Living in the age of social media influencers and in particular the ‘#GirlBoss’ movement puts a lot of pressure on young female entrepreneurs to conform to a certain stereotype. Are you a true GirlBoss if you don’t have Pinterest-worthy photo feeds, work from fairy lit cafes with trendy cappuccinos and write in cute notebooks with inspirational quotes? If you are an entrepreneur or successfully self employed why the need for being gender specific in the title?
If the term GirlBoss is aiming to encompass what it is like to be a female entrepreneur then it is far from the truth. The glitz and the glamour that appears on Instagram isn't what it takes to be an entrepreneur. Any dreams of enjoying a daily Champagne brunch won’t be happening for a very long time.
My first experience of labelling happened when I started my business at 16. I was confined to two boxes; being a ‘young’ entrepreneur and being a ‘female’ entrepreneur. Once society had labelled me as these, assumptions were made and expectations of me meeting my goals were low, especially from my teachers. “I had no chance of making it. I had ruined my chances in life given I had decided not to go to university,” became familiar phrases.
At this time the expression GirlBoss hadn't come on to the scene, but thinking back would I have made it to where I am today with the stigma of GirlBoss following me around? It has the knack of blending every female entrepreneur into the next, with followers swiping through Instagram feeds, and not being able to identify the difference between profiles.
Starting a business in a male-dominated industry, I entered onto the scene wanting to appear confident, professional and to be treated on the same level as any man. However, I was regarded as young and naive and believe people questioned why it could be worthwhile speaking to me over a middle-aged man in a suit. But I believe calling myself a GirlBoss would have done me an injustice, making me look weaker or inferior to those around me.
My life doesn't consist of those Instagram posts, it consists of 16-hour days and working unbelievably hard to keep my business alive. The phrase takes the power out of what I do. Why do we use GirlBoss but don’t have the phrase ‘BoyBoss’ or ‘ManBoss’? Why in modern times when women have equal rights do we need a label to describe ourselves at all? We are being defined not only by our gender but also by what we choose to do as a career.
I am not oblivious to the fact that this phrase was created by a female and many of us women have joined the # epidemic, bought a GirlBoss phone case and adopted it in our social media bio lines. Our first handshake with the world shouldn’t be introducing our gender. Is it because the world sees it as a man’s God-given right to be the boss that we are made to feel like we must highlight our gender before our achievements and experience?
163 million women have started businesses since 2014, that’s another 163 million GirlBosses on earth. As women and as entrepreneurs, I think now is time to claim our right to be our own boss and to shun the label that society has forced upon us.
I’m Olivia Conlon, I am an entrepreneur. Who are you?