FT Business Books: May Edition
‘What’s your postcode story? Understanding and Overcoming Class Bias in the Workplace,” by CJ Gross
Companies that invest in diversity, equity and inclusion efforts already know that the different identities of their employees (race, gender, age, sexuality, etc.) affect their lived experiences. Here, author CJ Gross argues for the importance of including social class in these conversations as well.
Gross, who now works as a diversity and inclusion consultant, brings a personal perspective — he was born to a working-class single mother, who raised him outside of Washington, D.C., in one of the communities richest African-American women in the country, which made him aware of social divisions from an early age.
“Class migrants”, or those from working class backgrounds who attempt upward mobility, may suffer in their careers because they do not know the invisible rules of middle and upper class professionals – and may feel alienated as a result .
“Living in different postcodes does more than separate us by region: it becomes a barrier to establishing communication and building trusting relationships. If we are unable to understand each other, the conversation usually comes to an abrupt end,” Gross writes.
Woven through true stories from the author, others and historical figures, Gross covers everything from what managers and class migrants need to know, to advice for businesses on integrating social class into their DEI initiatives, and a framework on how to use mentoring to build equity. Insights into career growth, empathetic management, and fairer work environments make it valuable reading for anyone committed to the success of employees of all types of backgrounds, regardless of where they live.
“25 Million Sparks: The Untold Story of Refugee Entrepreneurs”, by Andrew Leon Hanna
25 million sparks opens with a joyful wedding scene: a garland of white lights drawn across the night sky, upbeat Syrian music, and a bride and groom surrounded by a crowd at Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan.
The bride was dressed by Yasmina, a refugee herself who fled Syria while pregnant, and who now runs a boutique and wedding salon in the camp. She is one of three Syrian women whose stories of entrepreneurship form the narrative of this book by Andrew Leon Hanna, a first-generation Egyptian-American lawyer, entrepreneur and author who won the FT’s Bracken Bower Prize in 2018. There is also Malak, a young artist, and Asma, who runs a storytelling initiative for children.
By taking readers to the heart of the camp and the people who live there, Hanna hopes to shed light on how refugee entrepreneurs are uplifting the Za’atari community – and how they are thriving in other camps and cities around the world.
Za’atari has been around since 2012 in the wake of the Syrian civil war, but as the conflict drags on, the camp has fostered entrepreneurship – or “sparks” – and become the setting for thousands of start-ups and social initiatives.
Hanna alternates between the current life of the women in the camp and memories of the “darkness” left behind by each in war-torn Syria. The narrative is intercut with wider context about how the camp came into being in the first place, the causes of the wider refugee crisis, and raises questions about how to deal with it.
While the writer acknowledges he doesn’t have the answers, the book is a form of activism through storytelling. Or, as he puts it, a “step to catalyze more concrete action.”
By highlighting these examples of entrepreneurship, Hanna seeks to counter what he sees as unfair perceptions of refugees, perpetuated by the media’s focus on the economic burden of those who find themselves displaced and the hopelessness of their situation — instead, he inspires readers with examples of bravery, creativity and resilience.
“Results: Going Beyond Politics to Do Important Work”, by Charlie Baker and Steve Kadish
Public and private sector organizations are often subject to comparison. Both have long and short term goals and achieving these goals produces management demand. But Results is an implementation guide for public servants, it can also be used by leaders of large organizations slowed down by bureaucracy and politics.
The book – written by Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker and Baker’s former chief of staff Steve Kadish – is a step-by-step manual that leads to lasting results, looking at how to go from identifying problems to actually getting things done. .
The approach is replicable and based on capacity and capability: it is about recognizing people’s ability to lead, assess, propose and act, as well as an organization’s ability to focus, function and perform. .
The authors begin to explore in detail each of the four pillars of what they call the “results framework”: people, facts, what to do and how to do it, and measure the results. They emphasize the importance of selecting leaders and team members with expertise, a collaborative spirit and diverse backgrounds.
In part two, they illustrate how the framework works in practice through examples such as healthcare, transport, child protection and Covid-19.
