Not Just Lucky by Jamila Rizvi

‘Have you ever noticed that really successful women are always lucky?’

When I first joined the paid workforce back in 1974, as a shop assistant in a women’s shoe store, my (male) boss was still complaining that equal pay (granted to women in 1969) forced him to pay women more, even though males were physically stronger.  This physical strength, he told me, would have enabled a male to carry more boxes of shoes up from the basement store room.  When I left the shoe store a few months later to start training as an enrolled nurse, I got to use a lot of physical strength.  Back in those days, there were few males in nursing and very few of the ancillary staff (or equipment) now available to help with the heavy lifting.  By the time I left the paid workforce, in 2009, there were a lot more women in the workforce.  But many of those women were in lower-paid work, were casual or temporary employees and were more likely to have accumulated less superannuation for their eventual retirement.

What has changed in the past 43 years?  Are women better off?  If they are not, what are the barriers to their success?   Have those barriers changed over the last four decades?  I picked up Ms Rizvi’s book to get a perspective on some of these issues questions from a young, articulate woman.

On Page 15, Ms Rizvi writes:

‘What this book is, is a career book that is unashamedly feminist.  One that will help you to help yourself, but also prepare you to help the woman sitting beside you and the woman who dreams of sitting beside you but thinks she never will.  It’s a book that will help you to feel more confident about work without blaming you for being less that confident to begin with.  It’s a book that will help you become brave enough to truly enjoy the success of others and to claim credit for your own.  It’s a book about being more than just lucky.  It’s a book about being brilliant.’

Ms Rizvi acknowledges the benefits bestowed upon her by a comfortable middle-class upbringing, but much of what she has to say is also relevant to women who’ve not enjoyed these benefits.  Women can lack confidence (in themselves, in their abilities, in each other) for many reasons.  And if you don’t believe that you are good enough, then it is difficult to present as if you are.  How do we, as individuals, work through some of the cultural and structural barriers to success?  And, importantly, how do we do this without sacrificing what is important to each of us as individuals?

This book is less about answers than it is about raising awareness about some of the issues.  Ms Rizvi does this by drawing on case studies and on her own experience.  It’s not about changing the system (that might be nice, but it isn’t likely to happen anytime soon).  it’s about working within the system, about being aware of ways in which your own behaviour may serve to undermine what you are trying to achieve.  It’s about surviving and (hopefully) thriving.  It’s also about recognising that women do not always act in the best interests of other women.

While I’d recommend this book to anyone interested in contributing to more effective equality in the workplace, I think it is of most interest to young women who are about to embark (or who have just embarked) on a professional career. It’s important to recognise that there is usually a gap between what workplaces should be like, and how they often actually function.   I think there needs to be more conversation about this gap and its causes.  While effective change needs to involve both men and women, awareness at an individual level is a good starting point.

I found this book easy to read, a good blend of personal experience, practical suggestion and research-based information.  And, on a purely personal level, I enjoyed the anecdote Ms Rizvi related about clothes.  She writes, drawing on her father’s experience in the public service, clothes may not give you power, but they do give you confidence.  I remember the tie to which she refers.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith