How I Write About the #girlboss in 2020

I’ve used the hashtag, and folded the keywords in some of my articles but, you’ll never see me paying $16 dollars for a #girlboss mug. From a content marketing perspective, it makes sense to have this shorthand to promote stories about powerful women to other aspiring women.

However, #girlboss and its derivatives are losing wind in 2020.

I put effort into separating the need to connect with audiences from the actual substance of each female-led story. Ideally, I can find a way to tell stories about women that appeal to people other than — you know — women.

This is part of why “Girl Boss”, “She-EO”, “momtrepreneur” and “Boss Babe” are losing steam in 2020. Lottie Winter nails the source of this frustration, noting that women prefer to be recognized as a professional first and a woman second (i.e. doctor vs. lady doctor).

It was only this year, swiping through another #spon story about Galentines’ day (give me strength) that I finally understood my objection. These terms infantilise women in a way that is both patronising and, frankly, a bit gross.

LOTTIE WINTER, WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOURSELF AS A GIRL BOSS? NO, NOR WOULD I. SO WHY IS GENDERED LANGUAGE SO OFFENSIVE?

Similarly, Annie Liao Jones of Rock Candy Media wrote about being talked about as a female CEO (female first).

She explains, “Was it harder for us (women) to get where we wanted to go given systemic sexism in the business and entrepreneurial worlds? Yes. But I also suspect that you won’t be treated the same as other employees if you become the top moneymaker. Freedom from micromanagement was my driver then, and I became the top salesperson. I learned that in my career, I would always be competing with myself for that freedom. That keeps me from pigeonholing myself, which would be my true downfall. The historical trap is there and set, but don’t buy into it. I can’t claim to speak for all women in business out there (although I expect we all can relate), but at the very least I’ll say this for myself: Stop calling me a female CEO and just show the world and the younger generation what I am.”

As I write about women, especially female leaders, I’m shifting away from gendered language while still giving context to each woman’s journey.

Ask the Same Questions

Whenever I am putting together research about a woman, I ask the same questions that I would if my subject was a man. I learn about her background, education, and business experience. I ask what motivates her and informs her work.

My Favorite Interview Questions

  1. What is a common myth or misconception about your industry?
  2. Take me back to the beginning of your story. What was it like?
  3. Tell me a story about a time you solved a problem. How did you respond?
  4. Give me an example of how you innovated in your field. What led to that breakthrough?
  5. What’s something you think held you back from success in the early stages?
  6. What question do you wish I would ask you?
  7. What do you wish everyone knew about your profession?

Sometimes, writers make stories about women too small — as if women don’t have universal experiences. If I assume everything about a woman’s story can only interest a female audience, I skip over the truths that everyone can appreciate.

Avoid the “Who Are You Wearing?” Topics

In 2014, the conversation surrounding #askhermore drew attention to the trivial questions that women in entertainment are asked. In every industry, there are proxies for “Who are you wearing?” questions.

Do that research.

In STEM and Tech, women are often asked questions about their experience working with “all men.” In politics, women are quizzed about their “electability.”

As I prepare questions to interview a “boss lady”, I don’t make assumptions based on sexist archetypes.

For example, I don’t ask about kids and marital status unless it’s relevant to the topic (like a lifestyle or human interest article). I wait for the subject to bring up their family without prompting.

This refocuses the narrative onto her work while challenging assumptions.

Reframe the Narrative

I build my list of questions with a goal of reframing the narrative. I prefer to ask open-ended questions that can lead to stories.

Tell me about a time… is one of my favorites. It encourages the interviewee to tell a story — always dynamic and quotable.

For example, I interviewed Nickie Gentry, owner at Divine Designs and Delights. I could see that her business instincts created the foundation for her shop’s success.

“Once, I had a customer come in crying. She had a rehearsal dinner and a wedding to attend but, nothing to wear. We calmed her down, dressed her and she went out the door ready for the rehearsal dinner. And she even had a wrapped gift for the couple under her arm!”

Nickie Gentry, owner at Divine Designs and Delights

I asked her to tell me a story about someone she remembered helping. Her strongest quotes came from those recollections.

