Right now, 480 of America's most powerful business leaders are focused on their work. They're negotiating deals, driving hard bargains and demanding results. They may even be denying promotions, dressing down sales execs for failing to meet quotas, or sternly notifying an assistant that it's time to clear out his desk. They're doing all of this without the slightest fear of being called a bitch. Why? Because they're men, of course.
For the 20 female CEOs rounding out the Fortune 500 – and for the countless other women battling it out in the business world – daily interactions aren't so easy. They're stalked by a nagging fear, one that dilutes ambitions, slows progress and ultimately sabotages the success they've already attained. Because as much as women want to be thought of as smart, assertive and worthy of respect, we certainly don't want to be thought of as bitches.
Or do we? After all, the term “bitch” is really just a rhetorical tool for turning confidence, dignity and power into things that are unseemly. It's a personal attack that's used to make any woman who seeks or displays these characteristics into something ugly, fearful, even bestial. In short, it's used to keep us in our place and out of the old boys' club.
Perhaps it's time we flipped the script and stopped letting the bitch label hold us back. Maybe it's time we tossed out the endless stream of business tips for female business leaders and replaced them with one golden rule – be a bitch.
Powerful Women Toss Out the Tact
As women, our fear of the dreaded bitch label is so strong and so pervasive that it affects our behavior in ways we don't even recognize. It alters the way we communicate, how we speak and how we're treated. Subtle word choices and statements weaken women's voices in the workplace, and something as small as changing how you say things can help you start reclaiming the respect you deserve. Here are just two of the many ways to start being a bitch who speaks her mind:
Stop saying “I'm sorry.” There's a time and a place to apologize. If you mangle a client's prize-winning Pomeranian by running it over with a Segway, you can be sorry. If you set fire to the office microwave or ruin a colleague's surprise party by jumping out from behind the water cooler and yelling “surprise!” a day early, you can maybe even do a little pleading.
But saying “I'm sorry” every time a coworker asks you to move so that they can get to the photocopier? That's too much. Remember that those two little words have a real ability to make serious demands sound like requests: “I'm sorry, but I think maybe we'd all be a little more comfortable if you wouldn't make sexist jokes about the new intern.” It sounds like an option, so don't be surprised if people hear it that way. “Your sexist jokes need to stop,” on the other hand, is a powerful statement, one that demands a response. Try it out yourself and watch how the reactions change.
Stop modifying your statements. “I'm sorry, but…” isn't the only phrase women use to sabotage the strength of their statements. “Could you do me a favor and…” is another one. “I totally get where you're coming from, but…” and “I was wondering if there was any way we could…” are two more. Phrases like these litter our speech, and each time we use one, we weaken our own voices. Stop being so afraid of being called a bitch and just say what you mean and what you want. Don't apologize for it, and don't water it down. When you say what you mean, you'll be heard, understood and respected.
Is everyone going to be a huge fan of the new straightforward you? Probably not. In finding your voice and speaking with clarity, you do risk getting called a bitch. But you'll also get your point across, and all powerful women will tell you that clear communication is vital for success.
Powerful Women Set Standards and Stick to Them
It's hard to become a successful female business leader if you don't have a core set of principles to guide you. The most successful women set standards for themselves, for their employees, for their products and for their brands. Unfortunately, bold and decisive female entrepreneurs are often greeted with more disdain than respect. Stick to your guns and you don't get congratulated for being professional, you get criticized for being a bitch.
– Diana Ross
So what do you do if that's the penalty for sticking up for what you believe in? You do it anyway. To see why, it's time to consult with the self-proclaimed “baddest bitch” of them all. Nicki Minaj.
In a backstage interview for her upcoming documentary “My Time Now,” Minaj explained why she doesn't hold back when her standards aren't met. “I put quality in what I do. I spend time and I spend energy and I spend effort and I spend everything I have, every fiber of my being, to give people quality. So if I turn up to a photo shoot and you got a $50 clothes budget and some sliced pickles on a mother—-in' board, you know what? No. I am gonna leave. Is that wrong? For wanting more for myself, wanting people to treat me with respect? But you know what? Next time, they know better. But had I accepted the pickle juice, I would be drinking pickle juice right now."
Although we can't all be platinum chart-toppers, what Minaj says is true for all female entrepreneurs. When you put your heart and soul into what you do and the people around you don't live up to your standards, then calling them out on it does not make you a bitch. It makes you serious. It's what you do when you want people to know that if they waste your time, you won't just smile and take it.
Powerful Women Don't Let Themselves Be Gaslighted
This may be the first time you've heard the term “gaslighting,” but that doesn't mean you haven't been the victim of it. In fact, if you're like most women, you've probably been gaslighted for most of your life. So what exactly does it mean? Let's borrow Yashar Ali's definition. “A Message to Women From a Man: You Are Not 'Crazy'” is the name of the piece:
Gaslighting is a term often used by mental health professionals (I am not one) to describe manipulative behavior used to confuse people into thinking their reactions are so far off base that they're crazy.
The term comes from the 1944 MGM film, Gaslight, starring Ingrid Bergman. Bergman's husband in the film, played by Charles Boyer, wants to get his hands on her jewelry. He realizes he can accomplish this by having her certified as insane and hauled off to a mental institution. To pull of this task, he intentionally sets the gaslights in their home to flicker off and on, and every time Bergman's character reacts to it, he tells her she's just seeing things. In this setting, a gaslighter is someone who presents false information to alter the victim's perception of him or herself.
So what does gaslighting look like if you aren't Ingrid Bergman but a woman who's running her own startup, managing the sales floor or gunning for a promotion? Here are just two examples:
- One of your colleagues makes increasingly rude comments about your weight. When you finally confront him about it, he says you're overreacting and that you should stop being a bitch and learn how to take a joke.
- The report you prepare for a meeting doesn't share the right data. Your boss chastises you in front of the entire board: “Why can't you ever do what I tell you? You screw everything up.” Later, you tell him that his outburst was unprofessional and upsetting. He says you're too sensitive and that you're wasting his time by being so emotional.
When someone gaslights you, they try to create the perception that your very real, very rational concerns and reactions are silly. More than just disagreeing with you, they annihilate your objection as a whole, as well as your right to have one. The more you're gaslighted, the more you become like Bergman's character. You start to deny your own reactions, to suppress your thoughts instead of speaking up. After all, you don't want everyone to think you're a crazy bitch, right?
So how should you react if you realize you're being gaslighted by a boss or coworker? You could always steal a page from Charles Boyer and hack your enemy's laptop, altering the brightness settings and convincing them it's all in their mind (you know, give them a taste of their own medicine). Or you could simply be a bitch and do what bitches do – stand your ground. Explain exactly how you're being manipulated, then reiterate your point and your right to have it acknowledged.
When it comes to business tips for women, this list may seem to be both long and strange. It's no wonder. Throughout their lives, women are taught to behave in ways that are completely contrary to their goals. We're expected to water down our statements when we mean to assert ourselves, to accept the respect we get instead of demanding the respect we deserve, and to do everything we can to avoid being called a bitch. And how have we been rewarded for playing nice? Of the Fortune 500 companies, women run 4%, and of the Fortune 1000, 4.1%. In short, it's not working out. So consider this a plea from the ladies at The Content Factory to entrepreneurial women everywhere: Don't be nice. Be a bitch. Let's start standing up for ourselves, and who knows? We might just change where we stand.