I can now say that I was right on both counts.
I have somehow found myself on the hook to give a short talk about how women can self-promote (don't ask... I initially said no on grounds that this isn't something I'm all that good at myself!) and since I of course want to do a good job, I knew that the time had come to read this book. I want to tell people the right advice- which is most definitely not that you just need to self-promote like a man. There is plenty of evidence that doing that often backfires. See, for instance, the HBR article I discussed a couple of years ago.
Anyway, I bought a copy of What Works for Women at Work, and set aside some time yesterday to read through the sections most relevant to my topic at hand. It is a good book: written with an easy to read style, well-referenced so that I can look up the data to support their statements about bias, and with some helpful ideas for how to navigate through the biases to achieve your career goals.
And yeah, it hit close to home. The two authors are from two different generations (they are in fact a mother-daughter team). Joan Williams is in her 50s, and her introduction to the book was so painfully true for me that I almost started to cry. As I read on, I definitely recognized a lot of things that have happened to me over the years, and I began to realize why I deviated from my original plan and suddenly quit my job last year. I have a better understanding of how I could like and respect my former colleagues and at the same exact time be unable to stay in that position. I have said before that I just burned out, but the first two sections of this book provide an explanation for why I burned out.
If you're curious, or want to read along at home in the book, I think I burned out from exhaustion from having to "prove it again" so damn many times and from exerting so much effort to stay balanced on the f%&#ing tightrope they describe.
Even now, a full year after the events that led to my sudden resignation, I find reading this book fairly devastating. I have no idea what would have happened if I'd tried to read it last year. I wish I had read it 10 years ago, but even if it had existed, I might not have recognized how much I needed to read it at that earlier stage in my career. (Side note to any early career people out there: read this book now, before you begin to get the promotions and such that will put you on a collision course with these implicit biases. Forewarned is forearmed and all that.)
Reading it now is making me feel a little better about my uncharacteristic decision, though. I am starting to think that I acted so suddenly because I was in a type of immediate danger: if I'd stayed longer, I might have become so burnt out that I would have been unable to salvage my new career path from the remains of my old one. At some point, the instinctive self-preserving part of my brain overruled the rational, planning part and made me act.
So here I am, having mostly picked up the pieces, but still trying to make them fit back together in a stable way. I find that I am unbelievably motivated to get to stay my own boss. If I'm completely honest, I'm also feeling fairly motivated to "prove it again" just one last time, which means, of course, that I can't hang up my tightrope walking shoes quite yet.
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