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Is The Term ‘Girl Boss’ Over? 

Lindsay Tigar  |  February 21, 2023

Calling out a woman as a 'girl boss' can be viewed as insulting and offensive, career experts say. It’s time to stop.

The next time you find yourself immersed in the TikTok, you’ll likely see some “nostalgia” posts —oddly familiar reminders of what life (and work) was like nearly a decade ago. In 2014, our working lives looked completely different, and the term ‘girl boss’ was just starting to make its way into hashtags and social media. At the time, it represented success and ambition for those who were working tirelessly to smash through that ever-present glass ceiling. 

But now, if you call yourself—or another female—a ‘girl boss,’ it could be taken as an insult. Or worse: a slur. 

“A ‘girl boss’ was expected to go beyond merely achieving a position of power typically held by men. She was expected to be a transformational feminist, to shatter institutional norms: eliminate sexism, racism, burnout, corporate patriarchy, toxic work environments,” says Christine Spadafor, a visiting executive at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth University. 

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In reality, though, a ‘girl boss’ is merely a female-identifying leader in their industry or profession. Since females can lead or “boss” just as capably as men, we don’t need a gender qualifier, adjective or hashtag to do it. This is why calling someone a ‘girl boss’ today is seen as an insult. And when not being used not ironically, it usually implies a woman who will happily step on others to get ahead, Spadafor says. 

And even though the term may have originated as a compliment with millennials, Gen Z’ers aren’t having it… and we’re so happy they drew a line in the sand. Here’s a look at why we should all stop saying it, and rid our vocabularies of a term that’s rooted in a derogatory bias. 

@erim The sentiment behind it is pure & kind. I undersand why phrases like “bossbabe” exist but to some degree it takes away from the very essence of being a boss as a woman – we dont need to scream about it #bossbabe #boss #genderedlanguage ♬ original sound – Erim

Female success in the workplace isn’t tokenism

The tide is turning away from terms like “SHE-E.O” and ‘boss b*tch’ because it makes female success in the workplace feel like tokenism, says career coach Elizabeth Pearson. As millennials and Gen Z professionals continue to rise and make up the workforce, they’ve lived through plenty of injustice and a lack of gender equality and see ‘girl boss’ as a cop-out. Or, as Pearson says: an obvious substitute for the title women have earned. 

“When we coin new labels for female success in the workplace, we are supporting a sort-of separate but equal ideology,” Pearson says. “Accomplishment doesn’t need to be gendered. Instead, we should be directing leaders in all organizations to create supportive work environments for all employees, no matter what their pronouns are.”

Simple revisions go a long way in closing the leadership gap

Think about the words you use to talk to your best friend. How about your romantic partner? Or your child? We all know how powerful language is—and simple revisions in the words we use in the workplace can make a significant difference, Pearson says. And better yet: it will work to close the (way too wide) leadership gap between men and women.

“There’s a wealth of research that proves the language used at work can impact unfair or dis-appropriate expectations of team members depending on their gender,” Pearson explains. “These expectations affect who is hired and which employee receives access to high-visibility opportunities and promotions.”

Men don’t need a term–Why do women?

Have you ever heard of a male CEO being called a “male CEO”? Or a male founder? What about a male marketing leader? (We’re obsessed with the Insta account “@themanwhohasitall” that makes fun of this on the daily. Here’s one of our favorites:


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Because here’s the thing: men don’t need a moniker to describe their success—and neither do women. But to make this the acceptable standard, we have to break out of the habit of using gender qualifiers for women. 

Rather than invent nother ‘girl boss’ term, Spadafor says we need corporate cultures that break down the systemic and institutional barriers that are obstacles for women to achieve gender equality. “Corporations live by data, so let’s highlight the library of data that concludes women are better leaders than men, especially in a crisis,” she says. “They outperform men in leadership effectiveness scores. They lead more democratically and are more transformational. Forget the girl boss divas and focus on promoting the women with potential, talent, competence and empathy.”

Part of letting go of ‘girl boss’ is to make room for business growth. Spadafor says now, more than ever, investors are paying attention to gender equity and may require gender balance to receive funding. “In the end, it may be that gender equity is achieved not because it’s the right thing to do but because of financial incentives from investors,” she adds.

Adjectives are processed differently 

While we’re dropping ‘girl boss’ and ‘boss babe’ from our vocabulary, let’s also work to fight against the connotations of the adjectives used to describe men and women. “The same words used to describe men’s and women’s characteristics are processed differently: ambitious, assertive, aggressive, firm, decisive, can be seen as positive attributes for men—and negative for women,” Spadafor says. “When using such vocabulary for women, it is important to add context and impact: she increased profits beyond expectations; she negotiated a deal thought impossible to close; she was firm, steady and decisive in a crisis, etc. For her, context and narrative matter.”

Just call her by her title

If you’re looking for a term to refer to an entrepreneur or chief executive, here’s an easy one: CEO. Other options for women in leadership include ‘department chair,’ ‘manager,’ ‘president,’ ‘creative director,’ says Christina Wallace, an angel investor, author and a senior lecturer for Harvard Business School. 

“It turns out there are a plethora of titles that accurately describe a person’s position and contributions to the world that don’t reduce them to a set of chromosomes or pat them on the head for their plucky ambition,” she says. “As long as we use unnecessarily gendered language, we are perpetuating the idea that men are the default and women are tourists.”


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