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on 17 December 2007
Economist Sylvia Ann Hewlett does an excellent job of outlining both subtle and bold barriers that relegate many talented women (and minorities) to the lower end of promotions and pay scales. Using ample documentation, she outlines the financial costs that corporations suffer when they operate with outdated career models designed for white male professionals. Hewlett also lines up practical solutions with real-life examples from top corporations. Though the book is marred by repetition and various examples are recycled in different chapters, overall, we consider this essential reading for senior corporate officials and staff members.
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on 19 May 2008
To anyone in the field of workplace equality, Sylvia Ann Hewlett will be well known as the author of Creating a Life. In this follow up to that bestseller, Hewlett has looked at the current state of women's careers, the reasons for the continuing existence of the glass ceiling and the male competitive model. But this is not another book that just presents the problem, well over half of the book is devoted to solutions that have been implemented in some of the leading corporations and some of the high powered environments of Wall Street and the City.

The book is in two parts - the first four chapters are devoted to a study of the issues: an analysis of why the male competitive model still continues to dominate, the non-linear nature of typical women's careers which include breaks for children and elder care responsibilities, the growing demands of what Hewlett calls `extreme jobs', and the business case for investing in diversity. What makes the analysis more interesting is specially commissioned research into feelings and motivations on careers and work conducted in the USA and the UK for both men and women. It shows the differences - but also some remarkable similarities.

The second part is composed of case studies from companies such as Goldman Sachs, BT, Ernst & Young, GE, Johnson & Johnson and Citigroup who have all implemented highly successful projects to encourage women returners (On-Ramps), flexible employment and working practices, maintaining ambition and re-engineering thinking about work and career paths. To a practical HR person this is probably the most significant section (although the chapter on the business case is very persuasive and in the language that Chief Executives can relate to).

Hewlett had been the catalyst in setting up the Hidden Brain Drain Task Force which brought together business people, consultants and academics to investigate the issues and solutions. At the 2006 summit of the group, the `core package' of six measures that emerged were: Establish a rich menu of flexible work arrangements; create arc-of-career flexibility; Re-imagine work life; Help women claim and sustain ambition; Harness altruism; and Reduce stigma and stereotypes. Each of the chapters in part two covers one of these subjects, each with three detailed case studies from the business world, with a summary of each solution stating the business case identified in that company, how to get started if you wanted to try to replicate the idea, and the critical elements for success. Individual examples add colour and interest.

This is an important book for all HR professionals and business leaders who are interested in turning the rhetoric on diversity into reality - and reaping the benefits, both financial and social. To the business leaders it makes a clear statement of the financial imperative of diversity, and backs that up with the analysis of (male) Chief Executives like Niall FitzGerald of Reuters and formerly Unilever, Jeremy Isaacs of Lehman Brothers and Ken Chenault of American Express. To the HR professional she elaborates on a range of immensely practical initiatives with a level of detail that can be used as a checklist to help start up something similar.
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