By Armoire’s Chief Boss Lady, Ambika Singh
I always get asked about my own (self-appointed) title, Chief Boss Lady. Why “boss lady” and not just CEO? Truth be told, I originally wanted my title to be “Wizard,” but it was shut down pretty quickly by my marketing team. Wizard or not, CEO felt unnecessarily formal in such a small team. In startups, it takes everyone to get a company off the ground, so overly-formal titles creates unnecessary hierarchy and structure. When Armoire was just a handful of us doing any random job that needed to be done, CEO just felt like the wrong title. It felt better to have a title that emphasized the power of the women around me, not just my own. As women, we spend enough time serving under titles created for us, so “boss lady” became my way to reclaim a title of my own, especially when pitching to venture capitalists who are used to seeing male CEOs.
The term stuck, and started to take on a life of its own. “Boss lady” resonated with our members, who epitomized the resilience and dedication we see in strong women. It quickly became part of our everyday language around the office. To many people we told about our newly-adopted lingo, it came as a shock. For the generation above me, the term came with a different connotation — boss ladies as people who put their job before all else when they shouldn’t. It had a negative tinge, followed by a term that excluded women from the powerful identifier of “boss,” so we decided to take the term into our own hands. We use “boss lady” not to undermine the power we hold, but to unite women of all backgrounds, roles, and identities.
At Armoire, we recently launched an initiative with the goal of redefining what it means to be a “boss lady,” profiling our members on what being a “boss lady” means to them. As defined in our initiative, “boss lady” isn’t limited to being someone’s boss. Our boss ladies are lawyers, artists, moms, and so much more. “Boss lady” serves to unite us under one title in recognition of our ability to get sh*t done, regardless of our backgrounds or anything else.
Our Idea of a Boss Lady is Outdated
The incorporation of the “boss” part comes from a need I saw to redefine female bosses in general. We’re all familiar with the stereotypical, movie-trope female boss. Think Sandra Bullock’s character, Margret, in The Proposal, or Meryl Steep’s iconic Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada. In these depictions, boss ladies are cold, cruel, and unforgiving. They show no mercy, and their job always comes first. While these renditions are admittedly dramatized for the sake of a good movie, these stereotypes are the first to come to mind when we think of what being a female boss means. Not only are there very few women like this out in the real world (at least from my personal experience) but this is a harmful role model to hold ourselves to. Through our initiative, we’re showing what it really means to be a female boss by highlighting the women around us. To us, these women embody boss lady spirit — they lift each other up, hold the torch for their industry, and ask for help when they need it. Most importantly, we’re showing boss ladies who aren’t bosses at all.
Boss Ladies Aren’t Just in the Boardroom
Boss ladies exist outside of the boardroom. What defines a boss lady is her ability to run things, regardless of the role she’s in. Boss ladies are CEOs, yes, but they’re also writers, engineers, artists, software developers, lawyers, scientists, and so, so much more. They’re not just in corner offices in New York high-rises— they’re in labs, courtrooms, classrooms, studios, and everywhere else.
Boss ladies are also the CEOs of their households. Being a mom is a boss lady role, too! Just because it’s not seen as a traditional “boss” role doesn’t mean we should discredit the work and leadership being a mom takes. Moms are thrust into this role without the years of training that come with traditional corporate roles. Being a mom is a tremendous leadership challenge, not to mention an all-hands-on-deck, all-hours-of-the-day job. Moms should be viewed as the CEOs of the household, tasked with the same intensity of busy schedules and unexpected obstacles, and at times, uncooperative co-workers. Parenting requires the same skill level we attribute to so many traditional C-Suite roles. Working mothers are pushing themselves to extremes, and should be recognized for this effort. Boss ladies aren’t defined by their role, but by their skills, gumption, and drive. We could use “executive women” or “career-driven women,” but this doesn’t encapsulate everyone. “Boss lady” celebrates success, whether those successes are in the office or not.
Women Who Support Women Are More Successful
Being a “boss lady” means more than earning our place at the table — it’s making room to bring others with us. This is the biggest issue I have with Meryl Streep’s iconic character — she’s constantly tearing other women down, pitting her employees against each other and putting every possible obstacle in the way of their success. Everybody makes mistakes, which is why it’s so important to have a support network to fall back on when things don’t work out. Being a boss lady means helping each other get back up when we fall.
There tends to be an added pressure on women in competitive environments, especially when it feels like we’re fighting to be the “token woman” in a group. But here’s a secret: tearing other women down won’t make us more successful. Fostering those relationships, and vouching for each other when it matters will. The idea that a powerful woman is a lone wolf is an outdated one. Over and over in movies and media, we’re told that another woman’s success is our downfall, which just isn’t true. Having a team of strong women means that one woman’s success is all of our success. When our pack is honest with us and encourages us to take risks, we feel more capable and confident breaking into male-dominated industries. The best secret weapon any woman can have is a team of strong women behind her.
Everyone is a Boss Lady in Their Own Way
When we summed the qualities all empowered women have (smart, motivated, driven, caring, and gets sh*t done), we arrived at “boss lady.” She looks out for the women around her, is bossy when she needs to be, and is unapologetically herself. Everyone is a boss lady in their own way, and it’s something to be proud of. Let’s tear down the stereotype of female bosses as the cold and lonely figures of power, and foster the boss lady power in our friends, coworkers, moms, sisters, and everyone in between. Leave a note in the comments section, I’d love to hear how you’re harnessing your own boss lady power.