Do More, Apologize Less – How Bitches Get Ahead in Business

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.

Tina Fey“Bitches get stuff done.” – Tina Fey

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 entrepreneurial woman“Just because I have my standards, they think I'm 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?

Ingrid Bergman entrepreneurial woman"Success is getting what you want; happiness is wanting what you get." – Ingrid Bergman

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.

If you enjoyed this post, please share it with the women you know who could stand to be a little bitchier. Want more inspiration? Check out the 7 Things 'Designing Women' Taught Us About Being Women in Business — you're going to dig the video clips of Julia Sugarbaker, TV's baddest bitch businesswoman ever (although Olivia Pope gives her a run for her money).

By: Alayna Frankenberry, staff writer at The Content Factory.

Sign Up for TCF Updates

We'll send you the social media, small business PR and content strategy tips and tricks you need to get (or stay) on top.

60 Comments

  • Gaslighting — I’d never heard that term before, but it makes complete sense how you described it. Seems like one of those things I’ve experienced far too many times but never had a word for. So thank you for that!

  • Wow, this was amazing. Totally worth reading. am going to share it to all the women I know – who I know want to read this. Thanks. True, its time to standup to what is right, not what “is supposed” to be right “for us”

  • Pingback: Beep Boop Internet – Friday 7th September « Hacklock

  • Pingback: Sunday Sparkle 8th September « Beast & Beauty

  • Pingback: Top content of the week | Veronica Stenberg: blog

  • Pingback: Why Bitchy Business Women Come in First | Augusta Blog

  • Set boundaries and keep them is always good advice. And when you start, there will be a few people who complain. Ignore them.

    We women also need to stop doing other people’s work for them — and that includes handling the emotions for the people around us.

    Great article!

  • Pingback: Bitches Finish First

  • The last line of the article -Don’t be nice, be a bitch- seems to counteract the whole article as it says that women who are assertive and stand their ground are not being bitchy. Kind of renegs the whole point.
    Anyways, as a proclaimed bitch whenever somebody says that I am mean or that is bitchy, they are usually referring to my blunt honesty. I just assert back with, I may be a “bitch” but I would much rather be known as such than as a lier or two faced. More often than not I just say “you asked a question, you got my answer. If you didn’t want the truth then don’t seek it” I have been through enough in my short little life to know that my time and energy is precious and I am not going to spend it on things I do not want to
    Most people who would stoop so low as to call you a bitch for speaking your opinion have their own issues to deal with. Though it may not be tactful -but either is calling somebody a name, especially in the work force- but call them out on it. Every time somebody calls me a bitch, mean, or cold hearted I know that I am doing something right by sticking to my morals and making my own path.
    I think that it is not only women but our society as a whole is becoming way too placid and so concerned about others feelings and all of the sugarcoated, wishy-washy gentle speak makes things confusing and anybody who speaks succinctly may be called a bitch/bastard.

    • I am a BITCH…and I am ok with it. I get things done. I have tried on occassion to be what I call a "Susie Sweet"…but it is really too tiresome, and waaay less effective for my needs. I do not have the time, nor the patience, for that crap.

      Either lead follow, OR GET THE FUCK OUT OF MY WAY !!!

      I choose to lead..and everyone else can be replaced.

      BITCHES UNITE!!…AND KEEP MOVING FORWARD!!!

      You deserve it.

      • HA, 'Susie Sweet', that was me exactly until recently when I finally decided that yes, it was way to tiresome and time consuming!  I finally stood up for my self and was told that I was being 'entitled'.  I felt like shit BUT I got exactly what I wanted and then some!  Although I'm managing to focus only on the name calling, not the victory… I'm still new to this 🙂

  • Pingback: Share The Love Sunday: Gratitude Dancing (Awkward and Sincere) - It's A Dome LifeIt's A Dome Life

  • I am sitting at home been sent packing for comments like “I don’t need your complements” to a male coworker, and “I will take the high road” to a supervisor. The last insult was from a man who was transferred and had no knowledge of the field in which we worked. Is there an employee Attorney who is interested in finding justice for me? Local government vs female iT professional?

  • Amazing the lies I have embraced as a young woman about myself and the proper way a woman “should” behave. I have heard that I was “too sensitive” far too many times as a negative characteristic. I now find it to be a great way to experience life.

    I think your article shines light on how assertive women can be a threat to the corporate stage. It has given me something to ponder on how I see assertive women and the role model I wish to be for my own daughters. Thank you for your honesty.

    • What an awesome comment Jema! We totally get it and we’re excited to hear that you’re raising assertive women. The world needs more of them.

    • Assertive women are hot. Guys like to hang around women who can do “guy talk” and actually say what they want rather than talk about emotions all day.

  • He he, I like it!

