Oct. 14, 2021

Women in the Workplace Can Learn From Machiavelli, With Stacey Vanek Smith

16th-century hot takes from "The Prince" can help women overcome inequity at work?

Journalist Stacey Vanek Smith, co-host of NPR’s The Indicator from Planet Money, joins Nora and Scott to discuss her new book, Machiavelli for Women: Defend Your Worth, Grow Your Ambition, and Win the Workplace, and applies a modern twist on principles from Machiavelli's writings. She also offers practical, real-life advice on how women can shatter the proverbial glass ceiling.


Nora Ali: From Morning Brew, this is Business Casual, the podcast that gives you a front row seat to candid conversations with some of the biggest names in business, asking them the questions you wish you could ask. I'm your host, Nora Ali.

Scott Rogowsky: And I'm your other host token straight white male, Scott Rogowsky. Nora and I are here for your ears, bringing you stories of how business shapes our daily lives now and into the future. And BC listeners, here's the thing, we always want to hear from you. Send us an email at businesscasual@morningbrew.com or DM us on Twitter @bizcasualpod. That’s B I Z Casual Pod. 

Nora Ali: You can also leave a voice memo on our website, businesscasual.fm,  or give us a ring and leave us an old fashioned voicemail. Our number is 862-295-1135 that's 8 6 2 2 9 5 1 1 3 5.

Scott Rogowsky: Now let's get down to business.

Nora Ali: Women are slowly but surely making their way into traditionally male dominated areas in the workforce like finance, tech, and academia. And according to Inc, employment levels in STEM have increased significantly since the Eighties, growing in fact, over 100% in certain fields like physics, engineering, and architecture. But the gender pay gap does not reflect any of this progress at all. Today, we're hearing from the co-host of NPR’s The Indicator from Planet Money. That's journalist Stacey Vanek Smith. She joins us to discuss her new book, Machiavelli for Women: Defend Worth, Grow Your Ambition, and Win the Workplace. In this book, she offers practical, real-life advice on how women can shatter the proverbial glass ceiling and she applies a modern twist on principles from Machiavelli, a 16th century philosopher. In her book, she gives us the cold, hard facts. The gender pay gap has been stuck at around 20% since the year 2000. That's 80 cents that women take home on average for a man's dollar. 98% of venture capital funding continues to go to men despite the fact that women start 40% of businesses in the U.S. and on top of that, 80% of CEOs are men and corporate boards are over 80% male. It's depressing and it doesn't end there. So what can we do about it? Well thankfully Stacey is with us today to help us analyze the obstacles that women face in the workplace and offer her take on how we can practically begin to defeat them. Since we're face-to-face Scott, by the way, for the first time ever on recording, FYI to our listeners, I want to be real with you for a second and offer a caveat. When conversations about diversity and equity and inclusion come up, oftentimes I find that I'm speaking to and with white men about it, because those are the kinds of people who tend to be my managers, my bosses, and I tend to feel kind of guilty and uncomfortable, but I appreciate when people like you listen and you take it in, you ask really good questions, and this is a safe space for us to be able to bring up these issues and learn a lot from Stacey on these practical applications. So I've experienced plenty of issues as a woman in traditionally male dominated workplaces, whether it's finance, I started my career on Wall Street, as you know, in tech, in the news, and I feel like we are at a much better place now where I can have these conversations and not feel so bad about it. And we are actually getting to this place where people recognize these inequities more than they ever have. And they're okay with the uncomfortable conversations.

Scott Rogowsky: Honestly, you talked about being uncomfortable. I'm the one who's uncomfortable when it comes to these topics, because, yes, I'm very aware of that. I am. When I say I speak for all white men, historically, we've been taking up space. As they say, these days. 

Nora Ali: You don't take up that much space. You might be six one, but I feel like I have enough space.

Scott Rogowsky: I'm pretty skinny, lost some weight because I'm now staying at my parents and they don't keep the fridge stocked at all. No, there's no food in the house. 

Nora Ali: That's so sad. 

