No-nonsense advice for working women

Even after all these years of struggle, women still are paid less than men for the same job. True, too: Women are free to pursue any job.

That bad-news-good-news scenario riles Kelly Love Johnson, author of Skirt! Rules for the Workplace: An Irreverent Guide to Advancing Your Career.

One 2006 study from the Institute for Women's Policy Research states women who work full time earned 76.5% as much as men in 2004. "The wage gap seems to be the last bastion of gender discrimination in the workplace, but it's a big one," Johnson writes.

A Bureau of Labor Statistics study puts that figure at 80.4%. Whatever the percentage, it's still not 100%. And, Johnson notes, Economic Policy Institute statistics indicate it will take 30 years to reach wage parity.

There's no need to accept that estimate. There are strategies women can employ to garner promotions and raises. The author's advice stems from her experience in the working world, anecdotes from mentors and colleagues, and inspiration drawn from the likes of Betty Friedan and Carly Fiorina.

Young female professionals are the target audience, and the book's mix of no-nonsense advice and big-sisterly asides are appropriately informative and supportive. American Idol gets a shout-out, clever catchphrases are employed, and hot pink is liberally used on nearly every page.

The design is distracting, but readers who can block it out will benefit from must-know information about workplace law, from the Equal Pay Act of 1963 to the Civil Rights Act as it pertains to sexual harassment.

A section on recovering from missteps is hilarious and thoughtful, with spot-on suggestions for recovering from being labeled the Office Tramp, Office Bitch or Office Slut. Johnson also encourages women to examine broader influences on workplace relationships.

In the chapter "Playing Nice: Alpha and Beta Archetypes at Work," she issues a warning to women who may be too committed to being Type A: "As with any other subjugated group in history, the biggest menace to the alpha female is the alpha female herself."

Beta-type women who prefer working with a group (vs. alphas, who forge ahead solo) shouldn't be dismissed as weak or less valuable. And betas should remember that "once an alpha realizes you won't allow yourself to be bullied, you'll gain her respect."

Another key concept: Rather than look to bosses for praise and encouragement, women would do well to view raises and promotions as sufficient thanks for a job well done. Johnson points to the way women are raised — "We're nurturers by nature and expect the same nurturing in return" — as a reason why women look to the workplace for emotional validation.

The author also stresses that, if women want to gain pay parity and move closer to workplace equality, they must focus on what men do: raises and promotions. That doesn't mean acting like men is the way to close the wage gap, though.

Rather than copying men, Johnson writes, it's a good idea to learn from how they handle decisiveness, criticism and competition, but not at the cost of sublimating womanhood. Instead, the focus should be on doing good work, identifying stimulating and satisfying career paths, and negotiating the best salary possible.

And as the workplace war stories in the book make clear: No matter what, having a sense of humor is essential.

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