The best books about women’s rights in the American workplace

Why am I passionate about this?

Women’s rights in the workplace have been my passion for thirty years. As a sociologist who does fieldwork and oral histories, I am interested in understanding work through workers’ perspectives. The most important thing I’ve learned is that employers can be notoriously reluctant to enact change and that the most effective route to workplace justice is through collective action. I keep writing because I want more of us to imagine workplaces that value workers by compensating everyone fairly and giving workers greater control over their office’s rhythm and structure. 


I wrote...

Racing for Innocence: Whiteness, Gender, and the Backlash Against Affirmative Action

By Jennifer L. Pierce,

Book cover of Racing for Innocence: Whiteness, Gender, and the Backlash Against Affirmative Action

What is my book about?

How did women and Black men fare in American workplaces at the height of the backlash against affirmative action in the 90s? Looking at the experiences of women lawyers and Black male lawyers in a legal office, my book finds that the backlash stalled the progress of their careers. Confronted daily with demeaning sexist practices, many women left. Faced with anti-affirmative action rhetoric that African Americans were “not qualified” and other exclusionary practices, Black men feeling unwelcome also left for other jobs.

My book also helps us understand how these elite white men came to deny the role they played, wittingly or not, in sustaining institutionalized racism and sexism at work and provides critical evidence to challenge their denials.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Equality on Trial: Gender and Rights in the Modern American Workplace

Jennifer L. Pierce Why did I love this book?

When the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) first opened its doors in 1965, sex discrimination had many different meanings to women who wrote in to complain.

Some pointed to the abysmally low pay in “women’s occupations” such as secretarial work, while others described the barriers women faced getting into professions such as management or law. Katherine Turk’s fascinating book shows us how and why this government agency invented an official definition for sex discrimination. 

Importantly too, Turk highlights the consequences this definition came to have for women in a varied occupations and professions. The EEOC’s understanding of sex equality helped improve workplaces for some categories of women workers, but not for most. 

By Katherine Turk,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Equality on Trial as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In 1964, as part of its landmark Civil Rights Act, Congress outlawed workplace discrimination on the basis of such personal attributes as sex, race, and religion. This provision, known as Title VII, laid a new legal foundation for women's rights at work. Though President Kennedy and other lawmakers expressed high hopes for Title VII, early attempts to enforce it were inconsistent. In the absence of a consensus definition of sex equality in the law or society, Title VII's practical meaning was far from certain.
The first history to foreground Title VII's sex provision, Equality on Trial examines how the law's…


Book cover of Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture

Jennifer L. Pierce Why did I love this book?

Roxane Gay’s memoir writing is brilliant! So is her collection of personal essays written by women who have experienced sexual harassment and rape.

Gay’s painful introductory piece on learning to understand her own experience of being gang raped at age twelve as “not that bad” illuminates the problem with rape culture. Women learn to blame themselves. 

As the essays by other authors make clear, rape culture is bad and women are often denigrated when they speak out, but they must come together to foment change. Whether the essays focus on workplace harassment or date rape, they all hold key lessons for the importance of women’s sexual autonomy at work.

By Roxane Gay,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Not That Bad as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Edited and with an introduction by Roxane Gay, the New York Times bestselling and deeply beloved author of Bad Feminist and Hunger, this anthology of first-person essays tackles rape, assault, and harassment head-on.

Vogue, 10 of the Most Anticipated Books of Spring 2018
Harper's Bazaar, 10 New Books to Add to Your Reading List in 2018
Elle, 21 Books We're Most Excited to Read in 2018
Boston Globe, 25 books we can't wait to read in 2018
Huffington Post, 60 Books We Can't Wait to Read in 2018
Buzzfeed, 33 Most Exciting New Books of 2018

In this valuable and…


Book cover of Household Workers Unite: The Untold Story of African American Women Who Built a Movement

Jennifer L. Pierce Why did I love this book?

Did you know that until 1974, the job category ‘domestic worker’ was excluded from labor rights that were established in FDR’s New Deal legislation such as the minimum wage and workers’ compensation? Did you know that 1960s union leaders ignored the exploitative labor conditions of domestic work because they considered these workers “unorganizable”?

Historian Premilla Nadasan’s wonderful book tells the story of Black domestic workers’ exclusion from legal rights to which other workers were entitled and their fight to gain those rights beginning in the 1950s and extending through the establishment of the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1974.

Telling this history through the life stories of domestic workers who were leaders in this movement makes this book a particularly compelling and worthwhile read.  

