Is #GirlBoss Culture Doing More Harm Than Good?

Is #GIRLBOSS Culture doing more harm than good? Is it 'sexist'? article and feature for YBKBS Small business News for Smart Business Owners www.ybkbs.online
Is #GIRLBOSS Culture doing more harm than good? Is it 'sexist'?

I’ve been uncomfortable with monikers like “girlboss” and “boss babe” to describe women in business for some time. Aside from the unfortunate associations with shady business models like pyramid schemes, these well-intentioned attempts at fighting sexism have always seemed… well, kind of sexist.

Let’s start with the obvious: we don’t generally refer to adult men as boys, so why are we referring to adult women as girls? I’m not a girl, I’m 30 years old!

Secondly, adding the prefix “girl-” implies that the default is that bosses are men. And thankfully, we don’t live in that world any more! I’ve long felt that one of the best ways we can fight sexism in the workplace is to stop making assumptions about who can do certain roles. 

Secondly, adding the prefix “girl-” implies that the default is that bosses are men

We’ve seen this in the shift away from policeman and policewoman to the more inclusive police officer, and from fireman to firefighter. “Boss” is already a gender neutral term! By adding “girl” or some other gendered term to it, we reinforce the assumption that a boss is a man unless specified otherwise. We don’t need to be mumpreneurs or fempreneurs when “entrepreneur” is already a gender-neutral term.

She believes that if it’s absurd to call someone a “man CEO,” then the same thing is true the other way around

Not a Boss Babe!

As I said, I’ve been thinking about this for some time. I finally decided to write about it when I spotted a viral post about this phenomenon on LinkedIn, and reached out to the woman behind it.

That’s how I ended up chatting with Lindsay Tjepkema. Lindsay is the CEO and Co-founder of Casted, an innovative marketing platform and B2B podcasting solution. We sat down via Zoom to discuss #girlboss feminism, women in business, and Casted’s incredible journey so far.

Headshot of Lindsay Tjepkema
Lindsay Tjempema is not a 'boss babe' - "...it's put's an asterix in front of your achievements..."

Casted is based in Indianapolis and launched in April 2019. Lindsay and her co-founders, Zachary Ballenger and Adam Patarino, lead a diverse and vibrant team of 20 who support clients across the United States and the world. 

“There was no inciting incident or straw that broke the camel’s back,” Lindsay said of her viral LinkedIn post. “It was just how I was feeling that morning, so I posted about it!” Throughout her impressive career, Lindsay has had the “girlboss” label applied to her on numerous occasions – and she’s over it.

She feels that adding cutesy names to women’s job roles “puts an asterisk in front of your accomplishments. It qualifies and shrinks them.” She believes that if it’s absurd to call someone a “man CEO,” then the same thing is true the other way around.

Imposter syndrome 

Imposter syndrome – feeling that you’re less qualified or competent than others believe you to be – is a very real problem for many people, regardless of gender. According to Laura Newinski in an interview for Forbes, 75% of women in executive roles report having experienced imposter syndrome at some point during their careers. 

But far from reducing this problem and helping women feel more confident in their achievements, I believe “girlboss” and adjacent terms do the opposite. It feels like a verbal pat on the head – patronising and demeaning. 

We should absolutely be supporting more women in leadership roles. We are 51% of the population, after all! But acting as though men in leadership is the default and women are an afterthought that need infantilising, “aww aren’t you cute?” nicknames? Let’s be done with that. 

Diversity – in the most holistic sense – is tremendously valuable in business

Informed by, not defined by

Lindsay explained that the ability to “bring your whole self to work” is a core part of Casted’s culture. 

“We should all be able to bring our whole selves to work without being defined by all those pieces that make up who we are,” she said. Diversity – in the most holistic sense – is tremendously valuable in business, and Casted is built on the 

Pink laptop, books, and girlboss mug
Making something pink and adding "girl" doesn't make it empowering!

understanding that diversity of experience, background, and thought makes the workplace and product better. That’s a philosophy we should all get behind. 

As a woman in the business world, my gender has absolutely had an impact on my experiences. Embracing diversity and inclusion requires that different experiences and voices have a space at the table. But gender-based qualifiers that implicitly reinforce outdated dominant structures are not the way to do that.

Advice

I finished our chat by asking Lindsay what companies and business owners can be doing to build diverse, inclusive teams. In other words, what are the alternatives to #girlboss feminism if we want to uplift women and empower them to take on leadership roles?

“Listen more!” she said. “When you listen to the people on your team, you create connections and relationships. When you get to know people, you get to learn their dreams and aspirations, and then you connect them with opportunities and help them grow into those leadership positions.” 

She noted that we’re all so engrossed in our to-do lists and busy schedules that we can neglect relationship building. But if we want to build a more inclusive world, in and outside of business, making time for relationships must be at the heart of all we do. 

You get to choose how you refer to yourself 

Ultimately, if you find terms like “girlboss” and “boss babe” empowering, I support that. We should all find empowerment in the ways we can, as long as they don’t hurt anyone else.

Lindsay agrees. “If those terms, or any other terms, resonate with you – go for it!” she said. “Take that on for yourself. Just don’t assign it to others. I don’t want people to assign any title to me other than the ones that I claim.” 

What do you think? If you’re a woman in business, do you love or hate these monikers? Let us know in the comments or on our social media channels. 

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Jess Amy Dixon is a freelance journalist, writer, editor, and social media manager based in the East Midlands. She helps clients grow their businesses via the written word, whether that’s through marketing copy, blog content, or social media posts. She’s also working on her PhD in Creative Writing at the University of Winchester, and has won prizes for short fiction.