Book Review – Be Gender Smart by Inge Woudstra

Be gender smart

Be Gender Smart brings together a lot of information in one place in a very readable format, with practical advice.  Regular readers will know I only review a book if I think it will helpful to you. This is a very helpful book to women at work everywhere.

I know quite a lot about the research on gender and my shelves are stacked with books on the topic. What made Inge’s stand out for me is that she has collected much of that research together in a very helpful way. I know her sources are impeccable as I’ve either quoted or interviewed them on these pages. For example, she cites the work of Avivah Wittenberg-Cox, of Dr Judith Baxter, and of the woman who holds the distinction of getting the Bank of England to change its mind, Caroline Criado-Perez. She references everything and the bibliography would make a great reading list for any student of gender. That authenticity and academic rigour is important as there is a lot of un-validated work on the topic of telling women what to do (those are the books I never review!)

I also love it when a writer makes me think about something in a different way. Inge did that with her chapter on women and security, and being nice. She talks about the research on fight/flight which shows women do not respond as men do when under stress. (Taylor 2000, and I’ve blogged on it too) Here’s a quote:

Nice or Victim

Women do sometimes choose the fight flight strategy; however, they have a preference for a different approach. ….. When under stress, women will start building relationships, connect with someone, or focus on looking after others.Women’s strategy is all about talking and cooperation. Even evolution scientists now recognise that next to the well known ‘survival of the fittest’ principle, ‘co-operation’ is a second principle of survival of the species and is a strategy preferred by females.

I know about that research and have done for some time. I’ve talked on it and written about it, but reading Inge’s book I suddenly realised with clarity that I do it a lot myself and the effect it could be having on what I do! I knew it at an academic level but it made it real for me at a personal level. (Is that a reason why I don’t write about books I don’t think are any good..?)


I think my ‘Damascene moment’ might have something to do with how Inge has laid out the book. She begins each chapter by explaining the theory and using examples, (and cartoons.) She then poses some questions/reflections of her reader, and finally summarises with what she calls Reflection, and The Key Takeaways.

Here a couple of her reflection questions for the chapter on Finding Security:

  • Have you used the victim role in the past? And if so, how did it bring benefit or hinder you?
  • How does your response under stress bring value to your team and your organisation?
  • Have you got a peer network inside and outside the organisation? If so, what is it giving you?

These are some of the key takeaways:

  • Women’s way of finding security in friendships comes with a demeanour that can help build rapport and relieve tension in difficult meetings, such as with unions, suppliers, or clients
  • Men’s ‘solve’ strategy ensures issues are voiced and differences sorted. It leads to clarity
  • Watch out for your victim behaviour. It’s helpful at the start of your career, but after that you will need to keep it in check
  • Men need to encourage women to solve their own problems
  • Women need to give men escape routes so they do not lose face

This book manages to occupy the middle ground between self help book and academic tome. It is reliable and well researched and it helps you! If you are interested in developing your career, or simply interested in what makes us different, then I recommend it to you.

You can find out more about Inge and her book here.

Speak Up is my audio course for women who want to get ahead. Click here for more details.

Posted on October 6th, 2015 by

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