What Works for Women at Work:

Four Patterns Working Women Need to Know

Authors Joan C. Williams and Rachel Dempsey encourage women to defy patterns that might hold them back.

As the founding director of the Center for WorkLife Law at the University of California’s Hastings College of the Law, Joan C. Williams has long been in the front lines in the battle for women in the workplace. In a new book, What Works for Women at Work, she collaborates with her daughter Rachel Dempsey to deliver straightforward advice for working women.

At the core of the book are four patterns—easily recognizable to many working women—that can keep women from advancing their careers.

Once the authors identify each pattern, they offer an “action plan” of multiple strategies to overcome them. They are:

  1. Prove It Again! Women find themselves having to prove their competence over and over despite previous success. Why? Given the fact that most high-level executives still happen to be men, we automatically envision a man when we imagine a successful professional. Strategy: Trump the stereotype by documenting and being forthright about your accomplishments.
  2. The Tightrope. Women in the workplace are forced to find a mythical balance between the masculine and the feminine. Those judged as overly masculine are often respected but not liked, while those seen as too feminine are more liked than respected. Strategy: Be decent but not a doormat, and, on the flipside, manage your anger.
  3. The Maternal Wall. The bias against women with children is by far the strongest form of gender inequality. One study found that mothers are 79% less likely to be hired and 100% less likely to be promoted than women without children. Strategy: Let people you know you remain committed to your work by being crystal clear if and when you are available to take on a project.
  4. The Tug of War. Gender bias often ends up creating highly fraught relationships among women themselves, which can lead to tired stereotypes about bickering, emotional women. The conflicts, it turns out, are real, but they’re based on the fact that women are competing with one another for the limited number of positions open to them. Strategy: Make an enemy into an ally by addressing the conflict head-on.

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