By Kimberly Eberl
Being called a bitch is, by and large, a label. That label can be a good label or a bad label.
Women often use the term “bitches” socially in a playful way to address each other. For example, “Where are my ladies, my friends…or my ‘bitches.’”.. This has been more common in recent years when people took other common negative terms and changed their connotation to something playful or even endearing.
But, “bitch” can also be used as a verb that equates to complaining, nagging, yelling. “Don’t bitch at me to take the trash out.” And if you’re “bitchy” you’re whining, not happy, nipping at someone.
When someone is called a bitch in a negative sense it means to undermine people, to be unsupportive, argumentative, mean, damaging and off-putting.
Since bitch is a complicated word that can be a positive, negative, verb, adjective or yes, even a dog, why be afraid of this stupid term anyways. It stems from a double standard for women as leaders.
I’m not a “Boss Lady,” I’m a Boss
The paradox in terminology of how we think of female leaders doesn’t only end with the word “bitch.” There are other sayings that don’t encourage women to be strong authority figures. In addition to being afraid of being called a bitch at the office, we worry about being called “bossy.” If a man gives very specific directives and asks, they are “no nonsense” or “they mean business,” but women are bossy, or yes, bitchy. Women who are good mentors or supervisors are considered mother hens. Men, on the other hand, are considered good leaders. Women must lead but not be too over-powering. Women can be feminine but if we’re overly feminine we aren’t taken seriously. And, my number one pet peeve, being a “Boss Lady.” Men are “Head Honchos,” “Big Men on Campus” and men are bosses. Women though are “Boss Ladies”? Women are bosses, leaders, managers and in charge. But when we are called a Boss Lady, it means our skills and expertise come second to our gender.
Leaders Don’t Care about Labels, and What Others Think
Whether a female or male leader, leaders still care about what others think. If leaders didn’t give an ounce of care, there would be no employees, no movement, nothing. It’s natural to care about what others think. You want to be accepted, liked, respected.
However, over-caring about what others think will ultimately make you lose focus on your work purpose and advancing your career. If you care too much about what others think, you may just float in your career as a likeable person, who doesn’t cause waves.
But ultimately, other people’s opinions are not what drive leaders. Presidents care about winning the election, passing objectives through congress, etc. but they don’t need to be adored by everyone. They are going to face opposing point of views. Bottom line – they want to get things done and it takes some consensus, but they go into a leadership role knowing they will have enemies.
I have been the founder and CEO of a company for 13 years. Before that, I had bosses. I had tough bosses. I had bosses who were idiots. I had bosses who were lazy. I had bosses that were smart. Looking back, I can’t think of a single bitchy boss. I had bosses that I learned a lot from, even if they were tough as nails on me. Being assertive, strong and direct will force colleagues to respect you. If they consider you a bitch, that’s also their term, that’s not how you describe yourself, and ultimately, you’re the only judge and jury who matters.
Seven Steps to Harnessing Leadership in this Era of “Bitchiness”
It is possible to be smart, confident, powerful and admired without being tagged as a bitch. Being a leader means you own your needs. You own being you, you stick your neck out and you create standards and orders. Don’t shy away from leadership for fear of a label, or for fear that others will not like you. I’ve noticed that as you age, there (usually) is less cattiness. Employees work for a paycheck, to follow their dreams and to reach their career goals. In general, the, “She’s a bitch,” comment decreases as women learn to respect each other and not send harsh judgement of a label of “bitch.”
To be taken seriously as a purposeful, driven boss (not boss lady), here are seven steps to consider:
1) Don’t avoid conflict. Address it. Women who stir in silence on issues instead of addressing it head on are avoiding an opportunity to lead. Real time feedback is needed to face issues and move on to new efforts.
2) Get rid of “I think” or “in my opinion” in your emails. If you’re writing the email or the letter, we know this is your thought and opinion, be direct.
3) Avoid, “I will try.” Don’t try to do a project. Either do it or don’t do it. We don’t want a pilot to say, “I will try to land this plane.”
4) Stop saying you’re sorry. Don’t be apologetic for your opinions, attitudes and feelings. These are your opinions. Only apologize if you’ve genuinely offended someone.
5) End the modifying statements. Modifying statements can include, “I hate to bother you but….,” “Would you mind if….,” “Would it be possible if…,” Get to the point of what you are asking and when it needs to be complete. Be direct and you’ll get a strong response.
6) Be direct and to the point. The longer you ramble, the harder it is to take you seriously.
7) Make eye contact. Don’t stare at your phone, laptop or notepad in meetings or in person. If you are intently paying attention, people will pay attention to you.
Kimberly Eberl owns The Motion Agency, a full-service public relations firm in Chicago. She serves on the board of the PR Council and is a proud graduate of Marquette University. This post originally appeared on Kimberly’s LinkedIn page and appears here with her permission.