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Bookworm: All the business ladies, put your hands up

Ladies should always speak quietly.

They should never interrupt, never exhibit anger or be impolite. Ladies should always gently defer to their superiors. They should never ask for anything, but should be grateful for what they get. Ladies should know their limits.

BookwormAnd, as you’ll see in the new book “Darling, You Can’t Do Both” by Janet Kestin & Nancy Vonk, women in business should pay no attention to any of the above.

The headlines come as no surprise. Men make more than women for doing the same job, and it’s been ongoing for eons because yes, gender bias does exist in many workplaces. Our feminist foremothers tried to fix that, but, say Kestin & Vonk, “we still have work to do” and rules to break.

One of the rules says that we’ll never be successful unless we work constantly. That’s a rule to ignore, say the authors; break it, and you’ll learn that the best thing you’ll do for your career is to give yourself occasional time away from it. Decide what you need and “strike your own deal.”

Women are connectors, instilled with a reticent politeness that can backfire, especially when we heed the “good things come to those who wait” rule. Truth is, once we’ve become accustomed to asking for mentors, we learn more; once we learn to ask for what we’re worth, we earn more: Research suggests that a woman can leave between $350,000 and $500,000 on the table during her working years if she doesn’t know how to negotiate a salary.

Another rule demands that we be “nice” and assumes we’ll nurture, which could lead to perceptions of softness that might disqualify us for top jobs. Assertive behavior, say the authors, is essential in the workplace. You don’t have to be aggressive, but learn how to toot your own horn — and if you can’t make music, learn a good work-around.

Know when to ask for help, know what you need, and put the word “no” back into your vocabulary. Own your accomplishments. Look for role models who know how to take risks. And if you want to “have it all,” remember that becoming a mother can make you a better employee.

I began to feel like a bobble-head doll as I was reading “Darling, You Can’t Do Both.” Yep (nod-nod), yes (nod-nod), uh-huh (nod-nod-nod). Yes, (nod-nod). It’s that kind of book.

Like their career, authors Kestin and Vonk begin their book with a tale of soap, moving forward with personal anecdotes, cautionary tales from other women and advice. The former serves to underscore the latter, which is written with breezy, offhand informality, yet is curiously authoritative. That mixed mien makes this helpful, whether you sit in the farthest cubicle or the fanciest corner office.

If you’re tired of career obstacles and need guidance now, this is a book that’ll make you itchy to act and ready to go. “Darling, You Can’t Do Both” proves that, in business, you just don’t have to do it quietly.

“Darling, You Can’t Do Both, And Other Noise to Ignore on Your Way Up”

by Janet Kestin & Nancy Vonk c.2014, HarperCollins $19.99 304 pages