Book Review: Broad Influence, by Jay Newton-Small

Then-Texas Governor Rick Perry’s 2012 decision to inflict himself on the rest of America by running for President was not, generally speaking, a move that had a tremendous impact on the republic. He bombed. Oops.

However, one personally positive side-effect of Perry’s run, for me, was that national journalists from all over made pilgrimages to Austin, to learn more about the strange organisms called “Texans” and the oddity we had elected Governor. While in Austin, some of these reporters wanted to meet with and talk to me about Texas politics in general and about Perry more specifically.

That’s why I got a call from Time Magazine correspondent Jay Newton-Small in 2012, wanting to set up a meeting. And we did indeed meet one day, in the lobby of the W Hotel in Austin. We talked for quite a while, and within an hour I concluded that I had been lucky enough to get to know one of the sharpest and most interesting journalists in the nation. We’ve maintained our correspondence since, which has mainly consisted of her updates on what she’s working on, and me dreaming up and suggesting justifications for her to return to Austin on her publication’s dime so we can have drinks and talk more. None of my justifications have worked at all. So far.

It is in that context that I have been eagerly awaiting the release of her book, Broad influence; How Women Are Changing the Way America Works, now freshly for sale at a bookstore near either you or near your computer.

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I just love a good double entendre

Now that the book’s out, wow. I certainly wasn’t disappointed. In fact I just blew an entire Sunday, beautiful weather and all (in Austin, sorry blizzard people), because I couldn’t put the damn thing down.

What Newton-Small doesn’t invest a lot of time doing is convincing readers that improving professional opportunities for women is the right thing to do, from a human rights perspective. I mean, it is, but that book’s been written so many times that if you are, on general principles, still a gender equality denier in 2016, there’s probably not much anybody can say to convince you otherwise. You’re just being a jerk.

What she does is more ground-breaking, interesting, and quantitative than that. She takes readers through institutions both public and private, and makes the compelling case that women achieving critical mass in those institutions fundamentally changes dynamics, dramatically improves outcomes, and is an absolute economic imperative for the future.

Her argument for gender parity is compelling from every angle, offering up evidence against the tokenism of having “a woman” in the boardroom, instead making the case that for an institution, public or private, to enjoy the full benefit of gender diversity, the institution must reach a critical mass of women. She quantifies examples from the White House and Congress, to Wall Street board rooms, law enforcement, the military, and the judiciary.

Every corporate CEO who ever approved a gender diversity hiring initiative purely for public relations purposes should read this book, to learn why the PR motive doesn’t even make the top ten list as to why a critical mass of women at every level of an organization is a good idea.

Testosterone-filled lawmakers should read it to find out the answer as to why, last time they were involved in a big legislative showdown, their brinksmanship probably didn’t work out the way they’d hoped.

Politicos should read it to find out ways they may be alienating significantly more than half of the electorate, and may not have a clue as to how they’re managing to do that, or why it’s important that they cut that crap out.

And everybody else should read it because it’s a damn good story well-told.

Meanwhile, Jay, here’s another justification for getting back to Austin: you have a book signing to do. First round’s on me.