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Virginia Valian offers scholars and general readers a book of extraordinary excellence. Why So Slow? brings together decades of social science research on the role of gender in society.
In the schools, in the home, in the work place, men and women have taken on different roles and therefore have lived different experiences. Gender is socially constructed. But it affects who gets listened to, who gets promoted, and even whose goals get cheered in those coed soccer games! Understanding the construction isn't easy. Valian's book lights the path.
Valian's claim is that small differences can become, over time, significant differences. If disadvantage accumulates, the little molehills become mountains. If women (or any group) suffers a slight disadvantage in evaluation, hiring, promotion, consideration, or attention, over time the disadvantage can be great--and Valian gathers the numbers and data to support her view. Her title question, Why So Slow?, asks why women still represent only 8% of all the managing directors on Wall Street, still lag behid in publication, pay, and promotion. It is surprising to discover that the causes are broadly societal and not just "men as the enemy."
The book is beautifully structured, carefully written, complete (even a first rate index she must have created herself!), richly annotated, and a pleasure to read. Valian's tone is that of the scientist and scholar who has looked long and carefully at the world and has a few interesting thoughts to share. The final chapter should be required reading for anyone with a job, a child, or a future
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on February 9, 2001
I discovered this book browsing through the bibliography of Woman, An Intimate Geography by Natalie Angier. Some of the statistics Angier used truly frightened me, and this excellent book turned out to be the source. This book paints a fascinatingly disturbing picture of the status of women in modern society, and Valian relies on statistics, data and research to back up her theory that we haven't progressed quite as far as we might think. Because Why So Slow? focuses on research rather than anecdotal evidence or experiences, it does come across as 'somewhat dry,' as one reviewer noted, but I still couldn't put it down as I completely engrossed in and upset by what I was reading. I highly recommend this book to anyone at all interested in the position of women in current society. It certainly opened my eyes and has helped me notice things that otherwise wouldn't have caught my attention - examples of gender bias are so pervasive, and Valian does not sugar coat the story. Again, Why So Slow is invaluable for people - men and women alike - who are concerned about women's place in the modern world - I cannot recommend it highly enough. Be prepared to be annoyed and disturbed but don't miss it!
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on August 27, 2006
Valian is a cognitive psychologist. I saw her speak at a local university and was impressed by the breadth of evidence she presented re: how ingrained gender discrimination is in the thinking of both men and women, but also with her logical suggestions for addressing this problem. (She, as a matter of fact, was invited by women students and faculty to help them strategize how to get more women into higher positions.) In her convincing talk, I was struck by the evidence that discrimination is not something "done" by men to keep women down, but is, in fact, "done" equally to women by both men and women. So I got her book and was more impressed when I read it.

Valian presents experiment after experiment showing that women are held back by psychologically ingrained ideas held by both men AND women. She calls these gender schemas, which are a way for the brain to organize complex information. (They are close to stereotypes, but schema is a more neutral term). The evidence is fascinating and convincing. Examples: if a man and a woman of identical height stand in an identical height door frame, viewed separately and then rated, both men and women perceive the man to be taller. Or how a woman can make a suggestion during a meeting and no one hears it, but later a man makes the exact same suggestion and everyone hears it and thinks it's great. (Example after example you will all recognize and be disgusted by!) While the knowledge presented in this book is depressing, Valian ends with suggestions for ways to become aware of these fallacies in thinking and then actively counteract them within organizations.

I LOVE this book and it is a true eye-opener. It has really opened my eyes to what women have to surmount to get ahead when there are so many hidden negative assumptions ingrained in our culture. While it is written in an academic style and perhaps less accessible than a pop-psychology type or journalist-written book, one could read the introduction and conclusions to the chapters and skim parts of the in between text if it gets too heavy. (Like all academic writers she says her main points in the chapter intro, then presents evidence, then summarizes at the end of the chapters.) I highly recommend this book!
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on November 14, 2002
Virginia Valian is an outstanding researcher in the area of women's status in prestigious professions. Her analyses are concise and accurate. She has the gift of asking important questions and not biasing her answers with any specific opinions of her own. Her documentation is thorough and includes current thought when it is relevant. If you are interested in issues of women in academia and the work place, you need to read this book!
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on July 25, 2000
Spells out clearly and carefully how it is that, despite the good intentions of many, women are still paid less and are in fewer positions of power within the academy. Especially helpful in explaining how subtly gender bias can exert its effect. Should be on the Must Read list for any dean or provost who is serious about addressing gender equity in hiring, promotion, retention, or pay.
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on April 27, 1999
Hallelujah! Valian has not only done her homework; she's done ALL of our homework. Anybody who doubts the power of subtle discrimination to shape, and warp, women's professional lives should read this book. But all is not glum: Valian goes beyond merely cataloguing problems to offer thoughtful and creative solutions as well.
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Valian's premise is the "accumulation of advantage" and how one male and one female who start off on a theoretically equal footing quickly end up in different positions. We all have subconscious biases that play a part in our evaluation of education, experience, leadership skills, etc. Recognizing them, and ensuring equal exposure to experiences and opportunities, will help. An example that struck me was in the case of a female and a male in a business setting who both spoke a foreign language. Both were candidates for an overseas position with their company. The man's fluency was seen as evidencing his seriousness about his career, while the women's was seen as something she dabbled in--like a hobby. So, the ability to speak a foreign language was a plus in the case of the male but a negative (not even neutral) in the case of the female.
As a social scientist, Valian writes in an academic style. Her work is footnoted and statistics back up her points. She makes her arguments in a matter-of-fact way that lends credence to her book.
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on March 3, 1999
Valian has succeeded in taking the hysteria out of sex discrimination and replacing it with cool, calm rational thinking. Though much of her text makes reference to previous research, she incorporates these references with a graceful sleight of hand that enables the layman (laywoman?) to get the gist, while making resources readily available to those who wish to pursue the details. This book should be required reading of every Chief Executive Officer, and everyone else who agrees that we have not maximized our potential until we've made it possible for every woman to contribute her share of brilliance to the world in general. Women: you're not crazy after all. Valian points out ways that our influence is compromised in today's "slow" working world. It's not just you. It's everybody with two x chromosomes. Knowledge is power. Read this book.
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VINE VOICEon September 28, 2006
Why So Slow? The Advancement of Women, by Virginia Valian, is a book with a mission. It is not Professor Valian's objective in writing this book to discuss the issues of women in leadership positions with the limited number of other academics studying the issue. It is her objective to shake the people responsible for "the accumulation of disadvantage" of women, and to make them, or their supervisors, accountable for the recruitment and retention of women.

I know this is particularly acute, and action needed, at our nation's universities, where women tend to be recruited less often than men, especially in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields, and are promoted at a rate slower than equally qualified males. The book reviews relevant research, discusses the psychological issues involved in our development of "gender schemas," and discusses remedies.

I have heard Professor Valian discuss the issues raised in her book, and she speaks (and writes) with authority and conviction. This book, while not light reading, is written for the educated non-specialist. You can't read it and not be disturbed at how qualified and competent people can be considered unqualified or less competent.

This is a book to read, then get to work.
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on January 4, 2007
"Why So Slow" is the most useful book I've ever read on gender issues. It is packed with evidence from psychology and sociology of the ways in which gender affects the way we judge and the way we're evaluated. I took an entire course on the sociology of gender, I found Valian's book more thorough and detailed. And while readable, it's meticulously credible, including citations for every fact. There's no soapboxing or ranting -- just reason and data.

I read the book 5 years ago, ended using it heavily for a thesis I wrote, and still end up referring back to the book every 6 months or so to retell some particularly interesting fact or study to others I know.
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