Think at London Business School
Want to fulfil your potential as a woman in business? Here’s where to start
By Sophie Haydock
Who would have thought that on International Women’s Day 2021, women and men around the world would again be in lockdown? During the pandemic we’ve seen women who lead countries praised for their handling of the crisis, possibly better than their male counterparts though the jury’s still out – while in the domestic sphere we seem to have gone back to the 1950s, with women bearing the brunt of home schooling, some even sacrificing careers in the process.
In these long lockdown evenings where so many ordinary pleasures are denied us, thank goodness for books. It’s no coincidence that so many of us are turning to fiction right now. If you’re seeking escapism or hoping to better understand the present, whether you want to feel inspired or entertained, a book just might be your best friend right now.
Here are seven great suggestions for books to see you through – four non-fiction titles and three fiction – as recommended by London Business School faculty and staff.
Anne Boden founded Starling, the UK’s first digital-only bank, after a long career in mainstream banking where she had become frustrated with bureaucracy and the slow pace of change. A computer scientist, she saw that new technologies could transform customer experience. Nobody believed in her groundbreaking vision. She was a woman in her mid-fifties with no entrepreneurial experience. Her story is testament to the power of determination and resilience in the face of doubters. Boden is an outstanding leader and CEO. Starling has won Best British Bank at the British Bank Awards for three years running.
This candid, entertaining memoir of the girl from the Southside of Chicago who beat the odds to become a successful lawyer and First Lady is such an important book. Why? Because Obama places relationships and connecting authentically with others at the heart of all different types of success: business, political and domestic. I frequently teach about building relationships in Executive Education programmes as a critical factor in successful leadership in the modern era.
Many of us have learned the hard way that it is not enough to put in the hours, do the hard work, and create value for our bosses, our teams, our companies. To get where we want to go, others must see our outcomes clearly and assign value to our contributions. Huang knows this, too. The ‘edge’ in the title is an acronym that holds the secret for getting others to see and appreciate our value. What we must do, Huang advises, is to enrich, delight, and guide others to make our efforts go further.
Because people’s judgments of what we do are distorted by their biases and stereotypes, getting others to see our value is a challenge. Rooted solidly in psychological research and illustrated by well-told stories, Edge offers compelling and actionable insights. With its optimistic tone and clear principles, every reader will find a tactic she can use. Mine came in Principle 9: ‘Being yourself’ entails guiding others to all the glorious versions of yourself. I could not agree more.
The Conversation: How Seeking and Speaking the Truth about Racism can Radically Transform Individuals and Organizations by Robert Livingston
Recommended by: Aneeta Rattan, Associate Professor of Organisational Behaviour
I have chosen this title in the hope that everyone celebrating International Women’s Day starts to recognise that the experience of gender is inextricably linked to race. This means that to lift up all women, we need to invest in our understanding of all the intersectional dynamics at play to make the meaningful progress we so desperately need. Livingston addresses three questions: What is racism? Why should we all be more concerned about it? And – crucially – what can we all do to eradicate it? Real change towards ending systemic racism begins with difficult conversations, and the author draws on his experience of working with global organisations to suggest paths to real progress.
Compassionate, intelligent and richly complex, this novel by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie won the Women’s Prize for Fiction in 2007 for its truthful power and beautiful prose. It captures the intensity of life and love played out against the backdrop of the Nigerian Civil War in the late 1960s and the famine that followed. Adichie tells the story of three characters whose lives intersect with tenderness and humour, touching on themes of gender, ethnicity and the legacy of colonialism. Many people have described how this book has led them to view African history through a different lens and to examine afresh their own assumptions – unsurprising when you consider its author is also well-known for her powerful TEDx talks, including We should all be feminists.
The Glass Palace by Amitav Ghosh
Recommended by: Luisa Alemany, Associate Professor of Management Practice in Strategy and Entrepreneurship; Academic Director, Institute of Innovation and Entrepreneurship
There are many interesting women protagonists in this excellent historical novel, which takes the reader on a journey from the invasion by the British of what was then Burma through to the 20th century. Ghosh’s female characters are strong women who seize opportunities for education and employment. Through them we learn about the time and context in which they lived. Most important, for me, it helps us understand better the situation of the country and reinforces the need to take history into account. The military coup that took place on 1 February this year is taking freedom away again from the people of Myanmar.
During the long days of the pandemic I have returned to the classics for solace and advice. George Elliot’s Middlemarch kept me buoyant for weeks. But it is Edith Wharton whom I’ve returned to with the greatest pleasure. As a psychologist I delight in her observation of character and context. And if you have not read Wharton now is the time! I absolutely love The Custom of the Country for Wharton’s portrayal of the gloriously named Undine Spragg – surely one of literature’s most complex, extraordinary, vain and beautiful women. And for those who, like me, are fascinated by the impact of the industrial revolution, Spragg looking out on the streets of 1900s Manhattan has a ringside seat.