Hardball for Women: Summary & Review

hardball for women book cover

In Hardball for Women (1992) author Pat Heim teaches women career strategies that help businesswomen advance their careers. Women are well represented in the workforce today, but if you want to make it to the top, Heim says that you need to learn the unwritten rules of this men’s game.

Bullet Summary

  • The real challenge is moving out of middle management: Women are now well represented in the workforce. And in management as well. What’s still lacking are women in executive and CEO positions
  • Women need to learn a whole new way of playing the game: men and women are both biologically different and have been nurtured differently. They learn vastly different ways of living and working, and the male way is (by far) the most likely way of getting you into executive and CEO positions 
  • Women are in a double bind: they can’t be too stereotypically feminine if they want to reach the top positions, but they can’t be too stereotypically male, either


About the Author: Pet Heim holds a Ph.D. in communication from the University of Colorado. She has been working as a trainer and corporate consultant on topics such leadership, gender differences, and career strategies.

First You Advance on Technical Skills, Then on Interpersonal Skills

When you begin your career, you advance on technical skills.
But the more you advance and the higher you go, the more it’s about interpersonal skills.

Higher up, technical skills become less relevant, and interpersonal skills more important. And interpersonal skills fall under the nuances of male and female differences.

To become executive material, women need to learn how to play the game the male way, without going full male -or they’d be labeled as overbearing bitches-.
The solution is this: understand the male culture to work well within it. Use the male style, slightly adapted to suit a woman, and revert to your more natural style when you’re dealing with more women or when you’re not in full competition mode.

Women Don’t Learn to Play Hardball

Because of both biology, nurturing, and the games they play as children, women never learn how to play hardball.

Women move into environments that have little hierarchies and little competition.
To sum it up: women never learn the skills that are necessary to win in business.

Men Learn to Engage in Conflict and Move On, Women to Avoid Conflict (& Never Move On)

Men learn to engage in conflict head-on. 
They play the game, fight, and when the game is over, it’s over. They can go back to being friends. 
Teams can also change, so men also learn to develop functional relationships in service of their goal.

Women instead don’t play in service of a goal, but play to strengthen their relationships. 
Conflict is not common, and it’s seen as dangerous to the relationship. Women tend to avoid conflict, and take it more personally. Women don’t see how someone can be aggressive, engage in competition, and still be friends. 
That does not help them to do well in the business world.

Men Respect Strength, Women Prefer Human Connections

Men see business as the extension of a team contest.

That’s why male language borrows so many words and expressions from either sports or war -the ultimate team’s contest-.

Leading groups of men requires strength. 
Some coaches in sports do it by being verbally aggressive, some do it by being physically aggressive. Some others step back and let their silences and nonverbal expressions showcase their authority.

Leading women is different.
Groups of women respond better to your humanity. You better lead women with your capacity to care and relate.

Women learn to lead and relate by building relationships and connections. Men learn to lead and relate through aggressiveness and competition.

Also read:

Women: Fit In, Be Liked; Men: Win, It’s OK if Someone Doesn’t Like You

Women’s play is about building relationships. 
There is no main goal for women beyond relationships. Thus, being liked and fitting in is paramount to women.

Men prioritize winning and competing.
If someone’s feelings will get hurt to win, that’s OK. And if someone might end up not liking you, that’s also OK.

Women Prefer 1:1 Relationships; Men Prefer Groups

Women tend to play games 1:1. 
Even in group sports, women often have a best friend.
Women learn to better read people’s emotions and reactions.

Men tend to play in groups. 
Their connections are looser, and more functional. 

Connections Are Functional for Men, Central for Women

Since men value competing and winning, then it also derives that the team can change and the new and old relationships can change as long as they keep progressing and winning in the competition.

Women instead don’t play to win: their plays serve to strengthen the relationship. 
So they prioritize the relationship instead of the game -or the goal-.

Popularity & Intimacy for Women, Success & Achievement for Men

In female groups, popularity and intimacy are signs of status and power.
They are both relationship-related, not hierarchy related.

In male groups, success, victory and achievements are signs of status and power.
That encourages men to be more aggressive and more “go-getters”, which tends to prepare them better for competition in the business world.

Men Are Hierarchical and Expect Allegiance: The Loyalty Tests

While women’s structures tend to be flat and fluid, men are used to a strong hierarchy with a boss on top.

