Staff Picks

Fall Favorites by and for Feminists (by which I mean, everyone.)

Sally Haldorson

September 09, 2017


New business books, recently released and upcoming, written by women.

On Wednesday, to celebrate the directively-named National Read A Book Day, I posted the following picture on my Twitter account.

An author of one of the books retweeted the picture with the comment: "Indeed so many amazing badass feminist books out." (See: Sarah Lacy entry at the end of this list.) And certainly it isn't a coincidence that the majority of books on my desk are by women. (A new workbook from Simon Sinek is tucked in there somewhere.) After all, I planted our collective flag in the ground with my 2016 essay about how our company would be bringing more deliberate attention to women business writers. While I know that there are those people who believe that "women-centric" lists and the use of the word "feminism" only serve to further differentiate or divide the genders, the opposite take would be that such lists allows for a minority to be, for once, the majority. And, in doing so, we make inroads directly into that divide, narrowing the gulf rather than widening it.

One of my feminist superheroes, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, in her manifesto (and TedX talk) "We Should All Be Feminists" writes, "Culture does not make people. People make culture. If it is true that the full humanity of women is not our culture, then we can and must make it our culture." To steal from that much-broader idea, in the case of business writing, if it is (and it is) a direct reflection of business culture, women in business are not yet fully represented in the books we read. There are numerous levels of responsibility then to remake that culture. Publishers must make an effort to seek out and publish business books by women. Women authors must write, must persist. Men in business must be willing to read general business books written by women. And retailers and media outlets must talk about those books, the books by women that publishers are publishing, that women are writing, that men are reading.

Certainly I'm not addressing all of the nuances of the problem, but I don't want us to forget that the problem exists. To quote Adichie once again: "My own definition of a feminist is a man or a woman who says, yes, there's a problem with gender as it is today and we must fix it, we must do better. All of us, women and men, must do better." So just as that author tweeted her celebration of the "amazing badass feminist books," I've titled this list of new and upcoming books written by women a list of books by and for feminists. You know who you are. And by "you," I mean all of us.

I've already raved about Nilofer Merchant's recently published The Power of Onlyness: Make Your Wild Ideas Mighty Enough to Dent the World. I wrote that it is "a book for our times" and I also think it is a book for everyone.


Onlyness—the word itself—conjures up for some the idea of a singular hero. But the underlying power of it follows the duality inherent in the word “individual,” which is the smallest member of a group. An individual is therefore never isolated; he is always connected. Onlyness contains a similar duality: it is born of you and unites you meaningfully with others; it is the connected you.


The perfect companion book to Merchant's is Brene Brown's Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone. While both books address personal empowerment and community-building, the two diverge in their approach. Merchant's more directly addresses cultural change with a business and political bent, while Brown's concentration is on helping people build  positive and productive relationships with themselves and others. Particularly interesting is her chapter called: "Strong Back. Soft Front. Wild Heart." that addresses the difference between "fitting in" and "belonging." 


True belonging is the spiritual practice of believing in and belonging to yourself so deeply that you can share your most authentic self with the world and find sacredness in both being a part of something and standing alone in the wilderness. True belonging doesn't require you to change who you are; it requires you to be who you are.


There are plenty of new books that speak to your inner self, or rather help your work self cohabitate with your inner self to face the multitudinous demands of a modern world. The demands of the job often require us to "fake it 'til you make it" when we are pushed out of, or even volunteer to leave, our comfort zone. In The Four Tendencies: The Indispensable Personality Profiles That Reveal How to make Your Life Better (and Other People's Lives Better, Too) which also comes out 9/12, Gretchen Rubin expands on a popular theory she first introduced in Better Than Before. When a person is confronted with expectations, how does he or she respond? One of four ways, Rubin says, as an Upholder, an Obliger, a Rebel, or a Questioner. As with all of her books, Rubin is interested in how we can build a better life. This is "self-help" at it's best.


It's practically impossible to change our own nature, but it's fairly easy to change our circumstances in a way that suits our Tendency—whether by striving for more clarity, justification, accountability, or freedom. Insight about our Tendency allows us to create the situations in which we'll thrive.


Another way we tend to identify ourselves is as extroverts, introverts, or ambiverts. Susan Cain, in her phenomenal book, Quiet, empowered introverts world-wide, calling for our culture to be less extrovert-biased. Morra Aarons-Mele, author of Hiding in the Bathroom: An Introvert's Roadmap to Getting Out There When You'd Rather Stay Home (being released by Dey Street Books later this month), considers herself not only an introvert but also a "hermit." If that sounds like you, how do you compete with your fellow strivers who prefer to be out and about, front and center, hustling and bustling? You don't. You create your own version of success. If you want to be an entrepreneur AND a hermit, Aarons-Mele says you can, but you'll need to align your vision with your identity—and she offers very practical ways to achieve that symbiosis.


A vision is your core set of principles, aligning your work to the reasons you live your life the way you do. Vision means executing, growing, and managing your own definition of success. It means imagining a work life you really want. Yes, purpose equals power—but if your purpose isn't right for you, the power will not come. Consider a vision that gives you room to be happy and imperfect.


Another Dey Street book, Rabbit: The Autobiography of Ms. Pat by Patricia Williams, deserves a mention here. We're big believers that narratives and biographies can sometimes communicate lessons more effectively than workbooks or personality quizzes. Everyone learns a little bit differently, but inspiration often comes from the success stories of others. And comedian, actress, writer, and media personality Patricia Williams' story is one of extremes. A mother of two by age fifteen and selling drugs as a certain kind of "entrepreneur," Williams' story will remind readers that words like "grit" or "goals" or "gumption" or "growth" are just words until you take action and make change. Her reinvention started when she was 23, supporting 6 children, and earning money stocking shelves at Target. Then cashiering at Walmart. Then a stint at McDonalds. Then some time on the assembly line at GM. Nothing romantic in that effort, until...she wrote her name down on a piece of paper for an open mic comedy show.


Only somebody who's never hustled before would think you can go from slinging crack to becoming a law-abiding citizen overnight. But that's not how turning your life around works. It's a process. It takes time. Especially if you're going from making easy money to minimum wage.


Ellen Pao tells her eagerly anticipated story in Reset: My Fight for Inclusion and Lasting Change, making its way onto shelves 9/19. On one hand, Reset is Pao's autobiography. Where Williams roots her life story in neighborhoods, in houses, with family, Pao's takes place in schools, in offices, and courtrooms. Primarily, it takes place in Silicon Valley. She presents readers with episodes of sexism and gender bias that were prevalent in every workplace, and accrued over time. Here Pao, a woman with a massive vitae, is able to go toe to toe with the men of Silicon Valley but not allowed to. She committed so much of her work to improving the culture—both the makers and what they made—and her discrimination lawsuit against a huge VC firm was yet another push to make change. She may have lost her suit, but she gained a position from which she can continue to influence how our tech culture attends to diversity.


Taking your seat at the table doesn't work so well, I thought, when no one wants you there and when you are so vastly outnumbered. I kept trying to take my place, but it often went that other way. Other times you might not be in the right room or even the right building to get a seat at the table. And sometimes when you got that seat, the conversation was just gross.


Another woman taking on tech—more particularly bias and harm programmed into technology—is Sara Wachter-Boettcher. Her new book, Technically Wrong: Sexist Apps, Biased Algorithms, and Other Threats of Toxic Tech, will be published by W.W. Norton in early October and is a fascinating intersection of so many topics enjoyed by business readers: social science, diversity, in the workplace, design, and the tech industry. The end result is a demystification of the process of bringing products to market, and the imperfection of both the builders and the users of those things. This is an important book, as we call for popular apps like Twitter and Reddit to moderate the hate rampant among faceless users, and I hope it gets the attention it deserves.


That's why it matters so much that marginalized groups are validated within our interfaces. Because if technology has the power to connect the world, as technologists so often proclaim, then it also has the power to make the world a more inclusive place, simply by building interfaces that reflect all its users.


Earlier this summer, I missed the second publishing of Girl Code: Unlocking the Secrets to Success, Sanity, and Happiness for the Female Entrepreneur by Cara Alwill Leyba, but it's a great book to include in our Fall Favorites by and for Feminists. I say this because I opened this list with The Power of Onlyness: Make Your Wild Ideas Mighty Enough to Dent the World and emphasized how learning to find value in one's onlyness is a way toward better connections with others, and being able to galvanize behind great ideas. And Girl Code is, in many ways, exemplar of that approach. Leyba is all about the power of singularly talented women uniting in support of other such women: 


Connection is an integral part of success as a female entrepreneur. Women are better together—plain and simple. There is no reason to walk this path alone. When you learn to embrace the power of connection, to share information, and to genuinely help someone else, you open yourself up to a world of opportunity and fulfillment…


What I like so much about Carrie Kerpen's upcoming book, Work It: Secrets for Success From the Boldest Women in Business (you'll have to wait until 1/18 to get your hands on a finished paperback copy) is its deliberate accessibility. The jacket copy claims Work It will speak to those of you who aren't feeling the #Girlboss or "lean in" or "badass" bause personas that so many books tout currently. Still, the "secrets" that make up the book still originate from some of the most successful or powerful women in business, including Kerpen herself. In a chapter called "Say Yes to the Mess," Kerpen tells stories about some big opportunities that came only from saying yes—leading to both success and failure:


I was certain I would get business from that trip. When I didn't, I felt like a huge failure. But not every yes is going to be a fairy tale, and you have to be prepared to take the good with the bad. The point is, it's worth it to say yes to the mess. In the end, your yeses will always sort themselves out. … You never know who's in a room, so don't be afraid to say yes to things, opportunities can be found in the strangest places.


