Must-Read Business Books for Women

business books 2018 Update: We still stand by this roundup of must-read business books for women, but you may also want to check out our more recent roundup of six books to help achieve your New Year resolutions for your career and beyond!.

Which are the best books for women to read before they begin their careers? Which business books have been essential to you in the middle of yours? Are there any articles or general blogs that are essential reading as well? Reader E recently asked:

Been a regular reader for many years. I was wondering if you could do a round up of the working women books you recommend. I know NGDGTCO is often mentioned, but is there a certain set of books that you think women should read for work?

Very interesting! We’ve talked about some of the best books for becoming a better manager, as well as the best resources for becoming a leader, and I’ve even rounded up my favorite articles for working women — but we haven’t had a good open thread on point in a while. Here is my list of business books for women, but I’m curious what readers say:

Psst: we’ve also talked about the best personal finance books for a newbie.

Ladies, what would you add to this list of essential business books? Which books, new or old, have you read that have really helped your career? Any TED Talks or other resources other than books or articles that you’d throw in? (I was JUST wondering if we should start a book club, too…)

Pictured: P1400783, originally uploaded to Flickr by Franklin Heijnen. Leather texture background on Pin: Shutterstock / Stanislaw Mikulski.


Whether you're a woman lawyer, an executive, a manager, or another kind of businesswomen, we rounded up 5 must-read business books! These are FULL of great advice for work-life balance, strategies for success, and more. You must read them!


  1. Killer Kitten Heels :

    This one’s not woman-specific, but I really liked “Working Together” by Michael Eisner – the description of all of the different kinds of successful business partnerships was really helpful as a reminder that everyone has their own work personality, and that there’s no one single “work personality” that you need to have to be successful.

    Honestly, I think that’s one of the flaws, for me, of a lot of books geared towards women – they tend to either explicitly say or else imply that there’s one “right” way to be in the working world, and I think that ends up being a bit of a disservice to women who don’t necessarily fit the mold these books recommend. There certainly are sets of traits that are common to all successful people, but there are as many different ways of expressing those traits as there are successful people. Suggesting that success can only be achieved if you exhibit some specific set of behaviors really sets women who deviate from that “norm,” for whom those behaviors are going to read as inauthentic and disingenuous, up to fail, I think.

  2. WestCoast Lawyer :

    I used to like Working Mother magazine, but they seem to be unable to find enough content, so they moved from a monthly to quarterly publication schedule and extended my subscription by several years so I would still get the same number of issues I originally paid for. Now when I get it, it seems to always be one of their top places to work list, a couple very brief articles/profiles and a whole lot of advertising.

  3. I’m so excited to see ‘Getting Things Done’ on this list! Are there any fellow GTD-ers here? Do you follow the system exactly, or have you modified it in certain ways to fit your life/habits? What do you use for capturing? Have you merged digital and paper elements?

    • Yes! I use DGT GTD for Android. Not sure I’m applying it perfectly but it’s definitely better than no planning.

  4. Unfinished Business by Anne-Marie Slaughter. Following her immensely popular/contentious article in The Atlantic (Why Women Still Can’t Have It All), she wrote this book about how organizations/systems (not women) are in need of change. Very thought-provoking, I think.

  5. Simon Sinek Fan :

    I promise I’m just a fan, but I always feel compelled to recommend Simon Sinek’s books, Start with Why and Leaders Eat Last (or his Start with Why TED Talk) because they had such a profound impact on how I approach my career, how I see the role of leadership, and better understanding why some businesses succeed where others fail.

    • Midwest Mom :

      I would agree on Sinek – I made a career change when I realized my “why” was just to make the partners money. Decided I needed more to my career. Another powerful book for those in the audience that are older – Bob Buford’s Half Time: Moving from Success to Significance. Very powerful book that coupled with Start with Why changed my thinking on life after the kids were grown and out of the house.

  6. Coach Laura :

    Business Brilliant by Lewis Schiff – I recommend this to all graduating students but also recommended it to our CEO, for anyone really. There’s a good Forbes article that reviews it. Google “Business Brilliant by Lewis Schiff Forbes”

    I Know How She Does It by Laura Vanderkam (and her other books like 168 hours)

    Favorite book of Bill Gates and Warren Buffet reprinted recently Business Adventures by John Brooks

    When She Makes More by Farnoosh Torabi

    And I’ve recommended this one here before for anyone looking to change careers/industries and to find the right job/passion – The Pathfinder by Nicholas Lore. I like this book much better than What Color is your Parachute.

  7. Meg Murry :

    I haven’t read the 2014 edition of NGDTCO, but I preferred the first (or maybe 2nd) edition to the one that came out in 2010 or so – the 2010 focused a lot on personal brand and social media that wasn’t applicable to me at the time. Now, looking back on it, I guess if I quit scoffing at the term “personal brand” and mentally swap it with “work reputation” the advice probably would be better.

