#Bossbabe, #Girlboss, #Mompreneur – Do These Titles Empower or Undermine Women?
“#Bossbabe”, “#Girlboss”, “#Mompreneur”, “#She-EO”, the list of monikers for women in business goes on.
I’ll be honest; there was a time not long ago that these “cutesy” titles made me want to vomit. I identify as a modern feminist (not the ‘bra-burning’ kind, but someone who is passionate about equality). So initially I would cringe at the sight of women tagging feminine identifiers onto otherwise self-explanatory titles.
When is the last time we referred to someone as #dadpreneur? It’s not only unnecessary but it undermines our value to use these kinds of titles, right?
Perhaps, and I’m not saying these titles aren’t problematic to some degree. In fact, I agree with all the negatives listed in this article. But since starting my business, my perspective has shifted. In fact, I use some of these hashtags on social media myself to attract the audience I am best suited to serve.
Like any debate, it’s never as black and white as it initially seems so I’ll invite you to explore the other side of this debate with me.
The Positive Side of Using Feminine Hashtags Like #Bossbabe and #Girlboss
Standing Out in Today’s World is Hard
It’s great that we have so many ways to market, but for us small business folks, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to stand out from the crowd. Using feminine hashtags allows us to find our ideal audience faster and easier, not to mention when we find that audience we can tailor our services so we can truly serve our community.
It’s Representative of a Movement that’s Inspiring Women
Take it from someone who tried her darnedest to influence corporate leaders using a top-down approach - change is painfully slow. The “girl boss” movement is about being the change – a bottom-up approach of going solo and re-inventing how we do business in a way that supports women. And it’s inspiring young women, who might not have seen themselves in business, to choose it as a career path. Young women need role models they can identify with.
We’re Stronger Together
Until women reach a critical mass of roughly 20- 30% in their workplace, it becomes almost impossible to influence change. In environments where we feel like a minority, we adopt the male styles of working and decision-making. For example, if you’re a breastfeeding mom returning to work, you may not be successful in continuing with pumping if you are trying to conform to the male standards of work. Or perhaps the work schedule is not supportive of school drop-offs and pick-ups. This may not seem like a big deal but in the grand scheme of things, it influences how we do business, and make decisions. When you’re not in the majority, on some level you feel less valued and less open to speaking your mind. So if you were to stand up for basic human rights over the bottom line on a particular issue, you may feel less entitled or supported in your opinion. Creating a movement, helps us feel that we are not alone, even if we are in an organization where we don’t have a critical mass of other women around us. It inspires hope and courage to stand up for our values.
Women have Unique Challenges
What if the #girlboss movement isn’t the underlying problem, but a symptom of an even bigger one? In other words, “don’t hate the playa, hate the game”.
The gender pay gap, childcare and exclusive workplace cultures are some of the unique challenges we face. For example, I’ve seen women in dual career situations being labelled and treated as the “trailing partner”, as if they were a bargaining chip. It is rare to see a woman being treated as the higher potential candidate in the relationship and I don’t think this is a coincidence. We all have biases, conscious and unconscious that make it harder for women, and other minorities to compete in business.
Using a hashtag that represents a group of marginalized people, female or otherwise, with common aspirations sheds light on these issues in a space where we know we will be understood.
Women Have Unique Goals/Values
Right or wrong, women tend to care about things that men don’t. And us modern women want to make it clear that we value things like family, community, environment, etc. Of course in some lines of business, this helps us build trust with our customers. And more importantly, reminds us to be unapologetic for caring about more than the bottom line. So why not use succinct ways to display these values? If you’re looking for a product for your newborn for example, are you more likely to trust a company run by like-minded moms, or another unfamiliar brand with equally good marketing but unclear corporate identity and values?
Women are More Collaborative in Their Leadership Styles
#Collaborationovercompetition or #communityovercompetition are also movements within the entrepreneur space, popular with women. It’s something for me, personally that has been very refreshing and inspiring to witness and be part of. I’m currently reading Big Potential by Positive Psychologist Shawn Achor. In the book he provides evidence-based examples that back up the idea of doing business in a collaborative way. But even though it’s just becoming more popular, it’s been the preferred way of working for most women for a very long time. If you haven’t already seen the video by Dr. Pat Heim, scroll to the bottom of this blog post to see her findings on gender differences in the workplace, research she started in the ‘80s. I think it’s a must watch for every ambitious woman. Using hashtags to self-identify helps us support one-another, seek each other out for collaborations, and to build our community.
Ambitious Women are Scrutinized, Men are Idolized.
I think one of the reasons we see a rising trend in these titles, is because it sends a clear message. “I’m not one of those ‘nasty’ women.” I am being facetious here if it’s not obvious, but there is a stigma with ambitious women that exists to this day. And some women are fighting those stigmas in the only ways they know how or in a way that allows them to stay “safe” in their comfort zone.
Women are Underrepresented as Leaders
Especially in the private sector, women remain underrepresented as leaders, despite having more education than ever. It’s no wonder there is conflict in identifying as a leader without the additional tags. We have all these questions in our mind like, “is it possible to have it all?” Without role models who have the lifestyle we see as realistic, we need to create our own version. It shouldn’t be seen as downgrading ourselves from a high potential leader, simply re-invented in a way that incorporates our unique strengths and values.
“Girls Just Want to Have Fun”?
Ok, are we re-inforcing this sterotype here? Maybe, but what if it’s time we all had a bit more fun in business? Really make things authentic, playful, and approachable. Personally, I think we need to get more creative in ways we can do this without also undermining our power, but for some it feels authentic to have a feminine title, so who are we to judge?
One Caveat to Add…
One thing I do want to mention to all my female readers. I see myself as a modern feminist. I don’t love the word because there is a history of feminism that doesn’t necessarily take into account our privilege. Even if we don’t have as much privilege as men, there are other minorities: LGBTQ2, visible minorities, Indigenous Peoples, people with disabilities (or less obvious ability), that are even more underrepresented and discriminated against in our culture. So, whether you call yourself a feminist or not, don’t forget about being an ally and supporter of equality for all.
I was inspired to write this article after years of noticing fully capable women shying away from leadership positions. I’ve also noticed women who in my eyes are strong leaders, who have told me they don’t self-identify as a “leader” per say. Boss, manager, self-employed maybe, but not leader.
While the reasons why this is are complex and varied (I’ll save that for a future post), the point is there’s context to be considered. Not everything is so black and white, or a “hill to die on” so to speak.
So my final advice is you do you. Use the titles, or don’t. Question the use of them for sure. But please, support women in business regardless. Support women leaders, unless they are leading in a way that is totally misaligned to your principles.
Imagine a day where the titles are no longer needed because we are doing business on a level playing field where diversity is celebrated. And let’s allow this vision of the future be our guide instead of fighting each other today.
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