KIRKUS Book Review: AWAKENING

September 18, 2021

Advice for thriving as a woman in the workplace.

In this self-help book, Martin, whose last book was Make It Rain (2018), encourages women to learn about systemic
sexism and to push back against gendered challenges in the workplace and in general. Martin, a lawyer, journalist, and
entrepreneur, shares her own and friends’ and colleagues’ professional experiences to illustrate the problems women face
in professional settings. The book’s first section addresses misconceptions about women’s potential for success, which
Martin presents as the lies women have been told (“You Can’t Be a Working Woman and Raise a Family”). The middle
chapters explore some of the underlying reasons women contend with setbacks in their careers, from assumptions about
how parenthood will influence professionalism to unequal opportunities for mentorship and support, and the final section
provides solutions and strategies for getting past obstacles, although it does not get into specifics about how to bring about
major systemic changes. Each chapter ends with an “awakening action item,” which gives readers journaling prompts,
potential discussion topics, and recommended activities. The system as a whole, Martin argues, is at fault when it comes
to institutionalized prejudice and discrimination, and while minor fixes do have limited impacts, a wholesale rethinking of
relationships, work, and professionalism is needed.

Martin’s personal narrative, which is about her struggles and successes (“A Black woman with Harvard credentials is still a
Black woman,” she notes), is at the book’s core. The author is a strong writer and storyteller, and she does an excellent
job of capturing the essences of the women she features here. She also provides a wealth of pithy pull quotes (“You can’t
open a door simply by ‘leaning in’ to it”) that will prompt highlighting and underlining. At times, however, the book seems
unwilling to trust its readers’ knowledge base (for instance, by suggesting that TV shows like Veep and Madam Secretary
are the first places many saw women represented in positions of political power, as though their fictional protagonists are
the only women visible in positions of power) and misses opportunities for more substantial analysis. Recommendations
for achieving structural change range from individual action items, like developing a personal mission statement and
setting achievable goals, to more conceptual activities, like identifying and challenging internalized stereotypes. Although
the book calls for large-scale systemic changes, it includes little in the way of specific advice for how to “dismantle and
rebuild the system,” making it more a tool for consciousness raising and relationship building than wholesale revolution.
Readers will find motivation and validation via both anecdotes and statistics. But those who have already read The Memo
(2019), Lead From Outside (2018), or Did That Just Happen?! (2021) may find that the book covers familiar territory.
Martin’s greatest strength, however, is in her presentation, and even jaded readers are likely to put the book down feeling
that their perceptions of sexism are accurate, the problem is indeed a fixable one, and Martin is in their corner, cheering
them on as they try to transform the world.

A passionate, statistics-based argument for women’s equality in the workplace.

Review posted HERE.

Originally Published in KIRKUS

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