BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Memo: What Women of Color Need to Know to Secure a Seat at the Table’ by Minda Harts

c.2019, Seal
$27 ($35.50 Canada)
221 pages

Your seat is down there, right at the end.

You know, though, it’s not close enough to where you want to be. You need to be where decisions are made and careers are launched. No, your place at the table is close to the head and with “The Memo” by Minda Harts, you’ll see how to get there.

Several years ago, a book circulated among businesswomen that advised them to “lean in,” speak up, and coalesce. Harts says she eagerly read the book but, once finished, she was confused. Like most women of color in business, she’d always “leaned in” because she had to. That book spurred her to come up with “The Memo.”

“The Ugly Truth,” she says, is that few organizations teach women of color how to deal with mostly-white workplaces. It’s not just a matter of showing up and doing the work — you need to survive and build “your squad.”

In business-speak, that’s networking, and it’s top of the list in importance. You may not feel like going to happy hour with coworkers who’ve irritated you all day, but go anyhow. By joining in, even for a minute, you give people a chance to get to know you. You might find an office friend.

For women of color, office politics are two-pronged: you must learn “respectability politics” in addition to the other kind. Having a mentor will help; in the meantime, don’t burn bridges, don’t gossip and watch your emotions at work.

It sounds like just another platitude, but know your worth. Invest in yourself and stand out, then get the self-confidence you need to ask for what you want. Just remember, salary isn’t the only thing to request: more vacation, a company car, and flex time are all nice bargaining chips.

Finally, if you’re white and reading this book, pay attention.

Says Harts, “… women of color will be the majority of the workforce by… 2060; if I were a white woman, I would do better.”

There is no denying the usefulness of this book, nor its truth. “The Memo” offers helpful words for those who are the lone women of color at their workplaces. It teaches strength in the face of racism, on hair issues, self-confidence, and for anyone who needs to school coworkers while keeping her job. It gives young women of color a sisterhood, albeit one made of paper.

And yet, there’s discord in this book that a deeper look exposes.

At two particular points here, author Minda Harts chastises white women for making assumptions and “sweeping generalizations about ‘women'” without addressing any of the unique challenges that women of color face at work. This creates a paradox, since readers may notice overgeneralizations about white women that don’t allow room for those who are not clueless. That sets up further conundrums, to be sure.

Overall, go into “The Memo” looking for help and you’ll absolutely find it, just as you’ll find that you’re not alone. Go in eyes wide open.

And then take a seat …

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