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The Fix: Overcome the Invisible Barriers That Are Holding Women Back at Work
The first book I read this month was The Fix: Overcome the Invisible Barriers That Are Holding Women Back at Work by Michelle P King. The company I work for created reading groups and offered to pay people for extended hours to read this book as an optional diversity and inclusion training, so I admit that the reading was financially incentivized. Nevertheless I do think the book was a worthwhile read.
King, who has a masters degree in psychology, a post graduate diploma in journalism, an MBA, and is pursuing a PhD in the field of organization and gender, has worked for diversity and inclusion and women's equality in the workplace internationally, leading the UN Women's Global Innovation Coalition for Change and working for Netflix as the Director of Inclusion. She has spoken at TEDx and countless high profile organizations, been published in Forbes, Harvard Business Review, and TIME magazine, and is the host of a weekly podcast, The Fix with Michelle King. In short, the author has no shortage of credentials.
Before discussing the content of the book, it is worth noting that it is somewhat...long winded. Honestly, if I may be critical for a second, it’s easily twice as long as it needs to be. It’s full of case studies which, while not wholly uninteresting, don’t really add anything to the overarching narrative. Don’t get me wrong, there is good content in the book, it just could have been written more succinctly.
A second complaint that I had about the book was that while the premise was broadly that stereotypes are holding back women in the workplace, it also relied heavily on gender stereotypes and traditional gender roles for a number of arguments. This doesn’t seem like large enough an issue to discredit the book or make it difficult to read, but I did find it odd. I’ll use some gender-stereotypical language in this post as I describe the contents of the book, but please understand that this is coming from the author.
It’s no secret that workplaces were designed by men for men in an era when it was assumed that men would work and women would be homemakers. The premise of this book is first, that this is the primary cause of workplace gender inequality, second, that the solution is fixing workplaces not women, and third, that men also stand to gain from this fix of workplaces.
Here’s the thing: large portions of the workforce weren’t really designed for people. The ideal worker is always available, ready to work whatever hours needed. They don’t need to leave early to pick the kids up from school or take a day off because a family member is sick. They don’t ask to work from home. They don’t take too much vacation. Their car never breaks down. They don’t need to take calls from the school or the babysitter. They don’t take time off to have children. They do all their housework on the weekend. They don’t bring their home like to the office. They leave the excitement or worry of home at home. They don’t sound very human, do they?
The best fit for this workplace is probably a robot, but of the human options, as it happens, straight white males are most suited for this. And this type of person does exist, apparently, several people mentioned identifying with this ideal worker model. But the fact is that for me, as a straight white male, this standard doesn’t work. If this is the standard, I’ll never be a perfect worker.
For women in the workplace there’s another layer on this, because are often expected to behave in a feminine manner, while at the same time being expected to fit in to a success prototype modeled after men. King writes that women’s career coaching often advises them to try to change their behaviors in order to fit the model of a perfect worker, but when women do this they run the risk of being seen as less feminine, drawing judgement. On the other hand if they act more feminine, they draw judgement for not seeming dedicated enough to their career or otherwise unfit for the workforce. Thus, she argues, the solution to gender inequality in the workplace is not fixing women, but rather it is fixing workplaces. Furthermore, fixing workplaces to work for women will also make them better for men.
There are studies showing that more diverse workplaces, as well as happier workplaces, have greater productivity and innovation, but unfortunately King did not cite any such studies (I can’t say whether they were available at the time of writing), so while it was clear how this change benefits employees, it was not stated how the change would benefit workplaces which left them with no real motivation to improve other than the goodness of their hearts.
Lots of people, men and women, don’t feel like they can be themself at work. They feel pressure to dress and act a certain way, leave their problems at the door, not laugh to little and be seen as cold but not laugh too much and be seen as lazy, and so on. Women are stereotypically less likely to fit the workplace, and often face the added pressure of maintaining the house and caring for children, thanks to traditional gender roles. The solution to gender inequality, as well as workplace morale in general, is to make a workplace where everyone feels they can be themselves, where everyone is promoted based on the quality of their work, and which allows people to adjust their schedule to fit their personal life without any repercussions.
As a lower level employee, regardless of gender, I suppose this is liberating in some way. If you’re a woman struggling to advance in your company, or to get hired in the first place, the problem isn’t you. You are an excellent worker and any team should consider themselves lucky to have you. If you’re a man wondering how you can help fix gender inequality, as long as you’re not perpetuating it, calling it out when you see it, and doing your best to make women on the team feel included, there’s probably not tons more you can do. In a way, though, it almost felt discouraging as well. I guess I wanted something more practical that could be done on an individual level, and was simply told, “Companies are designed wrong and need changed.”
Despite my complaints about the writing, this book was informative and a thought provoking look at how corporations could be improved to better serve their employees. If you’re interested, check out the book here.
Landscape Composition 1
The second book I read was Landscape Composition 1 by Mads Peters Iverson. Iverson is an award winning landscape photographer and YouTuber from Denmark with a stunning portfolio. While writing this I also learned that he has a masters degree in educational philosophy, which shows through in the way he wrote this book and how he crafts his videos. Sometimes it’s said that doers aren’t teachers, but in this case he literally is.
At 115 pages containing more pictures than words, perhaps “read” is too strong a term. But, after reading The Fix I wanted to pick up something a little lighter, and since I’m beginning to get into landscape photography more seriously this seemed like a good choice. This book covers subjects such as balance, symmetry, and negative space, with many large example photos, often marked up, and simple paragraphs explaining the technique. In a completely untechnical way, Iverson shows first class landscape photos and explains why they work, arming the reader in turn with knowledge and inspiration to select scenes and create photographs that stand out from snapshots.
This book was a very quick and easy read, I read most of it in a single afternoon, but it doesn’t seem like the sort of book I’ll want to only read once. Rather I expect that I’ll reread this periodically to maintain a continued understanding of what makes a good photo. I’ll also almost certainly buy the his second volume in the near future.
There’s nothing in the book you don’t need to know; no personal anecdotes or other narration. Just enough text to explain the composition. The book also doesn’t cover the camera settings used for the picture or get in to optics such as aperture or focal length. It’s assumed that you know how to use your camera but need to know what to take pictures of.
If you want to understand landscape photography better, you can buy this book directly from the author!