Book Reviews

Review: It’s Not You, It’s the Workplace • a look at women’s relationships at work

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It’s not every day I find myself nodding in agreement with most thing written in a book. Yet, here we are, with me writing a glowing review of It’s Not You, It’s the Workplace and asking you to read it with a group of girlfriends.

Title: It’s Not You, It’s the Workplace
Authors: Andrea S. Kramer and Alton B. Harris
Genre: Adult Nonfiction, Business
Published on August 27th, 2019 by Nicholas Brealey

s y n o p s i s

Women’s relationships with other women in the workplace are a nuanced subject. Yet, that hasn’t stopped sensationalist news articles and misguided studies from being published. Women are commonly portrayed as being bitchy, back-stabbers, and hostile toward other women. But the reality is far more complex.

Andrea S. Kramer and Alton B. Harris are here to dispell the myths surrounding this topic. With their data-driven account of female relationships in the workplace, the reader gets a far more substantial and accurate portrayal of the issue at hand.

Disclaimer: I have received a complimentary digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. However, this has not changed my opinions.

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As I’m nearing the end of my university degree, I’ve been thinking more of what’s to come in the future. Ideally, I would get a job straight out of school. That’s why I’ve been trying to read up more on workplace relationships, expectations, and responsibilities.

I’ve been working on different projects individually for nearly two years now. And as I think more about it, I’ve never had a basis of what to expect in a professional setting with other people. Sure, I have collaborated with other people online, but it’s not the same thing as an office setting.

As you may know, I’m very interested in feminist issues. Thus, the way men and other women perceive women in the workplace is very intriguing to me. I can say this is the Holy Grail on that subject.

Don’t feel intimidated if you haven’t given this topic much thought. One of this book’s strengths is how easily it explains everything — it’s the best introduction to women’s relationships in professional settings.

✎ We’re eased into the popular misconceptions right from the start.

Including this in the first pages of the book was such a smart idea. We get to see what has been said so far about women-women relationships in the workplace. If you’re just getting started reading up on this topic, it’s the perfect transition into it.

The authors cite popular articles and books published on this topic that fail to look at the issue carefully. They’re simple to paint women’s relationships with other women as vile and nasty. Think of the “Mean Girl” stereotype — that is basically how these articles paint female-female professional relationships.

As soon as you’re familiarized with what’s not true, the authors jump into action. Using clear and easy-to-understand language, they explain why so many women have negative opinions of their female managers. And the best part? It’s all done using data!

✎ Their explanations and arguments are delightful to follow

One of the things that jumped out to me the most was how women expect other women to bend over backward to accommodate their needs or to show empathy for their situation. Interestingly, research shows they don’t expect the same kind of treatment from men. Thus, when these expectations aren’t met, higher-ranking women are labeled as “bitches” and “frigid.”

At the same time, higher-ranking women are often looked down upon by their male counterparts for meeting these expectations of the women they manage. Yet, when they give this same treatment to male employees, they’re not chastised.

While these sound like obvious explanations, they had never occurred to me as clearly as the authors put it. There are many more instances of this happening, but we’d be here all day if I tried to list them all. When a nonfiction book gets you thinking like this, it’s a great sign.

✎ The interviews give the arguments even more weight

Every time a new argument is made, there is an interview to complement it. This was a great way of pulling in the reader and showing them that these aren’t just numbers — there are people who have gone through these experiences and are here to tell their tales.

I found the interviews done with managing women especially interesting. Since I’ve never been in a managing position before, it is sometimes hard to relate to whoever is giving out orders. Yet, Andrea S. Kramer and Alton B. Harris made sure that didn’t happen. I now understand what it’s like being one of the few women in a decision-making room in a crowd of men.

The interviewees that pointed out they hired fewer women than men were particularly thought-provoking. But, once I read them the whole way, what they were saying made a lot of sense!

✎ It’s Not You is incredibly well structured and put together

It would be boring (and tiring) to read a 220-page book about workplace relationships if there were no chapter breaks. Not to mention the arguments would most likely fall to the ground. Luckily, that’s not the case with this book.

There are different sections fully devoted to particular issues. For example, there’s a chapter about racial bias in the workplace. There’s another about how gendered industries are structured. And yet another on gender identity and expression in professional settings.

It’s such a brilliant division of chapters! It makes everything easier to tackle.

✎ Intersectionality is given time to shine and to work its magic

Obviously, gender isn’t the only thing affecting how different women get along in the workplace. Race, ethnicity, religion, age, and many other factors play a big role in our interpersonal relationships. So, no good analysis can be done without looking into them.

The statistics and personal accounts of women of different races enrich the book. We get a more diverse and inclusive perspective of the topic. For instance, the way African American women wear their hair influences how they’re seen and treated at work. How Latina women carry themselves (too slutty or too submissive?) was also really well explored.

If anything, I wanted to see more time (and pages) dedicated to intersectionality. But what we got was already informative and thought-provoking!

✎ Lastly, there are always “The Way Forward” segments at the end of each chapter

This made It’s Not You, It’s the Workplace a much more rich reading experience. Besides pointing out the institutionalized sexism, it offers women tools to fight this problem from inside their professional networks. By giving advice on how to move forward and conquer these gendered challenges, it becomes much more useful.

For all these reasons, I whole-heartedly believe this is the perfect workplace reading pick for a book club. Even if your workplace doesn’t have a book club, it would be a great idea to gather some friends (both men and women) to read this and discuss it together.

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