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Book: Machiavelli for Women

I’m unsure what I think about Machiavelli for Women (Amazon). There were things that I appreciated, and things that were infuriating. To be fair, the things I found infuriating were mostly also things the author herself notes as infuriating, saying her goal with the book is to articulate what works as things are, not what should work if things were more equitable.

Some highlights:

“Cinderella syndrome”: where you’re not told no, but rather told to do a lot of work and then yes. Avoids difficult conversation, gets that work done, Cinderella never goes to the ball.

“Hotbox”: being trapped between two bases running back and forth until exhausted.

“The Hotbox is something that often happens to women in mid-career, when they start getting close to leadership positions or positions of power. The two “bases” in this case are femininity and leadership qualities, and many women end up caught between these two sets of expectations, running themselves ragged in a no-win situation.”

There are two sections on negotiation (didn’t quite understand this, structurally). One is built (I think) on the (amazing) book Women Don’t Ask.

“When it comes to asking for more money the Machiavellian woman sees a situation where the downside is certain and the upside is iffy. So she doesn’t ask.”

There’s a list of reasons given why women struggle to negotiate, varying degrees of depressing.

  • Women are grateful for less.
  • Negotiation is painful.
  • Women think it’s safer to be paid less (won’t be identified as too expensive and cut).
  • It hurts to ask.
  • Women and money is complicated, women are punished for caring about it

Tips are pretty standard: arm yourself with information, have options other than salary, make it win-win.

On confidence,

“The consequences of a lack of confidence show up in all kinds of ways, including how we value ourselves and our work. In study after study, men place a higher dollar value on their work than women do. In one study, men and women were presented with a task and then asked to pay themselves what they felt they deserved. The men paid themselves 63 percent more, on average, than the women did and were significantly less productive.”

One thing that really stood out to me was the types of office house keeping

  • Social coordination / hostessing.
  • Adminastrative-type work.
  • Emotional labour.
  • Drudge work.
  • Serving on committees (academia).

I tend to think of office housekeeping as the administrivia and social coordination, and it was eye opening to see emotional labour called out. I have definitely observed (and experienced) situations where a level of emotional labour is expected from a woman that I am very doubtful would be expected elsewhere.

I wonder if DEI work is industry’s equivalent of serving on committees. Especially the kind of performative DEI work that doesn’t effect systematic change – such a depressing waste of time.

For all some of the advice is really infuriating, there’s a useful section on knowing when to leave, including some depressing facts on how people who are mistreated tend to stay longer. Two key tips.

The first is to try the list once. If you don\t get what you want (like the promotion), ask for the list, do everything on it, and then go back. If you don’t get it after that, it’s time to look for a new job.

The second thing is to look whether people like you are successful there. If not, you’ll always be fighting an even more uphill battle to be the first / only.

I’ve had this book in the backlog for a while and in the end read it when I was in a bit of a funk about things, including specifically office housework and advancement, so it was at least somewhat cathartic. The thing is that so much of the strategies are things that most women seem to know, but are tedious, tiring, and have inconsistent results, which leaves me unclear on how helpful this book actually is. But maybe it’s worth the reminder that certain things are useful, even if they infuriate us.

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