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Friday, December 07, 2012

Professor Joan C. Williams Launches New Girls' Network

Professor Joan C. Williams has been in the trenches, writing and speaking about gender and maternal bias, for decades.

With that experience, she’s launched a new website to help women navigate office politics and break out of patterns that may be sabotaging their careers.

Called The New Girls’ Network, the site is a culmination of the work of Williams and a select group of women from the top echelons of law, medicine, science, tech, accounting, and engineering.

“For 15 years I’ve worked on institutional change,” said Williams from her office in San Francisco at UC Hastings, where she also directs the Center for WorkLife Law. “At some level, the Center has accomplished quite a bit. We invented the modern part-time policy in law firms that keep women on the partnership track with proportional salary for proportional hours.”

“But after 15 years, women only make up 15% of equity partners, and 84% of CEOs are white men. That’s disillusioning.”

Women need to be savvier than men, said Williams. “So I assembled a group of 20 of the savviest women I know, gave them my 35 years of research on gender bias in seven minutes, and then asked, does any of that sound familiar?”

“Every syllable,” said one woman. Another burst into tears. “With the help of a graduate student from Northwestern, Erika Hall, I have now interviewed 125 women,” Williams said. “All but five said they recognized some or all of the patterns in their own careers.”

Williams has gathered strategies successful  women have used to overcome gender bias, such as being seen as too feminine, being assigned too many administrative tasks, or being seen as too masculine when asking for what they want.

“I was able to get some brilliant strategies from these women,” Williams said. That wisdom is the focus of a book Williams is publishing with her daughter, Rachel Dempsey, a law student at Yale Law School. Their book, tentatively titled The New Girls’ Network: The Science of Office Politics, will be published next fall.

The website, www.newgirlsnet.com, has Q&As with some of the women interviewed, and gives tips for individual strategies women can employ in their own careers. You can follow their progress on Twitter at @TheNewGirlsNet .

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