These terms are often directed at me and other women when meeting new people, reconnecting with old friends, or as a form of congratulations after reaching a career milestone or achievement. The name-throwers are attempting to use these terms in a complimentary way but it’s a surefire way to give most people the “ick”.
The term “Girlboss” was coined by Sophia Amoruso, the founder of NastyGal, in the early 2010s. In 2014 Amoruso wrote a book called #Girlboss that was meant to unite and inspire girls like her to find their own unique path to success. The term grew into something that was intended to have a positive meaning, to break barriers, and empower women to ask for equal pay and opportunity. It was meant as a vision of hope to the workforce, ‘Hey, if we have a woman in charge maybe we’ll be treated more fairly and we’ll have more inclusion in the workforce”.
You can read about how wrong that turned out to be here, in an article published by Vox in 2021.
TLDR: The very founders of the girlboss movement turned out to be bullies, racists, and bigots.
Those who know me, know that I grew up on a farm. I am the oldest of three siblings which meant that I was helping my father on the farm at an early age. When my brother was old enough and big enough to help, he did. So did my sister. There was no discrimination. We all had to work no matter our gender. My mother was a nurse who worked shift work which meant that my siblings and I had to keep each other alive. We all cooked; we all worked. The gender disparity in the workforce was something I was grossly unaware of until after high school.
The first time someone called me a “girlboss” was after I started my CrossFit gym. I was 23 years old and had purchased a building to house my new business and another female used “girlboss” to describe me. Initially, I was confused, then I was curious. Did I need to gender my title? Did being a female put me at an advantage or disadvantage? Was I already starting out behind? Girlboss felt like a title that was trying to prove something.
I rolled around with it a bit. I probably even used it a few times until I realized it was doing the exact opposite of what it was meant to do. Instead of empowering me, it was segregating me even more from my peers. It put me on an island and pointed arrows. It put a chip on my shoulder. In most cases it made me feel “less than”. It took my focus away from being a leader to my team and toward trying to prove myself because of my gender. I stopped using it and it allowed me to focus inward on my team and create a profitable, sellable business. The team was probably 85% women at the time and everyone in leadership roles happened to be a woman. It provided 10+ jobs and 3 full-time careers in a place with limited opportunities. It wasn’t calling myself a “girlboss” or being a Female CEO that did that. It was good leadership and hard work.
Adding a pronoun to a title doesn’t do anything but distract from the title itself. Female Astronaut, Female Race-car Driver, Female Doctor. Those titles distract from the career, they raise questions and possibly raise doubt in a listener’s mind.
Kilo is a company that is 75% women and 65% of our leadership team are women. Many of which have had or continue to have their own businesses. We didn’t hire these people because they are women, we hired them because they were excellent humans, fit our values, and proved themselves early on. When I asked them what emotions the word “girlboss” evoked for them, the majority of them responded with “gross”.
If you used the word “girlboss” to describe me, it tells me you have already underestimated me.
I understand that there is more to talk about in terms of wage gaps and inequality in the workforce. Many women, and especially women of colour, start out with a massive disadvantage simply due to who we are. I am certainly not saying that these problems do not exist, they do, and they are complex. I believe that we do need more women in leadership roles and can almost guarantee that companies would be more successful and get more done with women in charge. So let’s just do that, instead of using derogatory or softening catchphrases so some people can stomach it.
I’ve been asked recently, “What does it take to succeed as a Female CEO?”, and honestly I don’t know. I don’t know what it takes or what it’s like to be a “Female CEO”.
But if you ask me about my experience as a CEO, I can answer that.