As colleges and universities are called to diversify their faculty and staff members, we must attend both to search and hiring practices and to the retention and thriving of those hired. More Than Ready: Be Strong and Be You . . . and Other Lessons for Women of Color on the Rise (New York, Seal Press, 2020) by Cecilia Muñoz, is an accessible, practical, and wise resource for “first women” as they join or encounter challenges in new departments, programs, and administrative roles. Based largely in her eight-year experience as the first Latinx to serve as President Barack Obama’s director of intergovernmental affairs, and then as director of the Domestic Policy Council, Muñoz weaves into the book the voices of seven other first women to offer inspiration and specific suggestions for success.
Over ten chapters, More Than Ready moves from early discovery of one’s history as a source of courage and figuring out what work is one’s to do (sometimes by accident, sometimes by failure); through tools and suggestions for addressing such challenges as tokenism, self-doubt, needing to say difficult things, and significant setbacks; to questions of managing work and family and of transitions to new roles. An example of how Muñoz’s narrative helpfully opens nuances is Chapter Four’s reflection on when and how to speak up:
But even in a place that honored diversity and lived it, I could see that some of what I brought into the room was outside of what my colleagues were familiar with . . . That’s part of what diversity is for: to challenge people and to provide more perspectives to get a better result. But this puts a lot of responsibility on those of us who are the others at the table. . . . It can feel easier to just let it go . . . because it’s easier to get along that way and to feel more like one of them (pp. 88-89)
More Than Ready also reveals Muñoz as a valuable mentor and supervisor, one who “pays forward” the support and encouragement she has herself received, and thus is a useful read for those who have supervisory responsibilities. Muñoz acknowledges through specific examples the ways in which mentors contributed to her success, with particular praise for her boss Valerie Jarrett as a source of candid feedback.
Some may judge More Than Ready as insufficiently critical of traditional institutions, like the Washington, D.C. establishment. Some may find Muñoz too patient, too willing to recognize a ripple rather than bemoan lack of a splash or a wave. In my experience working with students and colleagues at an institution pushing important questions of equity and inclusion, I have observed that in the toughest of diversity conversations committed persons yearn for practical and caring advice. Cecilia Muñoz provides such advice. That her strong voice is tempered with empathy, honed with kindness, and grounded in finding personal joy gives More Than Ready its narrative power.