News & Opinion

A Monstrous (and Most Welcome) Regiment of Women: Changing the Conversation

Sally Haldorson

August 02, 2016


Our General Manager Sally Haldorson's name has been added to the cover of the third edition of The 100 Best Business Books of All Time, and she has pulled more women into the conversation along with her.

“We're all building our world, right now, in real time. Let's build it better.”
Lindy West, Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman

Don’t Rock the Boat

Sometime after our publishers offered us the opportunity to revise The 100 Best Business Books of All Time, I made a request of my co-authors. Let’s make an effort to recognize the work of more women authors this go-round. Seems innocuous enough. Representative, I suppose, of the greater acceptance or maybe commonality of women’s presence in business, or at least the business the average person sees: icons on television, gurus online, innovators giving TED Talks, the famous and the infamous on Twitter. But asking for this change in perspective felt big. During the writing of the first edition of the book, I served as sounding board, editor, and writing coach but I did not select the books. When I asked at that time why there weren’t more women represented in the list of The 100 Best, the answer was: we really tried to include more women, but their books just didn’t make the cut. Their books didn’t “change the conversation.”

While I may have looked skeptically at my then-bosses—both of whom have supported my rise as a the first female general manager in this company, and whom I know to be actively feminist—I didn’t challenge them. Like them, I rested on the knowledge that business, and the books written about it, remained a strongly male terrain. Certainly there were Personal Development books written by women, and books by women written to women about women, popular at the time. But, I suppose I believed that the books that had “stood the test of time” were probably older books, “classics,” and as was most common that meant that they were, by default, largely written by men. After all, my education was in English and American Literature, so I was pretty used to “best of” lists being predominantly male.

Again, I don’t doubt my co-authors’ intentions when culling through the books that eventually made up the 100 best, and by no means intend to criticize their effort because their knowledge of books is unparalleled, but unrecognized bias is sometimes the biggest culprit with regard to sexism, and it seems fair now to put some of the onus on the fact that the original list was crafted by two men. Simply put, women business authors didn’t have a representative on the selection committee. Perhaps I felt guilty about not fighting harder back in 2008 when I proposed my idea. Perhaps I hadn’t felt comfortable at the time rocking the boat, but have become more comfortable with my role as advocate. Perhaps times have changed, and by that I mean that we simply have more books by women to choose from when picking the very best. But for this 3rd edition of The 100 Best Business Books of All Time, it seemed well past time to remediate the deficit.

After all, women make up nearly half of the world’s workers, more than half of people in management positions (albeit the higher you climb, the less likely you’ll find women on the top rungs of the ladder) and almost 40% of MBA students. It is imperative to represent the experiences of that business population in the business books we recommend. But there is another positive effect that takes place when a minority group—in this case, women business authors—begins (to be allowed) to contribute to a market in higher and higher numbers. The sheer volume causes change to happen. It becomes less out of the ordinary for a woman to write a business book. And eventually, the canon starts to redevelop its parameters, and big idea, life-changing work by women business thinkers begins to push the needle. Only when women’s voices are included in the cacophony that is business language, learning, debate, and dissertation can there be truly fulsome progress. Only when we have a large enough selection of women-authored business books, can we truly shine a light on the very best.

But before we do that, let’s go back in time for a moment...


A Monstrous Regiment

In 1588, Protestant reformer John Knox published a diatribe against the reign of Catholic women on both the English and Scottish thrones titled, "The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women." Knox meant to not only protest against women sovereigns via that fiery pamphlet, but also to spread the message that no woman should be the boss of any man. (Too bad for Knox that Elizabeth I would be next on the throne and would make his life miserable and render his argument ineffectual.) An update on Knox’s phrase, “a monstrous regiment of women” took on legs through the years and became a battle-cry in the fight for women’s rights. (No doubt Knox rolled in his grave each time his words were appropriated  by the other side.)

We might like to think we are more progressive thinkers than John Knox was back in the 16th century, but it seems as though, in 2016, it wouldn’t be that surprising if a politician or public figure took to the Internet to preach a sexist diatribe to unsettled followers against the ever-advancing monstrous regiment of women. (I’m guessing John Knox’s blog would be popular among the members of A Voice for Men.) In fact, the Internet allows for anybody, not just notable figures, to opine about women. Just think of the number of likes and shares that Knox’s pamphlet would have garnered had he published it on Medium or Buzzfeed. We live in a new era when there is so much sexist drivel spouted that the bulk of what gets written is just so much dung in the dung heap.

Lindy West, a popular critic first for The Stranger and now a columnist for The Guardian, writes in her new book, Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman, that internet abuse has become a necessary evil that comes part and parcel with being an vocal and opinionated woman writing for the internet:


Being harassed on the Internet is such a normal, common part of my life that I’m always surprised when other people find it surprising. You’re telling me you don’t have hundreds of men popping into your cubicle in the accounting department of your midsized, regional dry-goods distributor to inform you that—hmm—you’re too fat to rape, but perhaps they’ll saw you up with an electric knife? No? Just me, then. This is the barbarism—the eager abandonment of the social contract—that so many of us face simply for doing our jobs.


No doubt we will see plenty of sexist vitriol—subtle and overt—directed toward the first woman Presidential nominee of a major party in the United States before the election in about 100 days. Sure, some people argue that they aren’t opposed to a female president, just not that female president, that the abuse isn’t sexist, but individual (as though that makes it better). But to deny that sexism hasn’t been a primary reason for why a woman hasn’t being nominated in the over 227 odd years since we elected the first U.S. president, and why women weren’t allowed to vote until 1920—less than 100 years ago—limits our ability to make progress on all fronts.

