"The Prince" by Machiavelli isn’t everyone’s idea of career advice.
The 500-year-old book from the Italian Renaissance touts revenge as a strategy to get to the top. Stacey Vanek Smith, a public radio journalist who specializes in business reporting, says "The Prince" is worth exploring for its underlying guidelines.
Her book is called "Machiavelli for Women." CapRadio Host Donna Apidone spoke with Vanek Smith about Machiavelli’s ideas and how to help women feel more agency in their work lives.
On Machiavelli’s direct approach
He takes emotion out of situations, and I think for anyone who has ever experienced discrimination or exclusion, which is probably everyone at some point, in some moment. It’s a very emotional experience. And those emotions are not to be rejected. I think they are very valid. But they’re not always the most useful thing, especially if you’re trying to plan how you’re going to build a career for yourself. So Machiavelli’s best underlying advice is that you take emotion out of the situation. Now this leads to some really smart advice.
It also leads to some chilling advice. For instance, at one point in the book, Machiavelli says that if you wrong someone, if you take something from someone, if someone is mad at you, you should probably kill them because otherwise, they’re going to be plotting against you, and kind of rattling around, and you’d have to watch your back a lot. I don’t think that’s great advice for the modern-day workplace.
On the gender gap
It’s true women don’t ask as much, but there’s a reason for that, and it's not just wimping out. People’s unconscious — this is where it’s tricky because even the most well-meaning people have unconscious biases — people’s unconscious bias around women is that they’re modest, they don’t ask for things, they’re in support roles. And so when a woman asks for more, it goes against what people think of as sort of a “good woman.” When men ask for more, they don’t encounter this because people associate a “good man” with asking for what he’s worth, not caring too much about what other people think.
There’s a really interesting study that shows that when a woman asks for more, she’s automatically considered less desirable to work with. No matter how she asks, no matter what the circumstance, she’s just considered less desirable to work with. As a woman or another marginalized worker, you’re looking at a situation where the upside is unsure, and the downside is pretty sure.
On the takeaway
What is the goal here? I was asking myself as I was writing the book. What is the goal? What would I like to see? In my ideal world, women are empowered — what does that mean? I mean, do I want women in positions where they can crush people? Maybe a couple. That doesn’t seem terrible.
But no, and I don’t think that’s what most of us want in the workplace. I don’t think we want to crush people or exert our will or force people to bend to our whims. But I think we all want to feel agency and a sense that we are contributing at our highest level. And appreciated.
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