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From Planet Money's 'The Indicator,' Stacey Vanek Smith Examines Women and Machiavelli

Stacey Vanek Smith's new book
Simon & Schuster
Stacey Vanek Smith's new book is "Machiavelli For Women: Defend Your Worth, Grow Your Ambition, and Win the Workplace."

The host of NPR’s “The Indicator” from Planet Money has written a book examining how women in the 21st century might draw inspiration from a political treatise written in the 16th century.

Machiavelli’s “The Prince” was written in 1532 as a political guide in male-dominated societies for rulers who may not always use ethical means to govern. But Stacey Vanek Smith says, once you strip away the book’s murder and adultery, there’s actually great advice for women on how they can better advocate and negotiate for themselves.

“There's a sort of a fundamental misunderstanding of Machiavelli. He's definitely become synonymous with backchanneling and ruthlessness. But really, when you look at his book, he's very analytical," she said. "It's all about kind of removing emotion from things and looking at the workplace like a chess board. It yields some chilling results. He says if you wrong someone, you should probably kill them and their whole family so they're not hanging around plotting revenge. I do not recommend this, by the way.

"The real gift of Machiavelli's work is looking at human behavior: how to get what you want, to plot out where you want to go, and to remove emotion from that equation. Emotion can be such a powerful thing in issues of discrimination and feeling excluded or held back at work. So, it can really be empowering to remove emotion and move forward from there.”

Although “Machiavelli for Women: Defend Your Worth, Grow Your Ambition, and Win the Workplace” is geared toward women, Vanek Smith says the advice can actually work for anyone.

“I think Machiavelli's advice really has quite a timeless quality, which is why it's stuck around for so long. I specifically addressed women because there are some particular binds that women often face in the workplace: people expecting women to be very nice and very nurturing. And having strange reactions when women are assertive or ask for more," she said. "And I think Machiavelli's advice really has a lot of very deep wisdom in there. As long as you take out the murdering parts.”

Vanek Smith says her book grew out of years of reporting where she saw stagnating numbers in areas like closing the gender wage gap and the promotion gap.

“I actually think right now is such a special time for workers because workers are in such high demand. Workplaces are in such need of workers all over the country and across sectors and across the whole socioeconomic spectrum," she said. "Workers have a lot of power right now. I think right now is a real moment when workers can go to their employers and ask for the flexibility to live where they want or to look for jobs in other towns or in other professions and really take a leap. [And] geography has really opened up for job seekers because of the rise of remote work.”

On Thursday, Vanek Smith will participate in a virtual conversation hosted by the Hudson Library & Historical Society. Details are here.