In 2022, the UK reached a milestone of having almost 40% of its FTSE 100 board members be women. As a young woman at the start of my career, seeing this statistic makes me genuinely hopeful that the challenges I will face throughout my career will be different to those faced by my mother’s generation. I spent my teenage years following the careers of several influencers-turned-businesswomen, such as Grace Beverley who took her fitness content and created 2 multi-million pound businesses. While Grace’s privileged upbringing undoubtedly played a large part in her ability to do what she has done, she is nevertheless an inspiration, securing £4.2million worth of investment at just 24.
Grace has been outspoken on her social channels about the challenge of being a female CEO, explaining that only 2.3% of venture capital funding went to female-founded start-ups in 2020. Why is it so hard for women to secure this funding? Are VC investors still so predisposed towards men despite the clear increase in the number of female entrepreneurs?
For me, the use of the term ‘girlboss’ is a very clear depiction of the problem.
It’s simple: if you’re a female CEO, you’re a ‘girlboss’, if you’re a male CEO you are just a boss.
By using this term we are expecting people to celebrate as though being a female CEO is an unusual occurrence, putting women in some sort of treasure chest who have made a miraculous discovery.
While I know the business landscape has changed for the better in terms of gender equality, it never feels great to see reminders of how far there is to go.
In May, the New York Times published an article titled “The Sunsetting of the Girlboss Is Nearly Complete”. The article addressed the announcement that the founder and CEO of beauty brand Glossier will be transitioning into the role of Executive Chairwoman. The NYT positioned CEO Emily Weiss as the face of a failing brand, leaving the role because of her own incapability.
Weiss founded the unicorn business in 2014 and developed its cult following over the ensuing years. From the start, Glossier’s business model prioritised consumer feedback, producing affordable products designed at enhancing the wearer’s natural features. For many in Gen Z, the brand redefined beauty expectations and created a new genre of make-up.
That is not to say Glossier is perfect. Reports of toxic workplace culture surfaced in 2020, with employees facing racism from customers in store and failing to be protected by management.
The product range has faced criticism for excluding darker skin tones. At a time when new brands are releasing up to 50 shades of foundation, you have to ask why Glossier has not expanded their range of 12 shades in 6 years.
Despite this, Weiss built a business valued at $1.8 billion. She is now set to take maternity leave and “move upstairs” to the Chairwoman role upon her return. She has recognised that the brand needs a new CEO to continue moving forward.
Rather than praise for her trailblazing work, and celebrating her self-awareness, the New York Times decided to brand her another failed “girlboss” and gossip about her downfall.
This is a rhetoric we have seen before. The article even lists a handful of other ‘girlbosses’ and details their respective falls from grace. The second we stop putting female entrepreneurs on pedestals, avidly following their journeys and criticising them at any turn, we might actually begin to see a change in the gender disparity in the industry.
At a recent TechCrunch session in San Francisco, the co-founders of Chief, a private membership network for women executives, addressed the audience about the purpose of Chief, and why they don’t use the term ‘girlboss’.
Co-founder Lindsay Kaplan told the audience “We don’t use the phrase ‘boy boss.’ We only use the phrase ‘girl boss’ because we’ve put women in another category instead of just assuming that a woman can be a leader. And so I don’t like the phrase because of that. I don’t like thinking about women in leadership. It’s just leadership.”
Kaplan is right. We should be striving to build a world where gender is entirely irrelevant to how someone is viewed by their peers in business, and this starts with the language we use. We need to shift the conversation away from placing these women on pedestals and persisting with the pessimistic gossip, and focus on what they have done RIGHT.