9 Must-Read Books for Women Leaders
This article originally was published on September 25, 2019, and was revised and expanded on March 10, 2020.
Catalyst supporters are avid readers of all genres, and especially of books that focus on developing leadership skills. Yet finding books for women in the workforce can be challenging.
The reality is that women make up almost half the workforce—yet in the S&P 500, women represent only 5% of CEOs, 26% of executives or senior-level managers, and 37% of mid-level managers. The numbers are even more daunting for women of color, who represent approximately 18% of the US population—yet hold fewer than 5% of board seats in the Fortune 500.
The books highlighted below are for women leaders striving to succeed in this culture—without compromising their authenticity and values.
This beautiful book includes photos, advice, and inspiration from 100 women architects, designers, tattoo artists, media titans, and more. Bonney weaves together their stories of what happens when you dare to lead and follow your dreams. In a world where accountability seems to be at a premium, this quote from Tavi Gevinson, founder and editor–in–chief of Rookie, talking about the best advice she ever received, says it all: “Own everything.”
Brown is the woman behind one of the most-watched TED Talks ever and a renowned professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work. She uses her decades of vulnerability research to support her thesis that great leaders support and encourage, rather than dominate. She reinforces the need for caring people and dares to suggest that being encouraging cultivates successful employees and leaders.
Drop the Ball: Achieving More By Doing Less
Having it all doesn’t mean you have to do it all, as Dufu learned after the arrival of her first child when she struggled to balance the responsibilities of work and childcare and didn’t feel like she was achieving her goals. Dufu is the founder and CEO of The Cru, a peer-coaching platform for women looking to accelerate their professional and personal growth and was a launch-team member to Lean In. She urges us to embrace imperfection and the ability to let go.
Whether you’re at the beginning of your career or a mid-level professional trying to figure out your next step, Carla Harris—Vice Chairman, Managing Director, and Senior Client Advisor at Morgan Stanley—offers compelling advice. In Expect to Win, Harris, one of our most popular Catalyst Award speakers, shares lessons she’s learned in her career. One of our favorite quotes: “You won this job because you were the best for the job. You are smart, quick to learn, and can quickly acquire any skill you might be lacking.” Check out her follow-up book as well, Strategize to Win.
Do you ever feel like career advice books are one-size-fits-all? Not this one. Widely hailed as the Lean In for women of color, The Memo speaks to the unique workplace challenges that women of color face. Harts’s experience as an entrepreneur and former fundraising consultant informs her frank and pragmatic advice on how to navigate microaggressions, office politics, and networking opportunities—followed by solutions and action items.
Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington, who also founded Thrive Global, makes the case that measuring success based on power and money leads to epic burnouts, stress, illness, and weak relationships. Citing research showing that people are not only sleep-starved but suffering from anxiety, Huffington suggests that success can be attained through meditation, mindfulness, unplugging, and giving generously.
The Likeability Trap: How to Break Free and Succeed As You Are
We’ve written about the “double bind” that women in leadership face. People often see women who take charge as competent but not likable, while they regard women who take care as likable but not competent. Alicia Menendez, MSNBC anchor and host of the Latina to Latina podcast, refers to this as “the likeability trap.” Menendez explores the likeability trap and its impact on women with different intersectional identities. She suggests that we learn to be more intentional in determining whose opinions matter.
Leapfrog: The New Revolution for Women Entrepreneurs
Nathalie Molina Niño
Niño—an entrepreneur and former business advisor to giants such as Disney, Microsoft, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation—knows what it means to leapfrog your way to success. She proudly describes Leapfrog as a book that rejects “status quo advice—the kind that assumes you have rich friends and family and a public relations team.” Instead, she offers uncompromising guidance in the form of 50 leapfrogs: “clever loopholes and shortcuts to outsmart, jump over, or seemingly annihilate the intractable hurdles” that all women—and women of color in particular—face in their careers.
Former editor-in-chief of Teen Vogue Elaine Welteroth offers a poignant and timely memoir about her experiences as a barrier-breaking Black woman in the media, entertainment, and fashion fields. As the youngest person and second African American ever to hold the editor-in-chief title at Condé Nast, Welteroth knows what it’s like to fight to have one’s voice heard. She highlights her struggles and triumphs in a rapid career ascendancy and shares her most important lesson: don’t ever let someone tell you you’re not enough.