By Premilla Nadasen,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Household Workers Unite as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Telling the stories of African American domestic workers, this book resurrects a little-known history of domestic worker activism in the 1960s and 1970s, offering new perspectives on race, labor, feminism, and organizing.
 
In this groundbreaking history of African American domestic-worker organizing, scholar and activist Premilla Nadasen shatters countless myths and misconceptions about an historically misunderstood workforce. Resurrecting a little-known history of domestic-worker activism from the 1950s to the 1970s, Nadasen shows how these women were a far cry from the stereotyped passive and powerless victims; they were innovative labor organizers who tirelessly organized on buses and streets across the United…


Book cover of The Other Women's Movement: Workplace Justice and Social Rights in Modern America

Jennifer L. Pierce Why did I love this book?

In the United States, we often describe the history of the women’s rights by talking about the first wave at the turn of the twentieth Century and the second wave beginning in the late 1960s.

Historian Dorothy Sue Cobble blows apart this distinction by looking at the women’s labor movement from the 1930s through the 1980s. From this perspective, outspoken women in labor unions like Myra Wolfgang fought for both equal rights and protective legislation throughout the twentieth Century. I loved reading about these fearless women.

Long before second-wave feminism, labor movement women battled to ease the burden of the “second shift” for working mothers, supported maternity leave policies, childcare programs, equal pay for equal work, and advanced social justice issues such as racial and economic inequality.

By Dorothy Sue Cobble,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Other Women's Movement as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

American feminism has always been about more than the struggle for individual rights and equal treatment with men. There's also a vital and continuing tradition of women's reform that sought social as well as individual rights and argued for the dismantling of the masculine standard. In this much anticipated book, Dorothy Sue Cobble retrieves the forgotten feminism of the previous generations of working women, illuminating the ideas that inspired them and the reforms they secured from employers and the state. This socially and ethnically diverse movement for change emerged first from union halls and factory floors and spread to the…


Book cover of Doing Comparable Worth: Gender, Class, and Pay Equity

Jennifer L. Pierce Why did I love this book?

How can we remedy the fact that wages in predominantly female jobs (e.g., secretaries) have been devalued historically?

For comparable worth advocates, women should be paid a wage equivalent to men who work in a different job with similar skills and experience. But how do we evaluate and rank skills in different occupations to create equivalence? Sociologist Joan Acker takes us through two 1980s comparable worth evaluation processes to answer this question.

Her thought-provoking research demonstrates that the evaluation process itself was laden with gendered assumptions about the value of different skills. It also helps us understand how we can evade this problem in the future and create procedures with more equitable outcomes.  

By Joan Acker,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Doing Comparable Worth as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"Doing Comparable Worth" is the first empirical study of the actual process of attempting to translate into reality the idea of equal pay for work of equal value. This political ethnography documents a large project undertaken by the state of Oregon to evaluate 35,000 jobs of state employees, identify gender-based pay inequities, and remedy these inequities. The book details both the technical and political processes, showing how the technical was always political, how management manipulated and unions resisted wage redistribution, and how initial defeat was turned into partial victory for pay equity by labor union women and women's movement activists.…


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We Had Fun and Nobody Died: Adventures of a Milwaukee Music Promoter

By Amy T. Waldman, Peter Jest,

Book cover of We Had Fun and Nobody Died: Adventures of a Milwaukee Music Promoter

Amy T. Waldman

New book alert!

What is my book about?

This irreverent biography provides a rare window into the music industry from a promoter’s perspective. From a young age, Peter Jest was determined to make a career in live music, and despite naysayers and obstacles, he did just that, bringing national acts to his college campus atUW-Milwaukee, booking thousands of concerts across Wisconsin and the Midwest, and opening Shank Hall, the beloved Milwaukee venue named after a club in the cult film This Is Spinal Tap.

Jest established lasting friendships with John Prine, Arlo Guthrie, and others, but ultimately, this book tells a universal story of love and hope…

We Had Fun and Nobody Died: Adventures of a Milwaukee Music Promoter

By Amy T. Waldman, Peter Jest,

What is this book about?

The entertaining and inspiring story of a stubbornly independent promoter and club owner 

This irreverent biography provides a rare window into the music industry from a promoter’s perspective. From a young age, Peter Jest was determined to make a career in live music, and despite naysayers and obstacles, he did just that, bringing national acts to his college campus at UW–Milwaukee, booking thousands of concerts across Wisconsin and the Midwest, and opening Shank Hall, the beloved Milwaukee venue named after a club in the cult film This Is Spinal Tap.

This funny, nostalgia-inducing book details the lasting friendships Jest established…


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