As Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead” continues its long run on the bestseller lists (currently number one among local bestsellers), we wondered whether it had any real competition, either historical or upcoming. Did any other books about women and work make such a stir, or garner such sales?
Books aimed at women in business in the pre-feminist era mostly consisted of practical secretarial manuals or etiquette guides such as Elizabeth Gregg MacGibbon’s 1944 “Manners in Business,” in which the author advises that “Posture plays its silent part in every employment interview.”
Although second-wave feminism of the 1970s sparked a publishing tsunami, few of those books focused exclusively or even explicitly on issues of work. Magazines like “Ms.” offered support and guidance for women at work, while “Working Woman,” founded in 1976, coincided with an era of power suits worn with commuter-friendly sneakers, and quietly folded in 2001.
Although nowadays Sandberg’s book reigns supreme — atop most of the lists compiled by websites that compile such lists — it isn’t alone, and it wasn’t the first. Lois P. Frankel’s “Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office: 101 Unconscious Mistakes Women Make,” published in 2004, appears on most of the lists, too, as does Gail Evans’s “Play Like a Man, Win Like a Woman: What Men Know About Success That Women Need to Learn,” published in 2000. It’s worth noting that, although both books sport subtitles some women may find a little cringeworthy, neither mentions posture.
Still, advice books for women in business are booming right now. Amazon lists nearly 60 in the last three months alone, although to be fair, many of these are different editions of “Lean In,” including the Spanish language version, much more charmingly titled “Vayamos adelante,” or “let’s go ahead.” Another is “Leaning In: Women, Work, and Why Women Shouldn’t Work,” a self-published e-book with no reviews as of yet.
Looking forward, we can expect to see a few more serious contenders to knock Sandberg’s title off the lists: there will be sociological treatises on women at work, journalistic explorations of how working mothers juggle their busy lifestyles, and bare-knuckled advice for beating men at what they think is their own game. The real question is, are businesswomen expected to read all the non-gender-specific business advice books, too? Talk about doing — oops, “having” — it all.
Kate Tuttle, a writer and writer, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org