Scott Rogowsky: It's really sad. And when it comes to cereals, we're talking Rice Krispies and Cheerios, and that's it. None of my sweet sugary snacks.

Nora Ali: No Fruity Pebbles. 

Scott Rogowsky: What I would do for a Fruity Pebble and a Cinnamon Toast Crunch. Those are my two favorites.

Nora Ali: And what I would do to talk to Stacey Vanek Smith. So let's talk about her now, Stacey’s new book, Machiavelli for Women, takes a fun and empowering approach to shattering the glass ceiling. Stacey applies Machiavelli's The Prince, you know, Scott, the brutish 16th century political instruction guide for Italian princes to gain and keep power.

Scott Rogowsky: Yeah, I know you're talking about. 

Nora Ali: She applies these principles to the status of 21st century women in the workforce. And it turns out Machiavelli has some pretty solid ideas about overcoming the obstacles that stand in the way of leadership positions. So here to tell us all about her modern day playbook for women to find a power in the workplace is Stacey Vanek Smith. 

Scott Rogowsky: Stacey Vanek Smith, your book is brilliant, from the title and the concept Machiavelli for Women. I love that. Your writing style, the content is brilliant and you pack so much into it because you have analysis of the modern workplace. You have practical advice for women in said workplace, but you really have this valuable and terrific history lesson on your titular character Machiavelli and this is kind of eye-opening for myself, and I think a lot of your readers, Nora included, we talked about this. We all have this conception of Machiavelli, who he was and the terms he's inspired, and the Tupac, of course, Tupac's pseudonym. Can you explain who Machiavelli really was and how we got him so wrong all these years? 

Stacey Vanek Smith: The Prince was basically his Hail Mary pass cover letter to try to get a job. This is like 1500s Florence and Machiavelli was essentially like the secretary of state for Florence. So he had a cool job. He was talking to kings and popes, they all knew his name and he was supposed to kind of wheel and deal and negotiate on behalf of Florence, which was not that easy because Florence was pretty broke and didn't have an army. So Machiavelli’s wits, his intelligence, his powers of observation, were really, really important. He was a very, very hard worker and did the job for 15 years. And then the Medici family took over Florence and you know, he'd been working for the other side, so he was kicked out. He had his money and property taken away from him and he was thrown in jail and he was tortured. And then he was basically run out of town and he wrote The Prince to Lorenzo de Medici. And he was basically hoping that he would have like such hot takes that Lorenzo de Medici would be like, well, he was working for the other side, but it doesn't matter. I want this guy working for me. He's so brilliant. That is not, that's not what happens. It just, it blew up in poor Machiavelli’s face in the worst possible way. Lorenzo de Medici didn’t read it. The Catholic church did read it. They threatened to excommunicate anyone who even owned it. And it was a terrible period for him. He, he never really recovered from it, honestly.

Nora Ali: It’s remarkable that hot takes from centuries ago can be applicable to work life now. And obviously Machiavelli didn't know what venture capital funding is back then. And he didn't know how to advise Black women to approach investor pitches, knowing that they receive less than a fraction of 1% of venture funding. So, Stacey, how do you apply the learnings from Machiavelli and his relationship with power to today's workforce, where we are seeing these truly abysmal metrics still? 

Stacey Vanek Smith: That is a really interesting question because his advice should not work. It is 500 years old. I mean, if you think about all the advances we have made in 500 years, like electricity, the combustion engine, we have a Rover on Mars and at the bottom of the ocean. And we have progressed in so many ways, but human nature, people, we are the same. That was the thing that kind of kept blowing my mind as I was reading Machiavelli, I was like, wow, like, how is it that we've made all these advancements? And we're just the same. Like we are the same. 

Nora Ali: Humans still kind of suck. Unfortunately. 

Stacey Vanek Smith: I know. He's a little bit pessimistic about people. He calls humans like thankless and fickle and greedy, but he came by it honestly, like he was growing up at a very brutal time. But you know, I think a lot of the observations he makes holds true. So I think for that reason, it's still quite relevant because human interaction, the things that we want, the things that motivate us, I think those are the same. And so once you strip away certain things like kingdoms and horses and cannons, and sort of replace it with cubicles and whiteboards and Zoom calls, it's not that different, right? We're still the same people. And we still struggle with the same things, which is simultaneously kind of horrifying, but also comforting in a way. There's a through-line.

Scott Rogowsky: Yeah. 

Stacey Vanek Smith: The through-line might be that people, you know, could improve collectively. 

Nora Ali: That's a nice way to put it. There's room for improvement.

Scott Rogowsky: People suck. We've always sucked. We always will suck. 

Nora Ali: We will suck forever. 

Scott Rogowsky: But The Prince is really a tale of two princes, much like the Spin Doctors song, one two princes kneel before you and the princes that Machiavelli describes, there's the inheriting prince, right? And then the conquering princes. And then you equate this to the modern workplace again, describing white men as the inheriting princes of the workplace and women would be conquering princes. Right? Tell us how that metaphor works, because I really think that's brilliant. 

Stacey Vanek Smith: Machiavelli starts at the book saying, like you said, there are two kinds of princes. For the inheriting prince he says, things are pretty easy. Everybody knows his name. People aren't questioning why he's there as much. You know, it's like, he's the status quo. He kind of looks right wearing the crown. The conquering prince, someone who's just taken over a new land,  it's a much different situation. Everybody's like, wait a minute, why did this guy get power? Everybody's questioning why he's there, why they're paying taxes to him, why he gets to make the laws. The power is still pretty new, it's unstable. And so everybody's trying to challenge it, wondering why they're not in power. And it's just a much different situation. It's much, much harder to keep that power and to grow it. And so for me, like for women and traditionally marginalized workers in the workforce, people of color and others, you know, are all in the workforce, breaking into new fields, getting into new lines of work and things like that, but still they're new to power and are getting kind of questioned and held back in similar ways.

Nora Ali: This phrase you just said, Stacey, the prince that looks right wearing the crown, one analogy that you have in the book you call the Cinderella Syndrome, which is one way the glass ceiling manifests itself in that men stereotypically, their style of just existing and operating in life is aligned with what people perceive to be leaders and women have to rely more on historic successes and empirical evidence and their track record more than men do. So as far as real-life advice for some of our listeners, how do we try to combat these preconceived notions of who a leader is, who a leader is not, especially because the notion of a leader is in some ways aligned with what it means to be a quote unquote good man? 

Stacey Vanek Smith: Yeah, that is, I think the central issue that women struggle with, especially, and it's often called the double bind by researchers. And it just has to do with the unconscious expectations that we have of people, unconscious biases. And that's why they're so difficult to address because people don't mean to do them. Don't mean to have them. I mean, I've caught a million of them in myself. Harvard University has a site where you can take a quiz about your unconscious biases. And like, they're definitely there. I was shocked after all these millions of gender books I've read, my answers were like Stone Age answers. But basically we expect women to be sympathetic, compassionate, self-deprecating, modest, kind, nurturing. And those are all great qualities, but they're not qualities we associate with leaders. With leaders, like you said, we want to see independence. People who don't care that much, what people think, outspoken, decisive. And so women are in the situation where if they display a lot of quote unquote feminine qualities, they are well-liked, but they are not considered serious contenders for leadership positions. And if they display a lot of leadership qualities, people might think they're okay for leadership positions, but they will not like them and in fact often have great feelings of animosity towards them. You see this a lot of times in like female politicians, there'll be an incredible amount of hatred towards them. So it's this tricky, tricky, double bind that women find themselves in.

Nora Ali: What do we do with this information though, Stacey? Because I want to be well-liked and I want to be a leader. So how do I operate, aside from reading your book? How do I operate then?

Stacey Vanek Smith: Then you have to order the book. No, the approach that I took, and I think what the research shows works quite well for women is two-fold, in negotiation and in the workplace. So in a negotiation, the thing that you've got to watch for is any situation that becomes kind of a face-off, like High Noon, which happens a lot in negotiations. I think we tend to think of negotiations in that way and that can often work for men okay. It's like, oh yeah, he's standing up for himself. He's asking for something. So even if the negotiation doesn’t go well, or isn't successful for the man, people will think he's like a good guy. If a woman asks for more, you run into the, wow, she's pretty greedy. Like she really thinks a lot of herself. So in a negotiation setting, what I recommend is, instead of having like a face-off situation, you try to create a kind of a future together situation. So you say like, you know, I'm so excited to be at this company. I see myself moving here with you guys. I love the work that you're doing. Here's what I want to grow into. I’m really excited to see you guys doing X, Y, and Z. My own work I feel like I've really been growing. I've produced X percent more this year than I did last year. And the reviews I've gotten from clients have been great. I think a salary of X, you know, it was appropriate when I started out. But now considering the work that I'm doing and where I want to go, I feel a salary of Y is more appropriate and it is important to me to feel valued the way that I really value working here. And I want us to work toward a future together. What do you think about that? So it's not like, listen, I need $75,000 or I'm walking, which I think is actually quite a productive approach for anyone in negotiation, but I think is especially useful for women just because of the backlash you can get if you end up in a face-off situation, which often happens around money. As far as like a female in management, one of the things that you can do because as a female manager, you often have to give people orders. You know, you have to tell them to do things and demote them and promote them and tell them they have to work a weekend or things they don't want to hear. And so one kind of interesting work around for women in that case is people don't mind if women are feisty or ask for a lot, if it's on behalf of someone else, if it's on behalf of themselves there is a lot of backlash. But if you're asking on behalf of someone else, people admire it. It's very much in line with what people like to see in women. So basically you say that you're doing everything for the team. The team becomes a proxy for another person, and then people don't mind as much. Management consultant types call this transformational leadership, and it's been shown actually to be a more effective form of leadership for all genders. So those are the two main ways that I lay out for women to deal with the Cinderella Syndrome. 

Scott Rogowsky: We're all in this together, right? That's the, the we. 

Stacey Vanek Smith: Better together. 

Scott Rogowsky: Better together. You addressed the five ways that power manifests itself in today's workplace. There's money, confidence, respect, support, and title. I think money and title are probably a little easier to negotiate. They're more tangible. Competence, respect, support, these might be more difficult to change. And I think it comes down to the stories that exists and how the male dominated society has always imagined men being in power and to look at women being in positions of power seems ridiculous to them. How can we move that story even further along from where we were even 50 years ago to get to a more equitable place?

Stacey Vanek Smith: Well, I think that's exactly right. In certain ways, it seems like we should be past where we are. And a lot of people have said that to me like, well, do we still need a book like this? Aren't we past this? But if you look at the data, the wage gap has been stuck almost for 20 years, but very stuck for 10. And that is women earning 80 cents on the dollar compared to men, for Black women at 63 cents. And for Latina and Indigenous women, it's 55 cents on the dollar. And those numbers haven't moved in 10 years. And the same with CEOs, CEOs are 80%, male, 90% white. I mean, they're just stuck, but it does seem like we should be past that. So many things have changed. We've seen so much change, so much transformation in our economy, but I think you're right. People still have so many conflicted feelings about women in leadership. I mean, just look at the whole girl boss implosion, we still can't quite gin up an idea of, a feminine leader that's not kind of ridiculous or ends up collapsing in on itself a year later. It's still hard for us for whatever reason. I think you make a good point that change is slow and it happens over time. And that sometimes it takes us a while to catch up with ourselves, our better selves. I think ultimately the way to change is policy, like government policy, company, policy, companies pushing for more diversity, companies making a point of making change and government policy potentially doing the same thing. But until then, we can't always affect what the companies we work for do or the government, so I wanted to have advice for people who are coming up against this weird contradiction in who we want to be and who we actually are and just how to deal with it, different options for moving forward. But you know, some of the options are hard. Like some of the answers, I really liked. Some of the answers I didn't like. Some of them felt very cringey, but Machiavelli was very, very big on looking at the reality of the situation. These are biases that are there and you can be angry that they're there and should be. You can think that they shouldn't be there, but I think there are ways to do it. And I wanted to offer some ways to do it, but yeah, the answers were often uncomfortable for me, honestly. 