Women have pretty unexceptional desires. Most just want the opportunity, and all simply want to do their jobs for an equal amount of pay and without abuse. Sure, we can take it, but that doesn’t mean it’s right. Again, Lindy West:


No one wants to need defenses that strong. It always hurts, somewhere.


Besides, armor is heavy. My ability to weather online abuse is one of the great tragedies of my life.


Seems like an easy bar to clear, but the obstacles continue to shift and adapt to each new advance, and there is resistance at every turn. But there is strength in numbers, and as a multitude of voices are added to the great conversation, we come closer to realizing our possibility as humans. Whether monarchy or minority, when women take a stand, stand up for themselves, use their voice, and share their intelligence, the very existence of women becomes more commonplace.

What would the world look like if it wasn’t rare to have a female presidential candidate in the United States, or more women CEOs or CFOs, or more female scientists and mathematicians, if women became sportscasters and highly-paid athletes? What could women accomplish if they weren’t having to fight over scraps, or arm themselves against the resistance to the work they wish to do? What if women wrote half of the books we read about business, if women wrote those books about and to women and men? What if, instead of a “monstrous regiment” advancing to threaten patriarchy, women are viewed instead as a welcome community contributing to the pursuit of new ideas and positive change.

Back to the Books

Now, I’m not claiming that female business book authors receive the same kind of attacks that early British monarchs faced and current Internet columnists continue to receive, though it’s not unheard of. What I’ve noticed in the 20 years I’ve been specializing in this genre, is the tendency toward quiet exclusion and habitual disregard. I’ve written previously that reading is often a uneven gendered activity. It is assumed that male writers write to and about both men and women, that somehow being male allows for some kind of omniscience; but women can and do only write for women. It’s completely unremarkable to see a list of business books recommended, best-selling, or newly published that are all written by men. It becomes so normal it’s hard to see how exclusive the genre can be.

Well, enough of that. The newest version of The 100 Best welcomes the addition of seven of the top women business authors writing books and reinvigorating business thought today. Sheryl Sandberg, and Brene Brown both have full reviews included in the best 100 books of all time. Frances Hesselbein, Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Margaret Heffernan, Anne-Marie Slaughter, and Susan Cain are featured in a sidebar representing the wide-range of topics and treatments that women contribute to the business conversation. (Sidenote: It would be a fascinating challenge to research the earliest business books written by women and how the genre evolved over time as it’s difficult to find that information with a cursory look online.) These are writers that all business readers should invest time into reading.

In addition to those listed above and included in the new edition of The 100 Best, I’ve compiled a list—certainly not exhaustive—of 18 more women business writers who I believe to be must-reads. These authors are among the ranks of a most welcome regiment of women who are propelling business thought forward, women who, through their work, are changing the conversation. Taken together, this article enumerates 25 of the top business thinkers writing today. Many are respected academics, and several others are successful business owners or leaders, and most have written multiple books. These are the women who are writing us into a new age of business books and a new age of business, an inclusive one.

1. Sherry Turkle is the founder and current director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self.

Notable Books:

2. Sally Helgesen, an author, speaker and consultant, develops and delivers leadership programs to corporations around the world.

Notable Books:

3. Linda A. Hill is the Wallace Brett Donham Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School. She is also faculty chair of the Leadership Initiative.

Notable Books:

4. Jeanne M. Liedtka is a faculty member at the University of Virginia's Darden Graduate School of Business and former chief learning officer at United Technologies Corporation

Notable Books:

5. Rita McGrath is a Professor at Columbia Business School, is regarded as one of the world’s top experts on strategy and innovation with particular emphasis on developing sound strategy in uncertain and volatile environments.

Notable Books:

6 & 7. Linda Kaplan Thaler and Robin Koval are co-founders of the Kaplan Thaler Group, an advertising agency based in New York City since 1997, now merged to form Publicis Kaplan Thaler.

Notable Books:

8. Herminia Ibarra is the Cora Chaired Professor of Leadership and Learning, and Professor of Organizational Behavior at INSEAD.

Notable Books:

9. Laura Vanderkam is a journalist and the author of several time management and productivity books.

Notable Books:

10. Sally Hogshead is an award-winning marketing/creativity Expert, “brand guru” and Hall of Fame business speaker.

Notable Books:

11. Heidi Grant Halvorson is a social psychologist who researches, writes, and speaks about the science of motivation. She is the Associate Director of the Motivation Science Center at Columbia University.

Notable Books:

12. Carol Dweck is the Lewis and Virginia Eaton Professor of Psychology at Stanford University where her work examines the mindsets people use to understand themselves and guide their behavior.

Notable Book:

13. Jackie Huba is an expert on customer loyalty and word-of-mouth marketing. She is a keynote speaker and author on leveraging online marketing and social media.

Notable Books:

14. Nancy Duarte is an expert in design, presentations, and the communication that happens via those mediums. She is the CEO of Duarte Design.

Notable Books:

15. Erika Andersen is the founding partner of Proteus, a coaching, consulting, and training firm that focuses on leader readiness.

Notable Books:

16. Jane McGonigal, PhD is a world-renowned designer of alternate reality games—or, games that are designed to improve real lives and solve real problems.

Notable Books:

17. Nilofer Merchant teaches innovation at Stanford and Santa Clara Universities, focusing on collaboration and the gap between strategy and execution.

Notable Books:

18. Sylvia Ann Hewlett, an economist, is the author or co-author of 11 books and founding president of the non-profit Center for Work-Life Policy.

Notable Books:

We can celebrate the rare feat, like HRC being nominated, but until it isn’t rare for women to have a platform—whether monarchy, online, biz books, etc.—it’s difficult for there to be a best to select from. So we need not only to add women to the “the list” (whatever list that is) but we need women en masse to make change against bias. These women have, and are.

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