    ‘Gaslighting’ is an interesting term, I’ve seen men do it to women a lot – tell them they’re crazy for suspecting them of cheating for example when they’re actually really busy doing it. A lot of women fall for it and fall into depression and sometimes cancer/addictions as a result of not dealing with their reality.

  • This article is brilliant. It highlights all the difficulties I and am currently having to go through as someone who is highly professional, and takes her job VERY seriously. I work with very unprofessional people in a sales role, who are not willing to learn, but instead expect to be spoon fed. I am trying to currently assert and demonstrate the importance of becoming good at this job, offering my help and and knowledge. Too many times this has been thrown back in my face, and I am accused of being a bitch. My aim is to succeed, and I want others to learn and succeed too, but some how this has just put me in a bad light. I really appreciate this article and have just shared it! 🙂 so thank you 🙂

    • Hi Amy

       

      Perhaps your colleagues are simply not ready for this amount of truth…

      Wisdom is not for everyone… so why not use own life to be the message to others. The best revenge is a spectacular success isn't it…Flip the coin darling 🙂 You have already won!

      Best wishes.

      Bea

  • Pingback: EB Leaders | Effective BitchEmpowering women to embrace and unleash their inner EB

  • Thanks for the pingback! This truly is an excellent post, such great insightful writing. I hope you like the excerpt on our blog over at Effective Bitch!

    (And thanks, too, for your recent Tweet regarding blogging titles — we finally fixed ours!) 

    🙂

  • I agree. In our book, we call this “direct speak” and our interviewees found it to be highly successful. Let’s be direct and hold our ground. It’s not personal, it’s just business. We are worth it. When we don’t stand up for ourselves, we essentially tell others that we are less important than they are. And, if all women (or at least most of us) start doing this, guess what happens? The label changes. They can’t call us all bitches.

    Jodi Detjen
    co-author, The Orange Line: A Woman’s Guide to Integrating Career, Family, and Life

  • I started my flight school (training people to be airplane pilots) in 1983 and it prospered until 2003. People either liked me a lot or called me “that bitch.” I had the nerve to enter the male world of aviation. I didn’t put up with any unsafe behavior in pilots and had to tell a few they needed to leave. No words minced. Surprisingly, they kept asking me if they could come back because they knew that my school was the best. I had to be very direct because flying is only safe if folks follow the rules and procedures.

  • Pingback: Don't be nice, be a bitch | WOMAN.com.au

  • This is brilliant. We get the results we expect to get — from clients, from friends, from partners. If we lower our expectations by apologizing unnecessarily and qualifying every statement then guess what — the results suck. Thank you for this honest and spot on post.

    • Thanks for your feedback, Jules! We’re glad you like the post, and we agree: low expectations and excessive, unnecessary apologizing don’t do anything positive for business owners (or their clients/customers). If you value yourself and your work, others will be more likely to as well.

  • Wow – never heard the term gaslighting, but this describes what i am currently going through at work perfectly.  i work in construction recruitment which is male dominated & can be very cut throat. If one of the blokes does something wrong & i complain – it somehow always works out to be my fault & i am a bitch who nobody likes!

  • Pingback: Encouraging innovation: why "me too" culture is bad for business

  • Joanie, I must comment. Throughout my adult life, I'd always been given the impression that I, as an assertive get-things-done "bitch", would have fared much better in the American workplace than in Australia, where I live, as it became obvious to me, at that time, that American women were doing well and were actually appreciated for their particular gifts. I guess things have changed, and that is very sad. "Gaslighting" is a term I'd not heard either, but I know and have experienced its effects many times. Assertiveness training and standing my ground, in an objective unemotional manner, much like a good lawyer would, has stood me in good stead over the years and got the results (I am known for getting results through people and this wouldn't have happened if I'd been manipulative or aggressive). Good article. Will share it with my Google Plus women in my circles.

    • I’m glad you like the blog post, but am sorry to hear that you’ve experienced gaslighting in the workplace. Feel free to tag TCF in your Google Plus posts, and we’ll like/share on our page 🙂

      Thanks!

      Kari

  • Pingback: Do More, Apologize Less | Effective Bitch

  • I honestly think you should do some reading on the concept of assertiveness. Being assertive is not the same as being aggressive, in fact it is exactly the opposite of that. Assertiveness lies in the middle on a scale between being passive (where you don't speak up and allow others to walk over you), and being aggresive (where you prioritise your own needs over those of others). You can let others know how you feel without being a bitch about it. As much as we may hate to acknowledge this, success is not just about getting results, it is also about getting along with people. Respect is earned, and being disrespectful (by being a bitch) towards your peers, subordinates, or your boss, is a good way to lose that respect.