The folks at Hachette Book Group are doing great work with their Seal Press and Da Capo Press/Lifelong Books imprints, and three upcoming books for the fall deserve your attention. 

First, Jen Welter's book Play Big is the perfect October read if, for you, fall and football are synonymous with the end of summer. Welter is the first woman to coach in the NFL—for the Arizona Cardinals. A football player herself, a spot on a women's football team earned her first paycheck of $12! But this isn't just a sports story. Welter does an excellent job of aligning her experiences, advice, and knowledge with those of women working in different industries. Here's an example of how a football team can exemplify the kind of diversity all teams can benefit from:


If all the players on a team were built the same way and had the same talents, we would get killed. Football just doesn't work if all eleven people are identical, or if the coaches treat every player alike. The best coaches see what individual players need, then make sometimes subtle and sometimes major adjustments to give it to them. … That's the beauty of football—there's room for all sorts of skills and perspectives. … Is it so different in your industry?


With context similar to Pao's, pioneering Silicon Valley entrepreneur Magdalena Yesil—the first investor and a founding board member of Salesforce, and founder of Broadway Angels—offers us a practical success manual in Power Up: How Smart Women Win in the New Economy. While the book spans many topics relevant to the modern demands on business women, one of it's best features is that it assumes success (i.e., it doesn't carry a defensive or apologetic tone that some similar books do, as though women must still respond to the rules made by men rather than writing their own rules). I particularly found her chapter "Power UP the Organization" enlightening, especially with relation to Pao's message. It's all about the good you will do when you obtain the power to do it.


It's never too early to start thinking about how you'll use the authority you'll inevitably earn over the course of your career to help others power UP. In fact, even before you have official authority, I guarantee you can find opportunities to make your corner of the new economy more inclusive and supportive not just of women but of talented people from any background, religion, race, or sexual orientation. An act as simple as suggesting your company's job postings be shared widely enough to net a diverse pool of applicants can make a difference.


Claudia Chan's choice of title, This is How We Rise: Reach Your Highest Potential, Empower Women, Lead Change in the World, brings to mind the Maya Angelou poem, Still I Rise. And it is clear that as a social entrepreneur and CEO of S.H.E. Globl Media Inc., empowering women is her calling. This book is inspirational and aspirational, and the messaging would fit well with Oprah Winfrey's SuperSoul Sessions. Mindfulness, purpose, visualization, becoming—if you like to dig deep and do the internal self-work that changes you, this is your book. But be assured that there is plenty of practical "homework" and mentoring on offer, too.


Your purpose requires execution, otherwise it's pointless. Vision provides the working structure for you to execute your purpose. Executing vision is not only one of the most creative pursuits in life but also one of the most exhilarating … Deciding to act on your vision is like raising your hand to the universe and saying, "I accept my life's assignment."


I'm going to end this list of fall feminist books with Sarah Lacy's A Uterus is a Feature, Not a Bug: The Working Woman's Guide to Overthrowing the Patriarchy, set to arrive from Harper Business in November. I'm bookending this piece with Lacy because she is the author whose tweet I referenced above. She of the celebration of "amazing badass feminist books" that got me thinking about what we are saying when we say a business book IS feminist. It's the tweet that got me thinking about Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and her call for each of us to take responsibility for changing culture. And that's what all of these women business writers, and I hope our company, are doing here: sharing information and making connections to accelerate change in our culture because it is all of our responsibility to do so.

Sarah Lacy is a journalist and entrepreneur who founded the investigative tech news site,, and launched What is perhaps the most refreshing aspect of Lacy's book and her career is her bold embrace of working motherhood. (Hence the uterus reference in the title, a word choice that does the right work to call on working moms as well as all female professionals.) Lacy's voice is fresh, bold, and very readable. If you are a working mother, or plan to be one, reading this book is like strapping a jetpack on your ambitions: yes, you can intertwine your twin selves—mother, striver—unapologetically. (I'm tempted to insert an image of Rosie the Riveter here.)


All I am asking is that you try, not comply. Every day we can identify one small thing to do to overthrow the patriarchy. It might be stopping a woman on the street and telling her the opposite of all the bullshit she's likely heard that day. It might be choosing to support a woman-owned business. It might be standing up for a female coworker who is getting the shit kicked out of her. It might be biting your tongue when you call your daughter "Princess." (I've been substituting "President" lately.)


With that, I'll close this very long recommendation list, but not before asking you feminists (by which I mean "everyone") to buy these books by these women authors and tell everyone you know about them. When you do, it can be your "one small thing to overthrow the patriarchy" for the day which will work to change everyone's day for the better.














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