We won't fix American politics until we talk about class

As Americans, we avoid discussing class — it’s kind of taboo. But everything we do is class-marked, from the coffee we drink to our deepest personal values. In this fascinating talk, scholar Joan C. Williams reveals why class conflict is the root of political polarization and how we can step back from the brink.
Joan Williams Headshot

Joan C. Williams is a Distinguished Law Professor and Founding Director of the Center for WorkLife Law at UC Hastings. Her path-breaking work helped create modern workplace flexibility policies and the field of work-family studies. She has authored over 90 academic articles and 11 books, including White Working Class: Overcoming Class Cluelessness in America and What Works for Women at Work. One of her proudest accomplishments was winning the Betty Crocker Homemaker Award in high school.

Negotiate more! Stop being such a wimp! Stop being such a witch! Often women receive messages that they have only themselves to blame for failing to get ahead— it’s not their fault. The fact is office politics often benefit men over women. Distilling more than 35 years of research, What Works for Women at Work is an insightful, comprehensive toolkit for getting ahead in today’s workplace, guiding women on how to be savvier than men to survive and thrive in high-powered careers.


White Working Class is a blunt, bracing narrative that sketches a nuanced portrait of millions of people who have proven to be a potent political force. For anyone stunned by the rise of populist, nationalist movements, wondering why so many would seemingly vote against their own economic interests, or simply feeling like a stranger in their own country, White Working Class will be a convincing primer on how to connect with a crucial set of workers–and voters.

What sparks your curiosity?

Why sober and responsible people voted for Donald Trump.

What inspires awe and fascination for you?

I’m inspired by someone who can look beyond their own truths to understand and respect other people’s truths.

Hobbies / Passions / Fun Facts

I have degrees from Yale, Harvard and MIT but what am I most proud of? Winning the Betty Crocker Homemaker Award in high school. The first rock concert I ever went to was Woodstock. I was 15 years old and alone: I got separated from my brother almost immediately and never found him. I was terrified but entranced. For vacations, I have hiked inn to inn, 7-12 miles a day, in Turkey, Italy, France and Japan (next spring).