Book Review: Machiavelli for Women

Machiavelli for Women: Defend your Worth,
Grow your Ambition, and Win the Workplace
by Stacey Vanek Smith

“What Machiavelli offered [in The Prince] was an unflinching and rigorous look at how people get into positions of power. And how they hold on to them.” According to veteran journalist Stacey Vanek Smith, this is the essence of Machiavelli’s most famous writing, The Prince. While the original book was written a few centuries ago to advise Renaissance potentates, Vanek Smith translates his thinking and advice to benefit women in 21st-century Corporate America.

Her book sets out to show women in an equally unflinching way how today’s workplace is still designed to keep them out. She applies Machiavelli’s insights, his cunning, and his strategies to show women how to conquer positions of power in the workplace, how to get there, and how to hold on to them. The Prince serves as the guide for this playbook on how to achieve corporate power.

Money, Confidence, Respect, Support, Title

For Vanek Smith, power in the workplace manifests in 5 main aspects: money, confidence, respect, support, and title. She subsequently devotes a chapter to each of those aspects, analyzing exactly what obstacles women are dealing with and how to overcome them. She keeps the tone light, employs examples from successful women, and includes experts on salary negotiation and confidence coaching. The best parts are the realistic, immediately usable strategies and templates which the author includes in her chapters.

One of those practical examples is the amplification strategy in the chapter about Respect. When women speak up in meetings, their ideas are often not given the same attention and respect than if a man said the same thing. Amplification is one strategy to fix this. If there are several women in a meeting, they can amplify what each of them is saying. If one raises an issue or an idea, the other women will speak up and repeat this issue or idea one after the other. This way it sticks in participants’ minds and also cannot be claimed by somebody else later.

A Lady’s Guide to Negotiation

This is easily the best part of the book. While all chapters contain actionable advice, this one is brimming with it. Vanek Smith explains why regular negotiation advice rarely works for women and why it can, in fact, backfire if women use the same techniques men do. She explains that the exact behaviors that are perceived positively and strong in men make women be seen as negative, bitchy or whiny. Whereas it is all about the “I” for men, it has to be all about the “we”, “our team” or “our company” for women. With the help of experts, she manages to give detailed examples and templates of how women can approach negotiation instead. This is easy to understand and immediately usable information!

The book gives examples of common negotiation situations as well as possible pitfalls. Some of those pitfalls are: lowball offers, asking about previous job’s pay, stalling, or threatening to pull the job offer (a.k.a. the nuclear option). More importantly, it presents several options for how to address those pitfalls and turn them around to your advantage. Be prepared, do your homework, and anticipate negotiation detours and traps. In this chapter the book serves as a manual of how to do exactly that. It has pages and pages of “pro tips” and “pitfall alerts”.

final thoughts

You don’t have to be a fan of Machiavelli, or even know about him, to like and profit from this book. If you are a woman who wants to make it in Corporate America (or non-profit organizations or Higher Ed, etc.), you want to read this book. It’s a well-researched easy read with actionable pro tips that will help you succeed in your career.

Written by Anne Nowak