The chapters are complemented by a “tips, tools and tactics” section with helpful suggestions. An interesting one: “Going beyond the boundaries of an organization to learn — breaking the information bubble that can form around a leader”. Organizations tend to look inward when they need to look outward and it is important to gain new knowledge by reaching out.
One thing is certain: building trust with the public or customers is a matter of commitment and perseverance. People don’t expect leaders to do things right every time, but to learn from their mistakes and appreciate what is possible.
“A New Way of Thinking: Your Guide to Superior Management Effectiveness”, by Roger Martin
Insanity is repeating the same mistakes and expecting different results. So why do so many of us continue to behave like this? Roger Martin, former Dean and now Professor Emeritus of the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, has been writing for several years about companies that have overcome this challenge and has compiled a selection of his Harvard Business Review articles to create this guide.
Each of the 14 self-contained chapters compares a dominant but flawed model with an alternative that Martin deems superior. He cautions his analysis that his answers aren’t necessarily the best possible, just better than the status quo.
“Always use the best model available, but watch closely to see if it produces the promised results,” he writes. “If so, keep using it. If not, you should work on creating a better model, one that produces results more in line with your goals.”
Each chapter is a stand-alone story, which means you don’t need to read this book cover to cover, just dive into the topics that interest you most. This is a concise management manual from someone who has spent a career analyzing business strategies.
‘The Culture Playbook: 60 Highly Effective Actions to Help Your Group Succeed’, by Daniel Coyle
Culture was a hot topic of management and leadership before the pandemic, but as the workforce remains more permanently distributed, it is even more so today.
This book is a comprehensive guide to building the culture you want by starting with what you already have, and it cuts right to the chase: where does great culture come from? How do you get it or overthrow a culture that needs fixing?
The author, who has advised organizations such as Microsoft and Google, is clear that culture “isn’t about who you are, it’s about what you do.” It is a skill, he writes. And like any skill, it can be done right or wrong. And culture isn’t easy, even for organizations that already seem to have a strong one, they “struggle with a lot of problems.” Basically, it takes work.
After defining the rules for using the book — “start where you are”; “create conversations, not mandates”; “there are no rules” – the book is divided into three sections. These sections focus on three key elements: building psychological safety, sharing vulnerability, and establishing purpose.
With a wide range of tips from creating “mantra cards” and having warm-ups before meetings, to having anxiety parties and celebrating the end of projects, this book offers plenty of exercises practical for those who are serious about maintaining their corporate culture. One favorite tip in particular: “Zero tolerance of shiny shakes.” In other words, brilliance does not compensate for bad behavior and this should be made clear in the hiring process.
However, readers should remember that culture is “a work in progress.” And while that advice applies to everyone, Coyle says “bias and injustice can be embedded in institutions and processes in insidious ways – so it’s crucial to keep diversity, equality and l inclusion at the forefront when implementing any of these actions”.
“The No Club: Ending Women’s Dead-end Work”, by Linda Babcock, Brenda Peyser, Lise Vesterlund, Laurie R Weingart
In my workplace, there are very intelligent people who cannot understand the photocopier. Is it because they think big things, like politics or economics? Well yes. Or is it because their learned helplessness means someone else might be able to handle the tedious administration of office life, allowing them to tackle the kind of tasks that will raise their profile. and propel them? Also, yes.
Have you also noticed that some workers are less likely to take on the boring tasks in the workplace that help make it work but do nothing for anyone’s career, like hosting the office party or steering committees? And maybe those workers tend to be male?
This is the thesis of a new book, The Non-Club, written by four academics, spurred on by their own experiences of being overwhelmed by mindless jobs that have done little – or nothing – to advance their careers. They call these unpromoted tasks – or NPT.
The book is the result of their research. Their work looked at how women and men structure their workload and the tasks they are expected to perform. Based on this, he offers advice for women who wish to fend off requests.
In addition, it also offers advice for employers so that they can consider the distribution of NTPs – could some of these voluntary tasks, for example, actually be turned into valuable work? Serving on a diversity committee, for example, is valuable experience that can help develop a wide range of transferable skills.