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2018 Book Reviews #2

Not Just Lucky reviewed by Heather Smith

Not Just lucky by Jamila Rizvi

Why do women work hard and then put their career successes down to luck? Jamila Rizvi sets out to do more than expose the workplace gender inequities that exist, she also hopes to offer useful strategies for women.

This is inevitably a tricky task. Not only do women come to the workplace with a spectrum of personalities and differing strategies, we are also from a range of generations. The early part of this book emphasises the socialisation that dictates so many of womens’ differences from men. While Rizvi doesn’t mention generational differences, she is refreshingly young but has been in the workplace long enough to be jaded. Even with the advantages of a 90’s upbringing that promised less differences between men and women’s opportunities, Rizvi has experienced the ways that the workforce pulls women back into line. Because socialisation, while dramatic during our formative years, is an ongoing process and in the workforce it continues to reinforce the dominant position enjoyed by men and the socialisation that men have enjoyed.

Rizvi does an admirable job of this tricky task. She explains the necessary generalisations up front, acknowledges that men may experience many of the issues she raises and cautions that she can’t speak for the compounded issues faced by women minorities. She doesn’t shy away from intersectionality though and fulfills the important job of pointing out additional challenges women of colour and women with disabilities may face throughout the book.

One of the first things we need to rediscover is our confidence. Rizvi highlights that the modus operandi for being a top student at school does not apply in the workplace. The unconscious bias, the rewards to competitiveness and those who big-note themselves, adjust the playing field in men’s favour. Simply delivering good work and hoping to be rewarded does not cut it. And for girls that have thrived in the school environment, this can batter their confidence, being thrust into a game they are ill-equipped to play.

So we find out what confidence sounds like. We can’t help the unconscious bias that privileges men’s deep voices and sets different standards for men and women in the extent they are allowed to dominate the conversation. But there are a bunch of practical steps we can take to speak confidently, hold our space and create an assertive meeting style.

We learn what confidence looks like. For a start, step outside of society’s expectations and understand the clothes that are going to make you feel comfortable and confident in.

And we learn what confidence feels like – with a shout out for the value of vulnerability and a call for workplaces where feelings can be useful. After all no one feels confident if they know they are faking it all the time.

The book continues to cover the challenges that everyone faces in the workplace, but are especially acute for women and the way we have been socialised. And it keeps its promise of offering practical steps for dealing with each challenge. It is definitely worth a read for women at the start of their career, or those who don’t yet believe in themselves. Even some of us who feel set in our ways might like to reflect on the little things that can bring us more personal power. It’s the many small strategies and the eyes wide open to bias that might give us future generations who can admire their success as a product of their talents and hard work instead of ever suggesting they were ‘just lucky’.

This review was submitted by Heather Smith and first appeared on her blog. Heather is a Churchill Fellow, electrical engineer, policy and strategy adviser with a strong technical background in the environment, energy and climate change. Check out her work and interests on her Changing Weather website.

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