The Bar’s Charity Anastasio, practice management advisor for the Law Office Management Assistance Program, shares her top titles for empowering women in the legal profession.
I created this reading list with three core beliefs in mind. First, knowledge is power. Second, women face bias. And third, work can be tricky in this intersection. I assumed I would be writing about Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg and The Female Brain by Louann Brizendine, because they’re well-known and we have both in the WSBA’s lending libraries. But when it came down to it, those didn’t speak to me — they didn’t give me any concrete solutions or plans. I like action plans and solutions to try, so here are some books I found empowering and interesting.
What Works for Women at Work: Four Patterns Working Women Need to Know
Joan C. Williams and Rachel Dempsey (January 2014)
What Works for Women at Work is an outstanding book written by mother-daughter team Joan D. Williams and Rachel Dempsey. It addresses the various types of biases women encounter in the workplace, how to spot them, and ways to respond effectively. Not all responses will work for any individual, but because they asked a diverse bunch of women for responses, there’s a little something for everyone. This book is one of those “Oh my gosh, that rings so true for me” experiences. When describing the motherhood and the tightrope patterns of bias, one woman interviewed said, “If you’re being a good lawyer, you’re not a good mother, and if you’re being a good mother, you can’t be a good lawyer.”
Another person, describing a different type of bias said, “For professional women on the career ladder, ‘prove-it-again!’ bias can make the climb feel like an eternity — two steps forward, one step back, all the way to the top.” Sound familiar? It does to me. But the advice on dealing with it is where this book gets super-empowering, because it’s from real people, for real people. The first strategy for ‘prove it again’ is ‘proving it again, right?'” The interviewee says, “If somebody needs you to prove it again, pointing out that that’s unfair is unlikely going to actually be successful, and proving it again gracefully is probably the best you can do.” Yep, that works. I dig this book and recommend it for women experiencing bias at work and/or home.
Making Partner: A Guide for Law Firm Associates
John R. Sapp (September 2006)
Making Partner is a slim volume in its third edition by John R. Sapp. I debated whether to include this title, as it seems the associate track has all but disappeared for most new lawyers. But for the few who get that chance, it could be a good fit. Some of the advice is overly obvious, commonsense stuff like “work hard,” (billable hours!) “be ethical,” (you are responsible, not the partner) and “behave yourself” (don’t be a jerk). Some sub-chapters are more nuanced, though, discussing how to say “no” when an associate is expected to never say such a thing or how to build good working relations and tout your successes without appearing to brag.
But my favorite part in this book is the 10 starter questions to ask when interviewing or on-boarding at a particular firm. This helps a new (or potential) associate get a pulse on office culture and expectations and begin to devise a strategy for ladder-stepping. There are great recommendations, like understanding the partnership structure, partner power and governance growth policy, and compensation plans.
Learning to Lead: What Really Works for Women in Law
Gindi Vincent (2013)
There are things I dislike about this book. First, Gindi Eckel Vincent’s writing style is personal-sounding with rhetorical questions posed to the reader and the occasional use of “I.” Since it’s similar to my own style, one would think I’d like it more, but honestly, it set me on edge. It doesn’t feel right. Second, the same themes are repeated over and over. That is to be expected — I mean, how many leadership qualities are there, right? — but it gets old quick. Third, I find some of the advice contradictory. One successful woman says to be authentic, then two paragraphs later says, “Stop personalizing every career setback… Go ahead and allow yourself to feel emotion about a circumstance, but do not portray that emotion.” How can that be authentic? But there isn’t an answer here. (I suspect I’m being overly harsh, as women are sometimes accused of being toward each other, but it’s my authentic reaction.)
That said, there are a few things I really love about this book. First, it’s peppy and positive. If you are feeling gloomy about your career, there’s lots to uplift you here. Second, I suspect the advice works, no matter how irritating the details are to me. I am not impervious to “America’s judiciary counsel[ing me] to garner respect, take risks, stay confident, develop relationships, and break [my] own internal glass ceilings.” Third, if that sounds daunting too, read the Total Leadership Makeover chapter at the end, where real women’s scenarios are set out and each is given solid advice with clear action steps listed to achieve their goals. There are illustrations for every phase of a woman’s career. It makes the rest of the clichéd and overly-optimistic parts worth it. I also like the tools in Appendix B — websites that can tell me my risk-taking profile and leadership style. Overall, I’d recommend this book, despite my reservations.
More to Explore
Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead
Sheryl Sandberg (March 2013)
The author examines why women’s progress in achieving leadership roles has stalled, explains the root causes, and offers solutions that can empower women to achieve their full potential.
The Female Brain
Louann Brizendine (August 2007)
Shows how the unique structure of the female brain determine how women think, what they value, how they communicate, and who they love.
To see all available titles, visit the WSBA Lending Library catalog.