March is Women’s History Month: the month we celebrate achievements of women, raise awareness about gender equality, and fundraise for charities focused on uplifting women. But how has ‘feminism’ manifested in the 21st century? Enter: Girl Boss, the defining movement for Millennial women in the workplace. But, does this empowerment translate to the newest working class, Generation Z?
Empowered Women Empower Women
At its heart, the Girl Boss movement was originally created to elevate women, inspiring them to be unapologetically ambitious. In the workplace, the movement pushed women to take charge and become leaders by getting more involved in their workplace. For many, the movement did make strides in reaching its mission of empowering women. Being a “Girl Boss” motivated women to request better wages, become more confident, and take pride in their bold pursuits. In a world where calling a woman “bossy” was once seen as an insult, Girl Boss took back the narrative.
What is Gen Z’s take?
However, some of Gen Z has been known to critique the movement. Gendering a ‘Boss’ implies women thriving as leaders is outside of the norm and ought to stay that way, much less a woman of color (WOC) leader prospering in a position of power. Women leaders are an abnormality, and intimidated men feared change. While the Girl Boss movement tried to make women leaders more visible, it ended up dividing women from men even deeper.
“Have you ever heard a male worker referred to as a #boyboss? No,” writer Vicky Spratt said in an article with Refinery29. “That’s because men’s power in the workplace is still the default. It’s the status quo and anything a woman does is still an exception, an anomaly.”
Some of Gen Z believe Girl Boss diminishes women’s authority by undermining the present situation. Workplace equality has made great strides, and those efforts cannot be ignored. However, society has never hit the root of the issue. From unequal pay to sexual harassment, gender inequity is deeper than “confidence levels” and “ambition”. Girl Boss asked women to change, when in reality, the system itself needed to be transformed.
The Lack of Diversity
One major issue with the Girl Boss complex is the absence of any recognition towards Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) voices. From its founding, Girl Boss has always been about uplifting women’s voices. However, it’s been crowded with white feminism, advocacy focused solely on the struggles of white women, without recognizing their privileges compared to WOC.
In fact, several leaders at companies of the Girl Boss movement even resigned due to allegations of running toxic and racist work environments. Leaders didn’t focus enough on the necessary tasks of unlearning centuries of racist socialization, as they themselves never had to deal with the impact of it. “White” and “wealthy” defined the Girl Boss movement – another factor leading to its ultimate downfall.
The Bottom Line
Gen Z is not a monolith, so we view the Girl Boss Industrial Complex in both directions. In some ways, the movement empowered women to gain confidence and believe in themselves. On the other hand, the complex has ignored the underlying gender and racial inequality issues within the workplace.
We need a lot more than girl bosses to get the systemic change we need. However, we are thankful to the girl bosses who paved the way for us to even make this critique. We, at JUV, acknowledge that we are often pushing for change within the system, too, but we hope to spend our privilege to support the organizers seeking to deconstruct or rebuild systems.
We want to see real and honest structural change — and for Gen Z, authentic empowerment goes beyond a hashtag.
JUV Consulting is a Gen Z collective that works with companies to create purpose-driven and authentic marketing campaigns that engage young audiences. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to learn how to reach Gen Z, or sign up for our weekly newsletter, The Screenshot, to get Gen Z insights straight to your inbox.