    Time to hit the library and see if the 2014 edition is available!

    The other thing to remember about NGDTCO is that its an excellent set of rules/advice for early in your career, and as you rise in the ranks and get to know your particular company and industry you can decide which of the rules you want to follow and which you can safely ignore.

    • KateMiddletown :

      Good point. I started NGDGTCO and it seemed a little out of touch and trying too hard to reach millenials. (I’m a millenial.)

    • Aunt Jamesina :

      I like your idea of swapping “work reputation” for “personal brand”. That expression sets my teeth on edge, I think because it sounds so forced.

  8. Depression :

    Not a business issue, but something lots of professional women deal with. I’m on anti-depressants, but as my depression is situational, the meds aren’t terribly effective. I have a super hard time gearing up to do anything not absolutely essential. Getting out of the situation that is bringing on the depression is a complicated, multi-step process that would take months if done properly. I can’t get up the energy to do it.

    What books and resources have you found helpful in attaining/maintaining emotional health?

    • Been there... :

      I’ve found talk therapy/counseling can do wonders for developing skills and strategies to address these kinds of issues.

    • Greensleeves :

      Therapy in addition to antidepressants. I’ve also found the following books helpful: Your Brain at Work, The Upward Spiral, anything by Brene Brown.

    • Senior Attorney :

      Yes, therapy. Your therapist can help you set little interim goals to tackle that complicated multi-step process and support you along the way.

    • Karen NYC :

      Feeling Good by David Burns. If you get therapy, I recommend cognitive behavioral therapy rather than Freudian psychoanalysis. It’s more practical and can have quick results. The techniques can be used anytime you start to feel stressed or depressed.

      Also, yoga is great.

      • Canadian_MBA :

        Yes, yes, yes. This workbook is terrific and have been referring back to the techniques and theories in this book for well over 15 years. Definitely helps “untwist” my thinking almost before it gets twisted up to begin with!

    • Nutrition – there’s a depression action plan at Food for the brain dot org that was very helpful for me. Because it’s supplement based (fish oil, etc) it’s not too hard to implement.

      Meditation – I use the guided meditations on Insight Timer, starting with the 6-10 minute ones, morning and night.

      Exercise – about 30-60 mins of walking spread across the day.

      All of this helped me get back on feet – naturally it didn’t fix everything but helped a great deal.

  9. I like Ask for It. Also, “I know how she does it” is a good book if you are committed to making a high powered long hour career work with motherhood. It actually helped me realize it was time to step away from that type of a career, because as I was reading it it became clear to me that it was not what I wanted. But I think it would be helpful if it is what you want.

  10. I’m reading “Give and Take” by Adam Grant, which categorizes people in the business world as Givers, Takers, and Matchers. The Givers, surprisingly, end up most successful–but I’m only about a third of the way through. So far, none of his examples includes a woman Giver who has been super successful. That’s disappointing. On the other hand, none of the Takers is a woman, either.

  11. KateMiddletown :

    Two books I’ve enjoyed are A Whole New Mind, which talks about the role of lefties in a right brained business climate, and, not 100% business-y, but The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. I think her philosophy on life and work is one to emulate. I adore her podcast and can’t wait to read Better Than Before.

    • KateMiddletown :

      re: A Whole New Mind – it’s actually righties in a left brain world. (I clearly am on the Right train today.)

  12. I am reading a GREAT book by William Shatner, called LEONARD, which is all about his freindship with LEONARD NIMOY, the guy from Star Trek with the ear’s. He was a BIG actor in the 1960-1970s, and beleive it or not, those ears were NOT real. He also worked as a cab driver and JFK once did NOT pay him for a cab ride until he chased him down for the fare. YAY! CAN YOU BELIEVE THIS? It is suposedly all true.

  13. Yes to Book Club!

  14. Deborah Tannen’s book on how men and women communicate-think it’s called “You Just Don’t Understand”. Excellent for a woman early in her career.

  15. Wuthering :

    I enjoyed What Works for Women at Work by Joan Williams and Rachel Dempsey. The book discusses four behavior patterns of working women (e.g., having to constantly prove yourself, hitting the “maternal wall”) and talks about strategies for dealing with the tensions in every workplace. I found it well written/researched and practical.

  16. Frozen Peach :

    I cannot recommend Darling, You Can’t Do Both (And other noise to ignore on your way to the top) highly enough. This was the game-changer in terms of how I approach my career. It seems like it’s for moms only, but it’s an amazing book about building relationships and making self-care part of your strategy for success in the workplace.

  17. “Women Don’t Ask” is the only book I’m evangelistic about. Okay, honestly, I haven’t gotten past an author talk and the introduction, but just that makes it one of the only books I’ve ever read that I would call life-changing. Also, I would recommend Elizabeth Warren’s “The Two-Income Trap” for any (male or female) twenty-something. Not about careers per se, but very eye-opening and useful to think through before really committing oneself to major life decisions.