Impactful Book Recommendations for All Women in Business

Women’s History Month may have wrapped up in March, but that doesn’t mean learning about inspiring women and their influence on society needs to end. At Whitman’s Women History Month Panel Discussion, which discussed closing the gender gap for women in management roles and STEM-related industries, panelists referenced multiple books that personally impacted them and challenged their views of society.

Whether you’re looking to learn something new, be inspired or simply get lost in a good book, here are some reads, panelist-approved, that are sure to change the way you think.

Becoming by Michelle Obama (2018)

Michelle Obama’s best-selling memoir follows her life from Chicago’s South Side to the White House, navigating her struggles and triumphs as a mom, an executive and as the First Lady of the United States. Panelist and Whitman Professor Fatma Sonmez-Leopold was especially struck by the part of the memoir where Obama discusses balancing work and motherhood. Obama makes the point that it’s important to accept that you can’t be good at everything all the time — to achieve something at work, you might have to sacrifice being the perfect mother, and vice versa. “I think the most important part is that you should just stop beating yourself,” Sonmez-Leopold says. “You have to really realize that living life is to enjoy every minute.”

Presence by Amy Cuddy (2015)

Panel moderator and Whitman senior Jamie Vinick ended the discussion by quoting a line from Presence: “Fake it till you become it.” It’s a saying social psychologist Amy Cuddy uses when she discusses overcoming imposter syndrome. Her book also emphasizes the importance of authenticity, of taking control of your mind through your actions and how to clear your head and make the most of every moment. Cuddy is also well-known for her TED talk, a precursor to the book and the second most-watched talk in history, which highlights one of her main principles: “Our bodies change our minds, and our minds change our behavior, and our behavior changes our outcomes.”

The Coddling of the American Mind by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt (2018)

This book is an expansion off of an article that the two authors wrote for The Atlantic in 2015. It discusses the “culture of safetyism,” a term the authors coined to describe a few trends they noticed among college students — intolerance of opposing viewpoints, a false sense that “what doesn’t kill you makes you weaker” and that life is simply a battle of good versus evil — all resulting in young adults not being strong-minded enough to navigate the challenges and struggles of life. It’s a book Sonmez-Leopold recommends to her students. Resilience, a theme that the authors discuss at length, is something that Sonmez-Leopold feels her culture instilled in her, and is something she’s working to teach her young daughter.

White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo (2018)

DiAngelo’s book emphasizes how white fragility prevents important cross-racial dialogue and actually protects racial inequality. Special advisor to the Chancellor Michele Wheatly referenced it when discussing implicit biases and their impacts both in educational and professional institutions. Education, including reading and hosting trainings and workshops, is one of the strongest ways to combat such systematic societal issues, Wheatly says. “It’s all about education, and that’s why I have so much faith in the next generation, because I think as generations elapse, we will make change. But I think it has been painfully slow.”

The Confidence Code by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman (2014)

Kay and Shipman are no strangers to writing books about women empowerment, and this one serves as a guide, for women in all stages of their careers, on how to understand and achieve confidence. The two authors argue that the key reason men still dominate leadership roles in the workplace, despite women being more educated and qualified than ever, is because of confidence. Panelist and College of Engineering professor Shobha Bhathia mentioned this book when sharing that unconscious bias is something that everyone faces, regardless of gender. She added that reading books such as this one can act as reminders that we all have the power to do something about it. “Remembering a few things that all of us can practice can make a difference,” Bhatia says.

What books would you recommend for women? Share your favorites in the comments!

Sandhya Iyer