Book Review: “That’s What She Said” by Joanne Lipman

The month of June was all about collaboration here at Women’s Leadership Today. I had no trouble picking a book that would click with our exploration this month. Joanne Lipman’s “That’s What She Said” fit the bill to a T!

“That’s What She Said: What men need to know (and what women need to tell them) about working together” is a fantastic read about the prevalence and common roadblocks to modern collaboration between men and women in the workplace. You may have heard that gender equality is better than ever in the workplace, that the pay gap is closing, and there is no need to continue the fight towards closing the gender gap. However, if you are a woman in the workplace today, you know for a fact that is just not true. Joanne Lipman recognized a trend through her research, travel, and personal experience: not only is the gender gap not getting better in the modern workplace, but it may be getting worse.

She set out to find out the reasons for this yawning gap in collaboration and communication between men and women, and some possible solutions – including some that have already proven to make a difference. What she found was that many “solutions” we were desperately trying to apply were counterproductive and made collaboration more difficult. For example, diversity training. I’m sure you’ve sat through a video or presentation about how important it is to recognize diversity in the workplace, promote equality, and speak out against inequality. It seems like training employees exactly how to accept one another would help the cause. But Joanne finds it only serves to make people (especially white men) feel guilty and defensive, and much less likely to both talk about and stand up against gender inequality.

And that’s a huge problem. Because at the end of the day, equality is a shared effort.

As women, we’ve grown up learning how to be “more like men” – that is, more confident and assertive, more willing to share our ideas, as well as more focused on our career above all else. It’s always been implied that this would help us get ahead in a “man’s world” (which many industries continue to be – Joanne has plenty of statistics prepared to back up this fact). But these techniques backfire without the support of those in power. In fact, it often hurts our cause. While assertive men are considered confident and competent, assertive women are often perceived (by both men and women) as cold or “bossy.” And the “Lean In” approach, with women supporting women, doesn’t work as well as we’d hoped for either.  Women-to-women mentorships have even proven to be less effective then men-to-men mentorships. This is ultimately due to a lack of leadership sponsorship, but also creates an issue of distraction from the work itself.  At the end of the day, women are left in the dust.

No, Joanne’s conclusion is this: We can’t close the gender gap unless we are both reaching across the divide. The struggle is getting men on board and as passionate about women’s issues as women are today.

I wish I could go through the book chapter by chapter, exploring all of its findings and ideas; however, instead, I’ll let you read for yourself. In my opinion, this book is a VITALLY important read if we want to make progress on closing the gender gap and promoting successful collaboration in the workplace. Not just for women, but especially for men. And don’t worry, Joanne knows how fruitless guilt trips are, she makes a point of making everyone – man and woman – feel empowered to help the cause through her writing.