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Why Are Self-Help Books With Career Advice for Women Popular?

by Isabel Metz annd Savita Kumra Kumra


Self-help books with career advice for women who aspire to leadership are popular. This popularity is somewhat surprising, in that the advice appears to take us back to the ‘fix the women’ approach to career advancement of the 1960s and 1970s. Sheryl Sandberg’s (2013) ‘Lean In’ book is a vivid example of this popular genre of books. In this paper, we use Sandberg’s book to examine why a focus on personal agency is resonating with so many women. We explain the success of ‘Lean In’ from the working woman’s perspective. We compare and contrast the academic and popular literatures. We then reflect on the relevance of individual action as a catalyst for change in relation to the more difficult to change barriers to women’s advancement at the interpersonal, organizational and societal levels. We conclude by reflecting on what the popularity of the self-help literature tells scholars about future research directions and the dissemination of their findings.

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