• But although the #girlboss movement seems like the fix-all solution to women’s problems in the workplace, it’s more short-sighted than it first appears. (Getty Images)
By glamourising female entrepreneurship, the #girlboss movement overlooks the directly proportional relationship between privilege and success, writes Neha Kale.
By
Neha Kale

1 Dec 2016 - 5:20 PM  UPDATED 1 Dec 2016 - 5:26 PM

As far as feminist idols go, November 2016 has to go down as one of the worst months in history. Hillary Clinton lost the US presidency to a narcissist. Promising young political (and fictional) journalist, Rory Gilmore grows into an entitled adulteress with rich-kid problems. And Sophia Amoruso filed for bankruptcy, shattering the dreams of #girlbosses around the world.

The last fact is especially symbolic given that Amoruso — who founded online vintage fashion retailer, Nasty Gal, back in 2005 and recently made Forbes list of America’s richest self-made women with a personal fortune of $US280 million — has been the poster-girl for millennial ambition for the last 10 years.

For the generation of young women who grew up in a culture that guaranteed neither financial security or solid career prospects, Amoruso, an ex-shoplifter and self-styled outsider with a wicked sense of fashion (no one pulls off a blunt fringe and jumpsuit like she can) is the antidote to Sheryl Sandberg.

Of course, Amoruso didn’t invent the #girlboss movement as much as she tapped into the force with which young millennial women have internalised the dream of working for themselves.

Instead of suggesting that women “lean” into their professional goals or coyly navigate the minefield of workplace sexism to land a prize as underwhelming as a corner office, Amoruso tells us that any woman can be a wildly successful entrepreneur with the right mix of talent, hustle and work ethic.

Next year, Charlize Theron will executive produce her life story for Netflix. Type in #girlboss, the hashtag and global community inspired by Amoruso’s New York Times bestselling memoir on Instagram and you’ll find nearly four million posts.

Of course, Amoruso didn’t invent the #girlboss movement as much as she tapped into the force with which young millennial women have internalised the dream of working for themselves.

A November 2016 study by research consultancy REAL  surveyed 246 millennial female business owners and found that nearly 96 percent said goodbye to corporate jobs to start their own ventures, thanks to factors such as a lack of career progression and an absence of female mentors. Whether these women are making hand-poured candles or inventing wearable technology, campaigning to close the wage gap or fighting for access to childcare is proving a whole lot less appealing than choosing flexibility and creativity. Oh yeah and burning the rules of the damn workplace to a crisp.

And in stark contrast to the Silicon Valley-endorsed image of the entrepreneur-as-male-genius, this movement constructs itself as democratic and inclusive, accepting of every #girl with the passion and gumption to follow her dreams. It delights in motivational quotes and is unapologetic about its obsession with money. (“Grow your network, grow your net worth,” quips an Instagram post by #Bossbabe, entrepreneur Alex Hernandez’s personal branding school). To the horror of ‘eighties career women everywhere, it embraces a certain ironic femininity — it’s signature colour is a shade of dirty pink.

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But although the #girlboss movement seems like the fix-all solution to women’s problems in the workplace, it’s more short-sighted than it first appears. Happily, a February 2016 report by Techcrunch found that there’s been a 322 per cent increase in startups led by black women since 1997. That same report also found that black women entrepreneurs received just 0.2 percent of all venture capital between 2012 and 2014. And yes, August 2015 research from the National Business Council identified a major spike in businesses owned by women of colour. But the #girlbosses the media venerates, as this Sydney Morning Herald list shows us, are as blonde, slim and pretty as their high-flying corporate sisters — they simply have better haircuts and cooler clothes.

More maddening to me is the way the #girlboss movement uncritically rewards outsiders and rebels, those who’ve abandoned traditional trajectories (Amoruso herself dropped out of high school) — as if railing against the system without consequence is a choice every woman has. For women of colour or those from immigrant or working-class backgrounds, education is often one of the only means of class mobility.

But maybe now we can stop pretending that all it takes to be a #girlboss is talent, hustle and a work ethic. Maybe it’s time for our dreams to get bigger.

In a world in which Middle Eastern candidates must apply for 64 percent more jobs and Chinese people must submit 68 percent more applications than an Anglo person to land an interview, excellence isn’t just an option. You can’t land professional opportunities — let alone an entrepreneurial career — any other way.

“Filing for bankruptcy is actually the most responsible thing to do right now,” a tearful Amoruso recently told a Sydney audience at a sold-out Business Chicks breakfast and it hurts to see a successful woman lose everything for which she’s worked so hard.

But maybe now we can stop pretending that all it takes to be a #girlboss is talent, hustle and a work ethic. Maybe it’s time for our dreams to get bigger.

 

Love the story? Follow the author here: Twitter @Neha_Kale and Instagram @nehakale 

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