Book Review: Valued at Work

Article by Maria Kalli AMIChemE

Lauren Neal; ISBN: 9781788604680; Practical Inspiration Publishing; 2023; £14.99 (paperback)

As an early career woman working in STEM, I’m grateful that I read Valued at Work, which conveys lessons critical to maintaining a healthy, inclusive, and diverse environment in the workplace. Through up-to-date statistics, studies, and interviews with women in STEM, it prompts you to become aware of unconscious bias, seek out the relevant training, and drive actions to foster psychological safety – the three key attributes to becoming a true ally to women in the workplace.

Author Lauren Neal, a champion for gender equality and career progression within STEM, emphasises three key lessons: the value of employee recognition, effective leadership, and visibility of high-quality role models in an organisation.

Through interviews with women in STEM, the author demonstrates that people will perform better when they feel valued, and how lack of recognition plays an important role in demotivating employees. Examples include women feeling excluded from teams and showing signs of imposter syndrome by doubting their skills. In other cases, tall poppy syndrome is triggered, which is when successful team members stand out and get intensively criticised by their peers. These stories drew my attention and I am sure they will speak to more women in STEM that read this book. Neal suggests methods of ensuring recognition and inclusion, such as forming teams at work with a 50:50 gender split and encouraging participants to listen to all ideas shared, regardless of who shares them.

Neal’s advice for leaders also includes how to achieve constructive and actionable feedback through the Situation-Behaviour-Impact (SBI) framework, which promotes clarity, effectiveness, and a positive approach. It involves clearly outlining the situation involved, describing the behaviours observed, and explaining the impact on the parties involved such as a person, the team, or company.

Another important topic in the book is psychological safety, which I was first introduced to by a speech from one of my role models, Roni Savage, recognised as the UK’s Most Influential Woman in Construction in 2022. As inferred in several parts of the book, true psychological safety is when employees are not afraid to express their ideas or experiences, and this really reflects on performance and retention. This book underscored what I learned from the talk and provided additional advice for leaders on how to change their style depending on the people they lead to ensure they feel supported in diverse teams. The author also suggests promoting psychological safety through staff-led employee resource groups which strive to ensure that people feel included and that goals are in line with companies’ diversity values. Neal recommends leaders to “not just hire women to tick diversity boxes but to make sure they feel supported”.

An interesting device the author incorporates throughout the book is a series of conversations on gender equality in STEM, involving Markus and Steve, two fictional characters. Prompted by different motivations to enter these discussions – personal vs professional – they each go on journeys of interviewing women in STEM, with their paths diverging at the end. Through these characters, and the different paths they take, the author sheds light on “alpha male thinking” and highlights the importance of being an “agent of change” to act as a true role model for future allies.

Despite comprising several conversations, I found Valued at Work easy to follow. Divided into three main parts, it focuses on recognising an organisation’s behaviours, incorporating the right technical skills into teams, and empowering future leaders. These are then divided into short and concise chapters in an easily understood conversational style. Each chapter offers separate discussions in distinct sections, including insights that drive your interest to go onto the next story. Top-tip sections at the end of each chapter summarise the content concisely and reaffirm the take-home messages.

And my take-home message? A must-read book for any gender equality advocate who wants to transform workplace culture and inspire more successful stories. Valued at Work has certainly inspired me to unite with other early career professionals through my role in the IChemE Young Members Forum and organise targeted events to encourage more true allies.

Article by Maria Kalli AMIChemE

Bioprocessing product specialist at MicrofluidX and chair of IChemE YMF LSEC

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