That’s What She Said

What Men Need To Know (And Women Need To Tell Them) about Working Together

Joanne Lipman

Harper Collins, New York, 2018


Reviewed by L. Calhoun, MD


On the front of this book is the quote: “ATTENTION, GOOD GUYS: This book is for you. It is a rare guide on championing gender equality that you’ll actually enjoy reading and it is full of strategies for improving your workplace,” Adam Grant, New York Times.


I am not male, so can’t vouch for the veracity of this claim, and I can say that, throughout the book, Lipman avoids man-shaming and helps women empathize with the mental model of men who are sensitive to women’s struggle for equality.


Lipman has one overarching message that is echoed throughout her book: if the world of work is going to get to gender equality, men need to help. And women need to invite them in, educate them about the problem and how the world of work improves when women are treated  as equals.  Top


This suggestion may be anathema to the usual feminist viewpoint: that only women working together can solve the gender equality problem. However women have been trying to fight the patriarchy solo for a long time and have not been successful. Recall the definition of insanity: when you keep doing the same thing over and over again and expect a different result. We need to try a different strategy.


In her introduction, Lipman points out that many men already see women as equals and want to speak up or act on women’s behalf, and yet men feel intimidated and terrified of saying the wrong thing. She quotes Wharton psychology professor, Adam Grant, who has written about women’s issues saying that he is berated by readers, asking what right he has writing about women. “Men are baffled, uncertain, they feel awkward, and it all rolls up into steering clear of particular topics or of women altogether” (page xv). Top


Lipman makes an excellent point: if women aren’t educating men about how they can help and men are too afraid to speak up then it is no wonder that the topic is avoided. How can we make change if we can’t even talk about the issue?


Lipman uses stories and annotated research as she digs into and elucidates what men need to know about women’s experiences. There is no male castigation and no victim blaming. She manages to set out many of the common areas where women are treated unequally and provides data on how often this happens and what may be underlying the behaviour.  Top


Lipman starts out with a chapter called “The secret lives of women (a primer for men),” in which she uses story and research in an easy-to-read chapter that details all the things that women do to try and fit into “a culture that is not quite our own.” For example, how we work hard to be nice and not too aggressive so as not to raise the ire of men, how we attribute our success to luck instead of our grit and intelligence, and how we keep silent when our good ideas are attributed to a man.


The second chapter, “She’ll make you more successful,” provides the foundation for answering the question “What is in it for me?” that men may ask when thinking about allying with women in the fight for gender equality. Lipman provides numerous evidence-based answers in an easily read and understood narrative.


The subsequent four chapters are the meat of the book. Lipman reviews much of what has already been written and is known about bias, double standards, and how women’s self-perceptions get in their own way. The titles are catchy. “We’re all a little bit sexist” explores unconscious bias and its various ramifications. “The twelve most terrifying words in the English language” reveals what we are learning about the evidence behind diversity training, which is not positive. And that we can’t always trust our own internal narrative to be true. In “She’s pretty sure you don’t respect her,” the classic double standard is explored: men are respected even when they have not proved their competence, whereas women need to prove their competence repeatedly before respect is even a possibility. In “She deserves a raise. But she won’t ask you for it,” Lipman details what is known about women’s self-perceptions, as well as the assumptions male managers make about their female employees. Top


The final four chapters shine a light on actions taken in some sectors of society. “Blind auditions: solving for bias, emotion and other stuff you can’t control” walks through how the music industry dealt with gender bias by holding blind auditions and the resulting improvement in the gender mix of orchestras in much of the world.

“Invisible women: the world’s greatest untapped resource” deals with women who have left the workforce to raise children and the difficulty they have coming back to work. Lipman claims that the GDP of the United States could be greatly enhanced should these women be properly employed.


In “The next generation: the Harvard experiment,” we get a detailed look at an attempt at creating gender neutrality at Harvard and the resulting outcomes.


The last chapter, “The best place in the world to be a woman?” explores what happened in Iceland after the banks crashed in 2008. A fascinating story that Lipman tells from the outside in as well as from the inside out.


Lipman has left out talking about intersectionality for the most part, in that she assumes whiteness and cis gender. As a white cis-gendered woman, I don’t have the viewpoint needed to identify more specific areas where Lipman may have been too narrow in her research.


I highly recommend this book for leaders. Women will find it validating and useful to understand why the topic seems so fraught. Men will be enlightened on the issues and emboldened to speak up.



Laura L. Calhoun MD, FRCPC, MAL(H), CEC, practises psychiatry and has a role as a physician leader in Alberta Health Services.


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