Nora Ali: And you make it feel very approachable because us as individuals, aren't going to change the system in the next few months, or years or decades. So this allows you to have agency over your own actions and try to at least make a difference in how you are treated in the workplace. This does feel like a very good time to take a very quick break. When we come back, we're going to talk to Stacey about some more applications of the Machiavellian lines of thinking that she has studied and maybe even some IRL examples. We'll be right back.


Scott Rogowsky: Stacey, I think it's fair to say women are objectively better than men, smarter than men on the whole. The stats bear it out. Well, there's evidence here. I mean, women are scoring better in school, better on tests, getting better grades. And this is according to your own writing. Women attend college and higher numbers. I assume these have been fact-checked. 

Stacey Vanek Smith: I mean, you're right. Women are going to college in greater numbers, graduating. More women than men go to law school, going to medical school, business school in greater numbers. Yes, absolutely.

Scott Rogowsky: And when I think about society today in 2021, there seems to be a lot of backlash and desperation coming from those traditional holders of power because they're seeing it slip away. To what extent do you think fear is the issue at the heart of all of this?

Stacey Vanek Smith: You're so right. Fear is the issue. And it's people who are afraid of losing their own position and losing the power and influence they have. I mean, who among us is not worried about that, right? Like we want to keep the things we have. We feel like we've earned them. I feel like one of the narratives that often comes up and I hear this, particularly from men, is they're like, well, I worked really hard for what I have. Like this wasn't easy. I'm not good at negotiating. I feel like the workplace is hard for everyone. And that can kind of complicate things too, because people are like, well, wait a minute, nothing was handed to me, but there are huge advantages that people have had as you know, white men, white people have enormous advantages and it is, has become hard and almost impossible to succeed outside of those parameters. I mean, if you look at the numbers of CEOs and things like that, I would say the answer is from my backgrounds in economics and business journalism, which is that the fear response comes from looking at things as finite, right? Like there's just so much wealth that is around. And I have to hoard my part of it. Or there are just so many leadership positions at this company, but that's not true. The economy is not a zero-sum game. It grows, the pie gets bigger. Our economy is way bigger. The stock market has tripled. This isn't about a little pie that we have to divide up and you have to guard your section of it. When we succeed, when we, like you were saying, Nora, get venture money to women, to women of color. They create businesses that hire more people that generate more money that grow the whole economy. And I think that's the answer. There's actually nothing to be afraid of in other people succeeding. And there are such enormous changes happening right now in such enormous awareness that I think it does frighten people, but there really isn't anything to be frightened of because the more people can succeed, the more success there is, the more money there is in the economy, the bigger our economy is. 

Scott Rogowsky: We need just a national therapy session. Just to say, don't be it's, it's going to be okay. It's going to be okay,

Nora Ali: Stacey, I want to bring this back to some practical advice. Let's say you are a woman, a person of color, a traditionally historically excluded person looking for a job in tech. You have a section in your book called I love the section, by the way, it's called a White Manlandia. And this is where you advise people to, when they're looking for a job, look at the people that are at the highest levels of power in that company. Do you see people that look like you, and use that information to assess whether that's a good place for you or not. So how should you apply what you see around you when you're looking at a new job, a new career, and how do you apply that to the decisions that you should make as far as where to go versus saying, you know what? I actually don't see anyone like me, but I'm going to be the first one. And I'm going to change the system. How do you sort of balance those two schools of thought?

