Republished and adapted with permission from The Future Laboratories – Victoria Buchanan.
The term Girl Boss entered the mainstream in 2014 when entrepreneur Sophia Amoruso wrote her self-help book aimed at inspiring entrepreneurially minded Millennials. It has since become a Netflix show that has generated millions of hashtags. More than 6.3mm pictures are now tagged with the term on Instagram, often appearing alongside inspirational quotes, rendered in the now famous Millennial pink, stamped on everything from stationery to t-shirts.
In the past year, driven by a growing discussion on women in the workplace, a host of new terms are entering our vernacular alongside Girl Boss, including Boss Babe, Fempreneur, Mompreneur, and my least favorite, SheEO, a new term apparently needed to describe a female CEO.
I know that in many instances these words are empowering and point to a sense of belonging to a community as well as personal achievement, but the problem is that sexism is often encoded in the language we use and the visuals we see. The struggle is real for female entrepreneurs, and fetishizing and overemphasizing teen girliness when it comes to talking about the start-up world will do us no favors.
Author and journalist Sady Doyle refers to this as the “pinkification” of entrepreneurship, and believes it is adding to a culture that only values women when they are young. In 2014, Getty images tried to address the fact that professional women portrayed by models older than 25 are few and far between.
This frivolous language also risks reinforcing men’s misconception that entrepreneurial enterprise is their preserve, when in reality the opposite is true.
Women’s entrepreneurial activity is at an all-time high and they are starting businesses at an overwhelming rate. According to research commissioned by American Express, between 1997 and 2015, the number of women-owned businesses in the US grew by 74%, a rate that is 1.5 times the national average, and yet they are still not getting their fair share of venture capital investment.
A recent study by Harvard Business Review recorded conversations by venture capitalists to analyze whether there were any differences between how they talk to female versus male entrepreneurs. The results were startling. Youth for men is viewed as promising, while for young women the conclusion is that they are inexperienced. Women’s experience and excitement are tempered by discussions of their emotional shortcomings, while men are praised for being viewed as aggressive or arrogant. That is why the language we use and the visuals we create really matter.
Some brands are already thinking about how they can address this. When UBS launched Unique, a change program aimed at better serving female clients, it made a firm decision to steer clear of overtly branding it in a female way. “One proposal for the branding was ‘UBS Athena’ and I thought: ‘I want to give myself a bullet,’” says Dr Mara Harvey, head of UBS Unique, speaking on a panel during our recent Female Futures Forum event. “How am I ever going to get 60,000 men across the globe to talk about Athena? We really needed to find something that would be so neutral and inclusive, and yet something we could still tailor towards a female audience.”
Our research at The Future Laboratory in collaboration with the Women’s Business Council suggests that we need to drop the cheesy slogans, unlearn traditions of the old gendered system and open the door to equality, visibility and fearlessness. We need fewer hashtags and more action-orientated initiatives.
As Terry Grim, a partner at the Foresight Alliance, tells The Female Future Bureau: “Trends point to a growing need for women and feminine values. Change is never easy, but it is time to move beyond pink.”
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