Do you know what women don’t need to see on their morning commute? An advert telling us that gender impacts how we are viewed at work – as if we hadn’t noticed. But that’s exactly what Londoners were bombarded with this week, thanks to a new ad that’s appeared on the Tube. And needless to say, it hasn’t gone down well.
The slogan, coined by a company which connects freelancers with businesses, reads: “You do the girl boss thing, we’ll do the SEO thing.”
Funnily enough, a version of the ad using a male model doesn’t use “boy boss”. Instead, it tells men: “You do the big picture thing, we’ll do the social media thing.” The subtext is clear: men can run the show, women cannot.
CEO Lisa Myers, who first tweeted out the misguided ad, called it “very patronising and sexist”.
“I’m a boss of an SEO Agency. My vagina has nothing to do with it,” she said. Her comments soon received hundreds of likes and responses because newsflash: women are tired of being labelled “girl bosses”.
I have had five bosses throughout my career in digital journalism. Four have been women, but that’s besides the point. When we call women “girl bosses”, we’re infantilising them, and also segregating them from other (read: male) bosses in one fell swoop. The implication: female bosses are the exception, while male bosses are the norm.
“It’s essential we normalise the idea of women as bosses – they are not “girl bosses”, they are just “bosses”.”
It’s the same when we call women “career women” when they’ve got a great CV but no kids – as this article recently pointed out. Child-free men are never labelled “career men” in the same way. Why, in 2019, is it still considered unusual for women to be passionate about work and good at their jobs?
The answer could be in the numbers. Statistically, employees are still far more likely to have a boss that’s a man, with a hell of a lot of unconscious bias (or just plain bias) impacting hiring and promotion processes. The latest Global Gender Gap Index, for example, found women make up just 34% of managerial positions globally. That’s why it’s essential we normalise the idea of women as bosses – as capable of leading teams as men in any industry. They are not “girl bosses”, they are just “bosses”.
As the Gender Gap Index points out: “The presence of women in management roles is today one of the main barriers to overcome, both in the public and private sector, in order to achieve full economic gender parity.”
The company responsible for the advert responded to the criticism with the classic non-apology-apology, saying sorry for “any offence” caused by the advert. “Yup we messed up,” the tweet reads. “It’s our mission to celebrate the skills of everyone, not discriminate.”
But this isn’t just about one ad, as misplaced as that ad may be. It’s about the language we use to describe women and how that impacts our ability to move within the workplace.
Once upon a time, when Beyoncé stood in front of the word “feminist” and we thought it would be enough, phrases like #GirlBoss and her ugly little sisters #BossBabe and #Mumtrepreneur may have felt empowering. But now they feel painfully outdated.
We’ve used the hashtags, we’ve connected with other strong women – and so far, nothing has changed for women in work. Now, it’s time to get down to business and own our place as leaders.
Rachel Moss is a Life reporter at HuffPost UK, specialising in women’s health and wellbeing.