Stacey Vanek Smith: Well, this is advice that came from Sally Krawcheck, who is a Wall Street CEO, and definitely moved into many positions where no one who looked like her was in the executive suite, but she made a really good point. And I think the best way to think about it is you're just gathering data, right? So you're looking around at the company who is this company promoting, who are the middle managers? Where are the women? Where are the people of color? Is it a very balanced workplace? Is it super white? Is it super male? I don't think you have to make a decision based on that. Because like you say, if you're breaking into a new field or if this is just the job that you love, then you shouldn't not do it because you don't see anyone who looks like you in the executive suite, but maybe just to be aware of this and also to look at your options, you know, talk to people, try to figure out what the atmosphere is. Will there be avenues for you to succeed? Are you like a token? Are you part of a transformation at the company?

Nora Ali: How do you go about assessing whether you're a token or not versus a company actually being authentic in their efforts to try to diversify? I, I've seen this firsthand, a lot of companies trying to diversify for the first time, given the conversations we've had in the last couple of years on racial injustices and inequity. So is there a way to even tell the company's heart is in the right place? 

Stacey Vanek Smith: That is the question. I mean, I think looking at the leadership positions is a really good way to do that, right? Do they just want to put you on the brochure and keep you in like some underling position forever? And also what your particular path forward is at a company? I think that is a key too, to say like, well, where do you see me going at this company? And also to think about the accommodations you might need. One of the things that's probably the biggest factor in women not getting to leadership positions in the workplace is childcare. It's one of the biggest elements of the pay gap, of the promotion gap, of the everything gap is childcare. And during that pandemic, this got so much worse. Women lost 30 years of progress in the workplace, just mostly because of child and family care. So asking those questions upfront, if that is potentially going to be a concern, like what accommodations are you making? Like, do you just want a face that looks like mine in this position? Or are you really thinking about how to maybe change the company? How the company can open up a little bit to make more diversity possible?

Scott Rogowsky: It's scary to think how much creativity and innovation and wealth has been lost, sacrificed because we don't have more women in the workplace, more people of color more because they're at home having to take care of children because we don't have universal childcare, but we're working on it. We're working on it. And we're talking with Stacey Vanek Smith, whom we'll return to in a moment after a quick break for sponsors. 


Nora Ali: Stacey, one of the most interesting anecdotes you have in the book is based on a Supreme Court Justice study, where literally RBG got interrupted and mansplained to by a male lawyer. And there's this notion of the he-peat, have you heard this before, Scott? 

Scott Rogowsky: The he-peat?

Nora Ali: The he-peat,  where a woman will voice an idea in a room and it'll get ignored and no one likes it. And then a man will say the exact same thing and everyone's like, oh my gosh, that's the best idea ever.

Scott Rogowsky: I don't know about that, but I've heard this thing where a woman will say something in a room and will get ignored and then a man has to explain it and they get the credit for it.

Stacey Vanek Smith: Oh my God.

Nora Ali: Everyone around us is now nodding their heads because Scott said it. So yeah. So, Stacey, what were some of the more surprising learnings from that study?

Stacey Vanek Smith: This study was absolutely one of the most fascinating from the book. It was a group of researchers. They looked at Supreme Court transcripts and looked at how often male and female justices were interrupted by both other justices and by lawyers arguing cases. By the way, lawyers arguing cases are expressly forbidden to interrupt the justices, period. But of course they still do it because it just happens. So they found that the female justices spoke less. They used fewer words when they did speak. And yet they were interrupted three times more often than the male justices, which is shocking. And this shows a couple of things. I think one is, it's not always about the quality of the idea. So much of how we react to things has to do with where those things come from. And also just that it's not a question of you failing as a person, always it's an institutional issue. It's a cultural issue. And this is why RBG got interrupted by a lawyer who needed her vote.

Nora Ali: This makes me so sad. And Stacey, I can think about a couple of times in my life where I have literally had to say, please let me finish when someone is trying to interrupt me, but that is indirect conflict, Stacey, with my need to be well-liked. I feel like a rude person when I say, let me finish. So how, if you're someone who gets ignored, whose voice isn't that loud in rooms full of men, how do you overcome that? How do you actually get heard in the workplace? 

