The Female Advantage, by Sally Helgesen

I finally finished this book that I have been reading for a while. It is not a bad book, but it lost my interest a few times throughout. That is maybe because I have very little tolerance for “business talk” and this book is about business management. As a matter of fact, what I enjoyed the most was the beginning and the end, the analysis of the study, and less the “diary studies” themselves.

The book, originally published in 1990, is written around the case studies of four women managers from different types of organizations, like the Girl Scouts of America, a broadcasting company, a contractor business and Ford. The author follows these women throughout a typical work day and notes down their methods. Some of them give a very headstrong and direct vibe, some are more subtle and creative approach. The analysis and discussion around the observations gathered by the author is facilitated by the comparison with a similar study of the workday of men managers done in 1968 by Henry Mintzberg, which became the basis for the book “The Nature of Managerial Work” in 1973.

Two things have remained with me after reading this book. One is that women in power tend to see themselves in the center of a net, while men managers place themselves at the top of a hierarchy. I think this is a very interesting distinction, isn’t it? Women have a more integrative view of the world, where we are all interconnected and interdependent, while men need a more structured world, classified, prioritized, one way. I am sure there will be many perspectives in between and this involves a lot of generalization which is not fair to everyone.

Anyway, the other particularity of women’s way of managing a company and their work  that fascinated me was that all the women schedule frequent breaks in their work day, while men just go on and on with their long workdays. The way the author justifies this difference is that historically women’s work has been one that never ends. Nowadays is the office/home/children trilogy that never lets you catch rest, earlier was the agrarian type of work as opposed to the hunter men, who could clearly see the end of their efforts, when the game was loaded and carried back home.

Another intriguing difference observed by the author is is that the women managers considered important to disseminate and share the information, for the good workings of the company, while men managers tended to gather as much information as they could in their no-break workdays but would have a difficult time sharing that. Men managers also tended to identify with their work completely. Because of the overwhelming nature of their work and the fact that they all tended to sacrifice family time to and personal interactions to strictly work-related activities, men could not separate from their job, while the women, being mothers, could not afford but to see themselves (and their employees) as complex individuals and would allow time for personal matters during their encounters and workdays.

This was a fascinating read. I’ll probably mention it in conversations for a long time — it’s that kind of book.

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