The mistake women can do is to discuss the boss order, wanting to understand why, or to tell him why his task makes no sense.
To a woman, that’s about reaching the best decision. To a man, that’s insubordination and a challenge to his power and authority. 

Some bosses will even throw loyalty tests at you.
They might as you to carry out difficult tasks, like firing employees or showing up to the company’s retreat when you had just booked your holidays. 
Understand that to work as loyalty tests they must seem insensitive and outlandish. And if you want to stay in your boss good graces, you must comply.

Says Pat Heim:

To women, this is not a pretty picture. The pressure to kowtow to an autocratic leader with a giant ego can make them want to dig in their heels and not budge.

Since loyalty the male way is foreign to women, women are more likely to perceive loyalty tests as nonsense -or as a domineering father they need to rebel to-, and are less likely to comply.
Men can take female’s natural disposition as a sign that they are less loyal and less trustworthy -and that means, less likely to be promoted-.

Saying a strong “no” to your boss is a no-no.

Also read:

Women Settle Disputes With Accommodation, Men With Direct Competition

Since women prioritize relationships, they prefer to avoid losers and make everyone a winner.
Competition means that someone has to lose, and that would upset relationships and the “dead-even balance of power” that women prefer. 
That’s why, on average, women tend to avoid competition to settle disputes.

Women learn to fear conflict, so they revert to more indirect techniques which include avoidance, accommodation, or compromise.

Men instead rely more often on direct competition to settle disputes, and that might include escalations (see “power showdowns” in Power University).

Neither is necessarily wrong, but sometimes a situation is win-lose, or sometimes a woman might be better served with direct confrontation if she is right or better placed to win.

Don’t Talk Relationships at Work

Women are at ease discussing relationships and feelings.
Men are not.

If you discuss feelings and relationships with men, you will make them uncomfortable.
If he is your boss, you will pay an even bigger price.

Furthermore, competitive men will use the opportunity to frame you as touchy-feely. He will move the conversation towards facts, and you will look outplayed.

Women Don’t Get Points for Relational Work

Women’s skills help improve harmony, social capital, and communication. However, these skills and results often don’t get computed in women’s evaluations, and women end up doing them without getting anything in return.

Men Want to Win, Women Want to be Fair

Men care more about winning than women do, and women care more about being fair and “proper” than men do.

Women read the rules, and want to respect them.
Men read the rules, and think that if you can win while breaking some rules, then it’s OK.

That can give men an advantage when it comes to compete for the final win, because men are more willing to do whatever it takes to win.

Women Are Uncomfortable With Power

Many women shy away from power, as if it were a disease.
In part, it’s because of their socialization as group of girls where hoarding power is often a poor social strategy.
And in part, it’s because power is associated with men and masculinity. Being a powerful man is easy, being a powerful woman who also wants to be feminine, not so much.

And that’s not an issue to take lightly, says Pat Heim:

Your gender is a large part of who you are. You can’t feel good about yourself and not feel good about your femininity. To be comfortable with her power, a woman must be both powerful and feminine.

The author speaks the truth here, and she gives a couple of good points on how to combine femininity and power. 
If you’re interested in the topic, also read:


Women’s Most Common Stumbling Blocks

These are common stumbling blocks for women in their career:

  • Getting lost in details
  • Perfectionism
  • Taking responsibility of non-core tasks because “who else will do it?”
  • Being too available to the detriment of their own tasks

Dealing With Sexual Harassment Is Hard

The author says that of the women who claim sexual harassment, half are fired and 25% quit their job in frustration.

The research is dated though, far before the #MeToo, so things might have changed.
Still, to be on the safe side, consider that filing a sexual harassment suit might land you in troubled water.

Also read:

More Wisdom

  • Women ruminate more, so more conscious effort to move on is needed: MRI scans that once a negotiation is done, men tend to move on. Women instead continue to think about it, wondering if the right choice was made. This means that women should make a bigger conscious effort of moving on. And BTW, men perceive the ability to move on as strength
  • Women should avoid talking problems through with their bosses: Men think it through and come up with a solution, women talk it over. If you talk it over with a male boss, he will think you are not able to solve your own issues
  • Get buy-in before the meeting: men will resist your groundbreaking ideas because accepting will mean conceding power. That’s why you must get buy-in before the meeting. To women it makes no sense, but in a male culture, that’s how it goes
  • Married bosses with daughters are the best: Many men don’t want to make it more difficult for women, they just fail to see that there are more stumbling blocks for women. Men with wives and daughters though tend to be more knowledgeable and more sympathetic (and less likely to be chauvinistic dicks)
  • Dead-end bosses are bad bosses: some bosses are in dead-end positions. They have no power to help you up, and they might not even want to help you up.
    I agree, and this is why I was never a big fan of the “Never Outshine Your Boss” law from “The 48 Laws of Power“. Also read: “why the 48 laws of power wrong” and “the updated 48 laws of power


