound yet simple words from strong women working hard to perpetuate their culture, and who have a lot to share, and who need to be heard.

  1. Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder by Arianna Huffington

From existential to practical, this book explores one of the world’s most influential women (Arianna Huffington) and her awakening and re-evaluation of success after an unexpected emergency drove her to look further for the meaning of life, work, family, and balance.

Our relentless pursuit of the two traditional metrics of success — money and power — has led to an epidemic of burnout and stress-related illnesses, and an erosion in the quality of our relationships, family life, and, ironically, our careers. In being connected to the world 24/7, we‘re losing our connection to what truly matters. Our current definition of success is, as Thrive shows, literally killing us. We need a new way forward.

In this deeply personal book, Arianna talks candidly about her own challenges with managing time and prioritizing the demands of a career and raising two daughters — of juggling business deadlines and family crises, a harried dance that led to her collapse and to her “aha moment.” Drawing on the latest groundbreaking research and scientific findings in the fields of psychology, sports, sleep, and physiology that show the profound and transformative effects of meditation, mindfulness, unplugging, and giving, Arianna shows us the way to a revolution in our culture, our thinking, our workplace, and our lives.

  1. You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) By Felicia Day

This memoir is for all the nerdy women who’ve ever felt isolated, awkward, or unsure if they’ve chosen the right path.

When Felicia Day was a girl, all she wanted was to connect with other kids. Growing up in the Deep South, where she was “home-schooled for hippie reasons,” she looked online to find her tribe. The Internet was in its infancy and she became an early adopter at every stage of its growth—finding joy and unlikely friendships in the emerging digital world. Her relative isolation meant that she could pursue passions like gaming, calculus, and 1930’s detective novels without shame. Her unusual background gave her the naïve confidence to forge her own path and launch her career as one of the most influen­tial creators in new media.

Ever candid, this funny, honest, and refreshing book reveals personal struggles and triumphs, recounting battles with writer’s block, a full-blown gaming addiction, severe anxiety, and depression—and how she reinvented herself when overachieving became overwhelming.

This book is proof that everyone should celebrate what makes them different and be brave enough to share it with the world, because anything is possible now—even for digital misfits.

Bonus Read — 11. Rejected Princesses: Tales of History’s Boldest Heroines, Hellions, and Heretics By Jason Porath

They say well-behaved women seldom make history. Good thing these women are far from well behaved . . . This beautifully illustrated collection celebrates history’s most inspirational, badass women, whom many people have never heard about. Illustrated in a contemporary animation style, Rejected Princesses turns the ubiquitous “pretty pink princess” stereotype portrayed in movies, and on endless toys, books, and tutus on its head, paying homage instead to an awesome collection of strong, fierce, and yes, sometimes weird, women: warrior queens, soldiers, villains, spies, revolutionaries, and more who refused to behave and meekly accept their place.

An entertaining mix of biography, imagery, and humor written in a fresh, young, and riotous voice, this thoroughly researched exploration salutes these awesome women drawn from both historical and fantastical realms, including real life, literature, mythology, and folklore. Each profile features an eye-catching image of both heroic and villainous women in command from across history and around the world, from a princess-cum-pirate in fifth century Denmark, to a rebel preacher in 1630s Boston, to a bloodthirsty Hungarian countess, and a former prostitute who commanded a fleet of more than 70,000 men on China’s seas.

In Conclusion

It is my hope that you are inspired to get out there and connect with working women and even share your own stories. There are many books that can help you with just about any situation you may be going through or thinking about.

The bottom line; don’t stop learning, listening, and working to make things better, as best you can, however you can. And it’s okay to go for it, or to ask for help, or to try and get more out of life than a 9 to 5, (or 80 hour work week), if that’s what you want. You get one chance at this thing called life, so do your best to make it count and work for you. There is support out there and if there isn’t any where you live, make it, connect with it online, empower yourself. You are not alone.

Here’s to your growing career, empowerment, and an understanding of the choices you make. I wish you the very best in your journey.

Jennifer L. Jacobson is an author and communications strategist who leverages marketing, brand identity, and public relations to help brands advance their voice. Her clients have been TIME’s best site of the year, and graced the likes of Today, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Popular Science, Scientific American, USA Today, and thousands more. She is the founder of Jacobson Communication; a Seattle-based PR and marketing firm.

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