How Women Decide, by Therese Huston, is provocatively titled and an easy read, backed by substantial research, listed in the 53 page of references.
The book has six chapters each dealing with themes that surface when women’s decision-making is discussed, namely women’s intuition, decisiveness, attitudes to risk, confidence, decisions under stress, and unusually, watching others make poor decisions. Each chapter has a summary of take-aways at the end which is handy. Huston tells stories often from the public domain to make her points. She also patiently untangles science from socialisation while making her argument.
If I had to recommend one chapter, I would be hard-pressed to pick between “Hello, risk taker” and “Stress makes her focused, not fragile”. Biases regarding their risk taking behaviour and their ability to cope under stress follow women around. Yet as Huston demonstrates in the chapter on the former, risk-taking is not a personality trait, but a skill which can be learnt although men take more risks during the process of learning than women do. The differences in risk taking disappear later with experience. She also shows that women actually takes more risks e.g. speaking up in hostile environments where they are in the minority than men do. She specifically points out the challenges of precarious manhood and the “white male effect” on how something may appear risk free to a white male but not to many others. In the chapter on stress, she demonstrates how women and men behave differently under stress vis-a-vis the risks they take, and their approaches i.e. fight-or-flight in men and tend-and-befriend in women. She also highlights how social judgment is harsher on women than on men in stressed situations and how the genders express emotion in socially sanctioned ways.
The chapter on watching others make poor decisions had personal appeal for me. I am simply unable to watch a poor decision being made, and it can often cause friction with friends and family.
If I could make it compulsory for senior executives, board directors and people managers to read this book, I would. Of course, the most open-minded would benefit the most and in turn their organisations would too.
Like many non-fiction books, this book too could be shorter by a quarter without losing substance. But it is an easy read so the length does not weigh down on the reader.
Extra kudos to the author, for acknowledging that her husband’s willingness to cover the family’s financial needs for several years gave her the chance to try her luck as a full-time writer! As Ann Bauer wrote a few years ago, this is the sponsorship that doesn’t get discussed honestly or openly, as much as it should be. Not all writers have wealthy philanthropist patrons. Sometimes the truth for creative people is that their own family is giving up a lot to support their dreams and for being honest about that Ms Huston deserves a gold star.
Star rating: 5 out of 5 (could have been a shorter book!)
Usefulness note: I would nudge those, who manage people or otherwise work with people to read this book. It is not a dry read and gently challenges unconscious biases held against one half of humanity.