Stacey Vanek Smith: Well, that's a great point because not only does it maybe feel not great to say, excuse me, can I please finish? The reaction that you get isn't necessarily going to be positive if you do that. And if your ultimate goal is to be heard and have influence in the workplace, that might not be the best way to do that. There is an emotional component to being interrupted or feeling like you're not being heard. And it's very tempting to react to it emotionally. And in a certain way of looking at it, it's totally appropriate. The genius of Machiavelli, I think, is that he looks at situations without emotion. So I think what Machiavelli would say is well, what's your goal here? If your goal is sort of a longer term influence in the workplace, if you're snapping back a lot, you might lose influence. People start to say like, oh, Nora, don't talk over Nora. She's very touchy, like that kind of thing. And that's not fair, but it is the reaction that often happens. And so there are all kinds of solutions. My very favorites came from the women in the Obama administration, the women in the White House felt like they weren't being heard, their ideas weren't getting traction. So they came up with a strategy called amplification. And how that would work is nor if you like introduce an idea about microphones and you say, well, I think we should start using X microphones and Scott interrupts you and says, you know, I was just thinking about something else the other day and like, maybe we should change our microphone policy entirely. And then I come back and say, oh, Nora, that's so interesting. What you're saying about microphones. I totally agree. I think that's a really important point. And then someone else would come in on top of me and say, I totally agree, Stacey, Nora's point about microphones is excellent. And that's a way to make sure your idea’s heard to quote unquote, amplify it. Right. But without you having to say, actually, Scott, can I finish my point? Which has a little bit of blow back on you, potentially.

Scott Rogowsky: The lessons from Machiavelli could also extend into this context, right? I mean, if someone's interrupting, you could slaughter them and their children and that would be an effective way to silence them.

Stacey Vanek Smith: That's true. I mean…

Nora Ali:  Maybe not. 

Stacey Vanek Smith: Yeah, that's true. 

Scott Rogowsky: How would Machiavelli exist in today's society, do you think? Or if he's, if he's on a date and someone's, you know, on their phone, how would he react to that? Like he wouldn't, he wouldn't take that too kindly. 

Stacey Vanek Smith: Slaughter them and their family. 

Scott Rogowsky: Another stiletto to the throat. Yeah. Well, I think your book is coming at the perfect time, honestly, Stacey, because you really do provide ways to find your true value, which I think comes down to confidence and maybe displacing some of that anxiety, is really kind of rooting yourself in your own self-worth. 

Nora Ali: Did he just mansplain your book to you?

Scott Rogowsky: If I can mansplain your book...

Stacey Vanek Smith: He mansplained it beautifully. I have to say. And you know, it's true. It sounds like such a simple thing. It is so hard, right? It's so hard. But I do think right now is a really powerful time for workers because companies are so eager to get new workers and to keep the workers they have that I think workers probably in the 15 years I've been covering the economy have never had this much power. And I think because we've all been accommodating our weird new world, and many of us have new work in situations, there's a lot more flexibility than there ever was. And so that's especially exciting for women around childcare, around family care, things that have traditionally kept women out of the workforce. I think you're just in a better position to ask for things now, as a worker to ask for more, to ask for a new situation, to be a little creative about what will make you happy in the workplace. And I think companies maybe more than ever before, at least since I've been covering the economy, are inclined to listen and to work with you.

Nora Ali: It sounds like you're pretty optimistic, Stacey, and we're moving in the right direction. One of the last things I want to ask you about is just how to build that confidence that Scott alluded to. And you have this fun analogy with Robert California from The Office in your book, because he is the ultimate example of just pure confidence. So how can we apply how Robert California operates to our everyday lives and find confidence in the workplace, especially for entering into new industries, new career paths, and trying to chart territories we’ve never charted before? 

