Machiavelli For Women | Stacey Vanek Smith

Summary of: Machiavelli For Women: Defend Your Worth, Grow Your Ambition, and Win the Workplace
By: Stacey Vanek Smith


In the book summary of ‘Machiavelli For Women: Defend Your Worth, Grow Your Ambition, and Win the Workplace’, author Stacey Vanek Smith takes a close look at the challenges and biases faced by working women. Drawing inspiration from Machiavelli’s teachings, Smith explores the workplace dynamics that often hinder women’s professional progress, and offers practical advice on how to navigate and negotiate these obstacles. Key topics covered in this summary include the negative scenarios women can encounter, the importance of salary negotiation, building confidence, securing mentorship, and handling different types of work adversaries.

Machiavelli’s View on Power and Women in the Workplace

Machiavelli’s philosophy on acquiring and maintaining power can be applied to the workplace by dividing workers into two categories: white men who inherit power versus working women who have to conquer their positions. The latter often face negativity and bias, like the Cinderella Syndrome and the Career Hotbox. Women are expected to be kind, helpful, and accommodating, but leaders are expected to be aggressive and ambitious, making it hard for women to excel. Machiavelli’s philosophy suggests that struggling can make women stronger in the end.

In his book, Machiavelli divides those who acquire power into two groups: those who inherit it, and those who conquer. The former group, especially white men with college degrees, have an easier time maintaining their power and are often well-liked by their subordinates. On the other hand, working women must fight to acquire and keep their positions. They are seen as “conquering princes” and are often met with skepticism from their subordinates who doubt their abilities.

The negative scenarios women face are referred to as the “Cinderella Syndrome” and the “Career Hotbox.” In the Cinderella Syndrome, women are promised the chance to advance if they complete impossible lists of tasks, only to find that their efforts are in vain. Men, on the other hand, are given promotions based on their potential. In the Career Hotbox, societal expectations that women should be kind and helpful clash with the ambitious and aggressive attitude required of leaders. Women who try to balance these expectations are often viewed negatively and systematically underpaid or given low-profile work. This is especially true for women of color and LGBTQ+ individuals, who must also work against racism and discrimination.

Machiavelli’s philosophy suggests that struggling can make one stronger in the end. Despite the challenges they face, women in the workplace can come out on top by persevering and working hard to prove their abilities.

Equal Pay for Women

Companies that pay women less are valuing them less. Women are less likely to negotiate salaries than men because they are taught to avoid conflict. As a result, women face a penalty for asking for what they want. However, women can learn to negotiate effectively by asking for more while being collaborative, listing benefits they want, and being positive about their work. This will strike the right note of congeniality with leaders and show them how complying with their requests aligns with their goals.

Confidence and Gender Gap

Men tend to be twice as confident as women according to studies. Despite being less competent, men pay themselves at a 63% higher rate than women. Additionally, they nominate themselves for jobs that they are only 60% qualified for while women wait to be 100% qualified. Paralyzing perfectionism often undermines women’s careers because inaction stemming from a lack of confidence sabotages progress. Start by chipping away at easier tasks first and prepare for pushback as you become more confident. To negotiate salaries, ask for small things first and set higher targets.

Overcoming Gender Imbalance and Harassment in the Workplace

Men tend to interrupt and dismiss ideas brought up by women in mixed-gender settings. Women interrupt other women more than men. To solve this problem, women in the Obama White House would restate and praise ideas brought up by other women to ensure they were heard. Sexual harassment is a power play to undermine women and erode their confidence. LGBTQ+ employees also face constant jokes and sexual innuendos. Harassment targets should keep a record and make the harasser think twice. Witnesses should speak out against bad behavior and not normalize it. Defending inclusive practices is everyone’s responsibility.

Mentorship and Gender Bias

A study showed that male faculty members prefer to mentor John over Jennifer even when the resumes are identical, which limits women’s opportunities. Having mentors can lead to more promotions, higher pay and job satisfaction. Mentors often choose those who remind them of their earlier selves. To tackle this issue, women should actively seek mentors and keep all mentoring conversations professional. Additionally, it is essential to form a network of allies, both senior and junior, as it increases the chances of success.

Gender Bias in Job Evaluations

Gender bias is still rife in job evaluations, particularly when it comes to personality. Managers mention personality in 75% of women’s reviews compared to just 2% of men’s. If you’re a woman seeking feedback from your employer, it’s essential to listen carefully to all comments, even if they’re irrelevant or offensive, as they reflect how your organization regards you. While it’s important to pay your dues, avoid being stuck with office housework as it won’t help you progress in your career. Set up a job rotation and be bad at jobs you don’t want to do.

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