Hardball For Women – Dr. Pat Heim & Susan K. Golton

I am a feminist and proudly so. Growing up in a female majority family (my Dad had to contend with my mum and two daughters) and having studied in a strongly feminist institute like Lady Shri Ram college played a big role in imbibing those values in me.

However, over the years I have realized that there are two kinds of feminism. While both kinds accept that there is agender disparity when it comes to most aspects of life, they deal with itdifferently. The first kind is a more macro level feminism which would rathertalk about the disparity and urge both genders to be treated fairly, mostlythrough discourse and reform. In my opinion, this type often sees men as theenemy choosing to paint the entire gender with the same broad brush. In myopinion, this type of feminism is more passive with acts more towards improvingreform rather than looking at anything to improve in women themselves because womenare anyway perfect.

The second kind of feminism is more at a micro level that accepts the situation as it is and chooses to work around it. They also try to look at it more objectively by acknowledging the progress that we have made so far and looking at positive steps that can be taken to enhance the parity between genders. In some ways, this brand of feminism also urges women to take up the mantle to upskill, rather than only depend on reform. I like to believe I fall more in the micro feminism category with my small steps like financial feminism. The book I read recently Hardball For Women, also falls squarely in this micro category of feminism.

What is Hardball for women?

It is a widely acknowledged fact that men progress more than women in the corporate world, the glass ceiling is for real. While some of it has to do with the career breaks that women often end up having to take, due to familial commitments, a lot of it has to do with the different languages that men and women seem to speak in the workplace.

As per the authors of the book, Dr. Pat Heim and Susan K. Golant, girls and boys are brought up under very different social conditioning. This conditioning continues through our lives and can lead to confounding situations. The authors especially talk about the different lessons girls learn while playing with their dolls and the varied conditioning that boys get while playing sports. While in the middle of this book, there was a cricket match that I was a part of where the tournament was differentiated between men and women. I watched from the sidelines for some time and I couldreally see how right the authors were with their insight. We women were moreintent that everyone should get to bowl and bat with some importance to who isgood. The men though seemed quite strategic about winning and no “feelings” were spared if someone did not do well.

Admittedly, the corporate world is still a man’s domain and this book is extremely helpful to help any woman navigate her way through it. The book is structured fantastically with each chapter starting with a list of lessons boys and girls learn in their childhood which then find their way into the particular chapter. At the end of the chapter are again listed the lessons to be taken from that chapter.

The book is peppered with anecdotes which make it quite an interesting read. While the entire book was insightful, I will not play spoilsport and just talk about two of the chapters that I found the most fascinating.

Power Talk

Men and women even while talking the same language, don’t really talk the same language. In this chapter, the authors give out 13 power talk strategies that men employ and women can adopt too. Below are my favorite five that I took from it:

Limit the context setting when discussing something

While the authors mention it as “rapport building”, the point that they are really making is the fact that a lot of women feel the need to put in lengthy contexts before coming to the point. My previous boss was known for doing that and even the direct bantering and teasing by everyone did nothing to reduce the length of her context setting. While she dealt with a fully female team and I could not really see any impact on her work, I see the merit of cutting through the chaff and coming to the point directly.

React assertively to bantering and tolerate physical humour

Personally, I think banter just works to make the work place more fun. In my books, reacting assertively implies teasing the colleague back. Generally, if you take yourself too seriously, the probability of taking the bantering to heart is also much higher.

As for physical humour, it is about knowingthat men and women talk differently. Yes, women might not talk like that but expecting men to completely act unlike them in our presence, I believe might be unfair. While I don’t engage in it, I often hear it going on in the background and choose to ignore it. The point is not about needing to participate but about not feeling the need to shut it down completely in your presence.

Ensure your position is not disregarded in an introduction

To me, this came as a surprise and quite insightful. The authors contend that when men and women are being introduced together, the position of a woman is often disregarded. So, when a panel of PhD.’s is introduced, it is possible that all men are called out respectfully as Dr. So and So whereas the woman is simply referred to by her first name.

It is important to not let anyone disregard your position, especially when being talked about in the third person. It might look like a small error but it sure can have huge rolling consequences.

Ensure your evaluation talks about work accomplishments rather than personal traits

I have had quite a few female bosses, so I have not been too much at the receiving end of this. However, with women, often the evaluation tends to be on the lines of stereotypically female traits like helping, nurturing and caring.

As women, you need to be on guard to notice such errors and rectify them to ensure accomplishments are what you are really evaluated on. How many men get evaluated on positive personality traits? If they did, we wouldn’t have so many bad managers.

Make positive assertions, even when uncertain

When you present your ideas, even if you are not very sure, put up a confident front and be assertive while presenting it. It does two things – one it will give much more confidence to the person on the other side and two it will take your confidence up a notch as well.

Power Moves

Our body language often communicates far more than even our spoken words. A lot of women put themselves on the back foot by some unconscious moves that can easily be rectified.

Do not smile when you feel vulnerable

I still remember a scene from the movie, “The Truth About Cats & Dogs” where the protagonist is auditioning for the job of a news anchor. While reading out the news of a tragedy, she kept smiling. When her friend asked, she simply said that she smiles when uncomfortable.

A lot of us probably do that without even noticing it. When you feel vulnerable or even attacked, be aware to notice if you are smiling. Make an effort to ensure that you are not. I now try to put up a stony face.

Watch for head tilting or nodding

I know I have the habit of tilting my head to a side and also intermittent nodding when listening to someone. That is my reaction to showing that I am registering what the person is saying.

However, as per body language head tilting and chin lowering conveys vulnerability which not be what you are going for at all. Similarly, while you might be nodding to say “I hear you”, putting forth a challenging view might be confusing for the other person as nodding conveys agreement.

Straight Posture

This is one thing my husband has helped me with. I was very slouchy with my shoulders and overall posture. However, around him, he always tells me to keep my spine straight and walk tall. It truly helps with overall confidence.

Even when in a conflict with a colleague, especially male, note your posture. Are you shrinking into a corner or are you coming out strongly and making your body even bigger to make it seem powerful?

Hand shakes

I am very particular with my hand shakes – firm grasp and 5 seconds. As the authors put it rightly enough, there are very rare situations when you could end up shaking hands when you should not have. However, there are many situations when an absence of shaking hands could be acorporate hot soup.

If need be, practice your handshake to ensure it conveys confidence and start putting out your hand at any instance you feel warrants it. I now ensure I start and end all my client meetings with a handshake. For instance, last evening at the conclusion of a client meeting, I stood up with my hand out to shake it with the client. I realized he was fiddling with his handkerchief and it was an awkward 5 seconds but I would still err on this side rather than not shaking when you should.

Inappropriate touch

In this era of #MeToo, I believe it becomeseven more pertinent for us to draw boundaries. Any touch that makes you uncomfortable, you are well within your rights to draw your boundaries politelyyet firmly. Also, remember not to paint all your male colleagues with the same brush.

When I joined this new role, my current boss, a true gentleman, told me in no uncertain terms that it’s a boy’s team and if I find anything amiss I need to bring it up to him immediately. If you look for them, even in this age the good men are out there to help corporate bean easier journey to traverse.

This book is a goldmine of gender-based insights and very actionable points that we can easily take. While I borrowed it from the American library, the good thing is it is easily available online in India. I would call it a must-read for any woman wanting to go up the corporate ladder and be successful at it.

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