Stacey Vanek Smith: I was binge-watching The Office when I was writing the book and I got to the scene and I think I've watched it like 50 times. In the scene they're trying to replace Steve Carell as head of the Scranton Pennsylvania branch of Dunder Mifflin Paper Company. So they have all these famous actors coming through, basically trying out for the job. So James Spader comes through, he, his name is Robert California. He has no knowledge of the paper industry, no experience selling paper, anything, and he walks in. And the first question is like, well, what do you think qualifies you to run a paper company? You have no experience in paper. And he goes off on this whole thing and it is absolutely mesmerizing to watch

Audio clip from The Office: You don’t work in sales do you? There is no such thing as a product. Don’t ever think there is. There is only sex. Everything is sex. 

Stacey Vanek Smith: And the people who are interviewing him on the panel or so taken one of them is like, I think you might be overqualified. Because he's just so confident, right? I mean, the power of confidence is absolutely supreme. It is more powerful in your success than competence. It dictates your happiness, your salary, so many things about your life. And it's hard. If you struggle with confidence. It feels like one of those elusive things. It's like, well, I'd love to be more confident, but how do you achieve that? So they have studied this. There's this guy at Berkeley, Dr. Cameron Anderson, who has made a study of how to be more confident. And I was enormously relieved because he said, you can fake it actually. And faking confidence, it's not as effective as actually being confident, but it gets you part way there. So you just think like what would a confident person do and do that? And that can kind of get you pretty far. I would say the main thing that confident people do and Machiavelli was a huge champion of this is act. Action. Confident people act. They make decisions. They move forward. People who lack confidence, they waffle, they wait, they hang back. And so that was the main piece of advice. But the main thing is just to act, take action, make decisions. That can be really hard. But I think that was really interesting advice for me because I do tend to be a waffler and a data gatherer in my life. But I think there's a lot to be said for just taking action and maybe you mess up and maybe you fail and that's okay. You can try again, but it takes confidence to be like, well, if I fail, that's fine. I'll just do it again. And if you lack confidence, it's like, oh my God, if I fail, it's all over.

Scott Rogowsky: We are confident, Stacey, that this has been a phenomenal podcast episode with you. Thank you for taking the time. Stacey Vanek Smith is the co-host at NPR’s The Indicator from Planet Money and the author of Machiavelli for Women: Defend Your Worth, Grow Your Ambition, and Win the Workplace. Thank you for writing this book, Stacey. It’s truly a wonderful addition to our curriculum and thank you for joining us on Business Casual.

Nora Ali: Thanks, Stacey. 

Stacey Vanek Smith: Thank you so much for having me.

Nora Ali: And now Business Casual listeners, we want to hear from you. What has your experience been as a woman or perhaps historically excluded person in the workforce? Do you agree with your company's approach? Does your company have a lot of work to do? Send us an email at businesscasual@morningbrew.com or DM us on Twitter @bizcasualpod. That's B I Z casual pod, with your story.

Scott Rogowsky: You can also leave a voice memo on our website, businesscasual.fm, or give us a ring and leave an old fashioned voicemail. Our number is 862-295-1135. That's 8 6 2 2 9 5 1 1 3 5. As Business Casual grows, we're excited to get to know our listeners. That's you, old and new. Drop us a line and don't forget to leave your name and where you're calling or writing from so we can hear from you in a future episode. Business Casual is produced by Katherine Milsop and Bella Hutchins, additional production, sound design, and mixing by Daniel Markus. Alan Haburchak is the Director of Audio at Morning Brew. Sarah Singer is our VP of Multimedia and Jessica Cohen is our Chief Content Officer. Music in this episode from Daniel Markus and the Mysterious Breakmaster Cylinder. If you like what you heard, please follow Business Casual on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you go for ear candy. And we'd love it if you would give us a great rating and a review. The reviews are coming in, Nora. They're so nice. People love us. They say we're going to win the Nobel prize for chemistry.

Nora Ali: I saw that one. I'm pretty sure it wasn't my mom, but someone believes it. 

Scott Rogowsky: I believe it. 

Nora Ali: Thanks for listening to Business Casual. I'm Nora Ali.

Scott Rogowsky: And I'm Scott Rogowsky. 

Nora Ali: Keep it business.

Scott Rogowsky:  And keep it casual.