    I'm not sure if I agree that people on the fortune 500 list get there by being "bitches". Perhaps they are bitches now, given the amount of power they have been given, but that does not mean that that is how they got there in the first place. Getting up the corporate ladder quickly is about working hard, and being assertive whilst being diplomatic at the same time. Contrary to what the popular media sometimes tells us, being rude and alienating people is a good way to prevent your own career advancement.

  • Joanie, I must comment. Throughout my adult life, I'd always been given the impression that I, as an assertive get-things-done "bitch", would have fared much better in the American workplace than in Australia, where I live, as it became obvious to me. 

  • I think that it is not only women but our society as a whole is becoming way too placid and so concerned about others feelings and all of the sugarcoated, wishy-washy gentle speak makes things confusing and anybody who speaks succinctly may be called a bitch/bastard.

  • "Bitches get things done." – Tina Fey. This is true with both relationships and with co-workers. There is a difference between being a bitch and getting things done. Ive never heard of "Gaslighting" before but I know what its like when your trying to be nice about something, and your manipulated into being "crazy" Your not going to get what you want by being passive aggressive.

  • I came across this article while doing research for a book I'm writing. As a former stockbroker, it was the female sales assistants that referred to me and the other female brokers as 'bitches'. How sad that far too many women have been brainwashed into a belief that labels assertive, ambitious, competent women as bitches simply because they 1) lack those traits and 2) are more comfortable working for men – who BTW, usually treated them far worse than any woman boss.  Great article, great advice.

    • Thanks for your feedback, Arnette – and we agree. Far too often, it’s women turning against other women, instead of working together to raise each other up. At TCF, we have the good fortune to work with a variety of really amazing women: both within the company, and within our clients’ companies. We don’t call each other bitches, unless we’re giving somebody a, “bitch, please!” – and even then, it’s all with respect, love and admiration.

      When your book has launched, please come back here and link to where readers can buy it 🙂

      Kari

      • Will do Kari Dephillips.  Plan to have the book ready for launch by Mothers' Day 2015.  In the meanwhile, feel free to visit bitchdr.com – a companion website (pre-site) to the book: Bitch: A Definitive and Restorative Guide.  

        Arnette

         

  • Women or men who lead with "bitchy" agression accomplish no more than a driver with road rage.  Sure, they get people to jump, to move whenever they approach.  But the truth is, the traffic snarles, and movement slows, accidents increase, traffic laws are violated, it becomes unsafe, the focus is about doding the driver with road rage – not about moving the traffic.  When aggression prevails, the organization's thinking is focused on dealing with the leader's agression, not on serving customers.  These organizations fail in comparision to organizations that focus on providing valuable service or products to customers.

  • Pingback: Blue Lagoon Designs You better work, bitch! - Blue Lagoon Designs

  • Ironically, I stumbled on this post after googling "working late is better than being bitched at."  Wonder if my wife will ever figure out that I'd prefer be productive in my job than be used as her personal doormat.  I thought "gaslighting" was when a woman denies saying something she very certainly did say.  But the basic meaning is the same, trying to make a man think he is crazy.  Ah, the joys of staying late at work; almost as good as being single.

    • Gaslighting is a familiar term to me. As a survivor of more than one psychopath in the course of my sixty-plus years, I've learned to recognize the game, and have known the confusion, distress, futility, and depression suffered when the game of gaslighting is played out in the workplace or the homefront by persons who have no conscience.  There are good books available on the subject of psychopathy, and gaslighting will be a term you'll find discussed in every one. With one out of every 25 people born without a conscience, it's something to read up about, just to have a basic understanding of gaslighting and the research findings that help laypersons grasp a possible alternative concept of "what's going on" in these situations.

       

       

  • Pingback: Jennifer Lawrence Speaks Out Against Sexism | Strong Words

  • Thank you for this – loved the read. I guess you could say i am a "Bitch"… who has been in business successfully… for 11 years now !!!!! Ha ha! 

    I am often seen as cold, tactless, straight to the point – it is hurtful sometimes how everyone likes you until you have to assert your power then they GASLIGHT you …. yep that was a great point to touch on and it happens daily –  i am honest, fair and stay very true to who i am. I do all that i do with honorable intent and passion … it bothers people that i am so UNBOTHERED… and thats a topic for a totally seperate post. =) #GirlsRule #BadBitches #Pittsburgh

    • I would so love to ‘not be bothered’ about what colleagues think of me. Today at work I spoke out and it felt good and tomorrow I’m going to do it again. I’ve spent too many years cowering in my own shadow. If we don’t stand up for ourselves it starts to erode who we are and we begin to lose our spirit and passion for life because we’re constantly giving our power away. Tina Fey and Liz Lemon, you’re an inspiration.

Add Comment:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge