Sunday, May 5, 2013

Review: Women, Work & the Art of Savoir Faire by Mireille Guiliano

When Mireille Guiliano became a senior executive and spokesperson for Veuve Clicquot, she took the Champagne to the top of the luxury market, using her distinctive French woman's philosophy and style. Now she uses those same talents and savoir faire to help readers pop their own corks and get the mostout of life. Drawing on her experiences at the front lines and highest echelons of the business world, she gives women (and a few men, peut-ĂȘtre) the practical advice they need to make the most of work without skimping on all the other good things in life.
Stylish, witty, and wise, Mireille segues easily from the small details to the big picture, never losing sight of what is most important: feeling good, facing challenges, getting ahead, and maximizing pleasure at every opportunity.

Mireille Giuliano is the author of a book you may have heard of, French Women Don't Get Fat. While I haven't read that best-seller of hers, not yet anyway (it's all for health, I assure you, vanity has nothing to do with it!), the title of this book made it seem like it would be a good read right now: lately I have been pondering career advancement, how we women fit into the world where men continue to rule, and why the situation is what it is. Guiliano was president and CEO of Clicquot, Inc. for several decades, so I figured she'd have some interesting thoughts on the matter.
I wasn't wrong. This French-born powerhouse tells it like it is, from women having to work harder and smarter than competitors to get ahead, to the fact that women continue to get the short end of the stick when it comes to compensation. What I liked though was that none of it was a lament of the situation. "It is what it is, face the facts, put on your big girl pencil skirt and go get 'em if that's what you want to do" is Guiliano's kind of career advice.
She is realistic about our feminine shortcomings (not playing up our own worth, not negotiating the terms to get what we want, gossiping, trying to take care of everything and everybody at the expense of ourselves) just as she is realistic about our strengths (ability to listen and see a problem from different angles, being flexible, being enough of a novelty to command immediate attention if we position ourselves as an equal with valuable insights to offer). She gives practical advice on topics ranging from presenting ourselves in the best possible light both on paper and in person, to entertaining, to value of excellent communication skills and time-priority balance. She talks about what makes a good leader and a good manager, the importance of not being reluctant to share information with other women and help each other advance, as well as the fact that sometimes chance and luck are huge factors in the course one's career takes.
Throughout the book she illustrates her points with real-life examples from her own career and experiences of other women, and men, she knows, which helps to make the book a more lively read. It is already written in a very accessible voice so these illustrations make it helpful and fun at the same time. If that's not fun enough there are recipes, self-deprecating humor, wardrobe advice and a healthy dash of French turns of phrase.
My only reservation regarding this book stems from the fact that despite all the positives I didn't get a feeling that it is aimed at women who aren't aspiring for corner offices. Granted, Guiliano writes from her experience, and she was a high-level executive in a luxury industry for many years, but not everybody is looking for titles with Cs in them, some of us just want to get out of the rut of the lowest levels of the support staff positions. On the other hand of course the time she spends talking about entertaining business associates or working with leaders of foreign companies only makes this book more useful for those of us who do want that C title. After all, tips on working smarter is something we all can use, from an entry-level assistant to a president of a corporation.
One last note: the very last sentence of this book is "Bon courage". Not luck, courage. That alone made the book worth reading.

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