Refuse to Trivialize Their Contributions

Many women have become accustomed to giving credit away. Sometimes, they’ll even do it unprompted — out of habit. I listen for this. Most of the time it starts when they use the word “just.”

They say, “I just invented this product…” or “I just started a company…” When I hear that, I try to coax my subject to properly acknowledge their success.

I have always shuddered at the use of the term “girls” to describe a group of grown women.

Lottie Winter, Would you describe yourself as a Girl Boss? No, nor would I. So why is gendered language so offensive?

Also, I think it’s important to frame achievements outside of gender “firsts”.

If she’s the “first female (noun)” that is worth noting. If she’s excelling in the top of her field, that’s a bigger deal.

Recognize their Path to Success

If the subject’s path to success isn’t linear, I look for ways to give meaning to her journey.

For example, my discussion with Karen at Monogram Love continues to inspire my entrepreneurial dreams. She had a solid business idea but, delayed her plan to support her family’s other needs. Once the timing was right, she launched a thriving business.

Monogram Love
Read: If it Isn’t Moving, Monogram It

Recognizing the thoughtfulness — all the dreaming, learning, and planning that happened while she waited — made the story stronger. Her wisdom and insight were valuable assets to her business plans.

Just A Boss

I can’t take credit for this mindset. I made the graphic above several years ago in response to an Instagram discussion by Sarah Michelle Gellar. Most of the interviews about her FoodStirs product launch hailed her as a “girl boss.” Gellar pushed back saying she wants to be seen as a #justboss.

With each new wave of feminist discussion, we’re getting closer to acknowledging women’s achievements without forcing women leaders to mimic toxic masculinity or pigeonholing female business owners into stereotypes.

I’m here to document each crack in the glass ceiling, hashtags and all.


Who’s That Boss Lady? Women-Owned Businesses Expanding Here & U.S.

Originally Published in Shop Forest First

From Who’s That Boss Lady? Women-Owned Businesses Expanding Here & U.S.

Look around Forest and it’s easy to find a #bosslady. They’re opening shops, starting small businesses and expanding local brands. Aligning with a larger national trend, these female entrepreneurs are both contributing to the local economy and creating lodestars of opportunity.

According to the American Express OPEN 2017 Report, women’s entrepreneurship has been on the rise in the United States for the last two decades.

Did You Know?

  • Virginia is in the TOP 10 STATES where women-owned businesses have increased their economic clout. (Defined as the growth in the number of firms and growth in employment and revenues between 1997 and 2017)
  • 280,00 women-owned businesses in Virginia **
  • 5% increase for women-owned businesses in VA each year **
  • 47% of all business are women-owned or equally owned by men and women

Women owned businesses account for:

  • 11.6 million businesses in the U.S. (This is defined as a total 11,615,600 estimated businesses that are at least 51% owned and operated by at least one female.)*
  • 9 million employed people*
  • $1.7 trillion in revenue generated*
  • 39% of all U.S. Firms*
  • 8% of total private sector workforce*
  • 4.2% of all total business revenues
  • There is a 114% GROWTH RATE of women-owned businesses compared to 44% GROWTH RATE of all U.S. businesses*

Story and profiles continue at Who’s That Boss Lady? Women-Owned Businesses Expanding Here & U.S.


Read About Other Inspiring Women

Sara Edwards’ Sound Cuts Through Noise Pollution

As a volunteer with The Listening, I contribute artist interview articles that help promote the creative community in Lynchburg, Virginia. After Sara Edwards performed at our “Where It Hurts” event, I met with her to discuss the passion behind her music. Read More…

Meet Your Neighbor: Ann Hite

As the second in a series of articles for Life in the Ivy, I uncovered more about Ivy Hill community during my interview with Ann Hite. Although she wanted to keep her official age off-the-record, she shared stories about Central Virginia dating back to the 1970s. Read More…


Additional Reading

Boss Lady Article Sources: 
*According to the American Express OPEN 2017 Report.
**According to the National Association of Women Business owners as reported in a 2016 Richmond Times-dispatch article.

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