  • Nurture outweighs nature

I got the latest edition, and the authors note that they had a done a mistake in the previous editions for ascribing all the gender differences only to nurture and culture.

Good, finally people start realizing that the Blank Slate is nonsense.

I still felt the author still outweighed the nurture side over nature, though.
But, overall, thumbs up for having admitted and rectified the mistake.

One example left me stumped.
A male executive let her report fly economy while he flew business class. Then at the conveyor belt, he told her to carry all his luggage to the hotel. They were very heavy, and she struggled to keep up with him. 
Is this showing power, or is this just being a plain dick? To me, it’s no doubt the latter. But to the author, this was an example of displaying power, and the woman did well in doing as he wanted.

  • I disagreed with Pat’s POW on male loyalty

The author says that men switch their allegiances very easily from one team to another. 
Male athletes moving from team to team are such an example.
I quote her:

Men switch sides and loyalties as easily as they shed one team jersey and don another.

That’s not true, in my opinion.
The author fails to see that great athletes who stay in the same teams become legends in good part because they stayed with only one team. 

I remember sitting with a guy who loved football and, me being from Italy, the guy asked me about Francesco Totti.
Then he later whispered with a sigh of admiration “that guy is a legend”. 
Francesco Totti is in large part a legend because he stayed with Roma, his native town’s club, instead of going with better teams and win more.

Many supporters call players who often switch teams “mercenary”. And players who score against their former team often do not celebrate as a sign of respect.

So I disagree with the author.

  • Sometimes I disagreed with the advice

The author says that “making it up” is a strategy of hardball and giving your best guess pretending that it’s the right answer is accepted in the male risk-taking culture.
The author also advises you to give your best guess and pretend it’s the right answer. If it’s not, your colleagues will find out.

Albeit that might work at times, that’s also going to harm your reputation long term. Once people realize you pretend to know what you don’t know, your reputation will tank.

  • The “height advantage” power play

The author advises using height to your advantage whenever you can, and to neutralize people’s height advantage whenever you can.
I’m not too sold on this one, especially sawing off chairs’ legs or visibly sitting on the tallest chair. It reeks of a power move and it will put people off. Furthermore, if you’re short, you should first own your short-itude before getting into height power games.

  • The “women must help women” sectarian rhetoric

The author embraces the philosophy that women must help other women. 
To me, that always sounded sectarian and backward (also see: “Lean In“, the criticism part)


A mandatory read for women who want to make it to the top of their organizations.


On women’s difficulties in making in a man’s world:

Research has shown that behaving like a man will backfire; women are judged on women’s rules, not men’s. And while women do have more options than mere stereotypical behavior, their choices are more limited than men’s.

On women being uncomfortable with power:

Power is an uncomfortable subject for many. In fact, women tell us they don’t want to deal with that “power stuff” because they aren’t “power hungry.” They act as if power is a social disease to be avoided at all costs.

On the importance of having power to get things done:

Simply stated, power is the ability to get things done. If you don’t have power, you’re going to be ineffectual at work.

On the reality of the double standard:

Clearly, women can still play the game, but they can’t play it the male way—they have to be friendlier, in the female mode. Yes, this makes us want to gag, but it’s the reality of the workplace as it exists today.


I truly loved “Hardball for Women”.
And it’s not just because a whole chapter 8 was titled “Power Moves” :).

Jokes aside, this is simply one of the best books I have read on both career strategy, and genders.
Even when it comes to general power dynamics of the workplace, you will learn hugely no matter whether you’re male or female. I certainly did learn a lot.

It was eye-opening to look at workplace dynamics from a gender perspective. 
This is a must-read for any woman who wants to have a good career -or simply decide whether prioritizing career is what she truly wants-.

“Hardball for Women” provided me with the best contribution so far for the women’s lessons in my Power University course.
And that’s the biggest compliment I can make an author because I only choose the best.

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