The 2016 800-CEO-READ Business Book of the Year | What Works: Gender Equality by Design
January 23, 2017
Iris Bohnet's book is the best we found in 2016 to make your business better—period.
We've been talking about Iris Bohnet's What Works since last April, when Sally wrote a powerful review of the book, beginning with the words "What differentiates What Works from the multitude of books digging deeply into gender inequality is Iris Bohnet’s focus on action."
In another strong piece following the announcement of the award on January 12th, Sally went further in her acute assessment of its differences from other books:
Generally speaking, the challenge with systemic disadvantage is that the onus for creating change or methods of change has lain at the foot of the disadvantaged. In other words, women are, rightly I think, encouraged to lean in (Sheryl Sandberg) or relearn the way they hold themselves physically (Amy Cuddy) or join forces with the other women in their offices (Jessica Bennett) or dissect the code for confidence (Shipman and Kay). And individual change can compel mass change that generates momentum. This has been the approach of feminism for some time. Still we get stuck on how to make it stick. We protest, we take a seat at the table, and yes, sometimes, we fight back. But, how do those individual acts truly move the needle in the face of such age-old and creaking resistance?
We found What Works to be that instrument, the one that will help us improve our organizations beyond good intentions or punitive action.
This is not easy work. We all have our own biases and it is not easy to confront them. I can think of an embarrassing number of ways I've come up short on this issue personally since we made the announcement, whether through an unthinking comment or flawed assumption. It is not always even an easy topic to talk about. We've received some pushback about choosing the book—one individual telling us that we'd lost all credibility in their eyes, that ours was a political statement on a "hot-button" issue rather than an honest assessment of what we found to be the best and most important book of 2016. Let me assure you it was the latter. I'd say we thought long and hard on the matter, but in fact, it was one of the easier decisions we've made with regard to the awards over the years. The consensus was quick and complete. But it wasn't just us celebrating the book. What Works was also shortlisted for the FT & McKinsey Business Book Award, and I was actually surprised when it didn't take home that award. I was sure this would be the first year we both picked the same book.
Also, addressing the rights and equality of half the world's population in the workplace is not a "hot-button" issue. Or, if it is, it has been one for about 100 years and it's about time we address it fully.
We can design better processes even if personal perfection on the issue is not an unattainable goal. In fact, that is why we should systematically design better processes. Personal perfection isn't realistic, but organizational improvement is, and its benefits accrue to everyone within the organization—not just women. It was not in Bohnet's book, but one of my favorite quotes from any book this year came from Alexander Bickel, one of today's leading constitutional scholars, who once wrote “The highest morality is almost always the morality of process.” Iris Bohnet gives us the tools to design that process—and our organizations.
But if all that seems beside the point, just consider this: the evidence that gender equality in the workplace is simply good for business and the bottom line is not only sufficient, but overwhelming. And you can't really try too hard to improve your business and boost your profits, can you?
If you're interested in doing that work, we have 20 copies available.