On Women in Business

I need to talk to you about women in business, and more specifically, women creating their own careers and carving their own path. I call you a “creative” entrepreneur, but I get a lot of kickback on that from people who don’t identify as creative.

The thing is, by blazing your own trail, you are creating. You’re creating a product, a brand, a name for yourself, a business, a client base, an audience, and a unique vision of success.

You are creative. And brave. And interesting. And powerful.

on women in business Lisa Jacobs

As I was finding success in business, a reality series about entrepreneur, Jillian Michaels titled Just Jillian aired on TV. In one episode, a box of workout gear (for her new clothing line) arrived for her approval. She opened it, picked up a pair of leggings, and started yelling, “What the f–k is this? What the f–k is this?!”

It was a scene that changed the way I do business. In many of her dealings, Jillian threatens the room with a bazooka.

“Sometimes you do need to get the bazooka and let people know, ‘Hey don’t f–k with me, stop f–king with me or I’m gonna pull out the bazooka.”

What I’ve learned since then is that, when it comes to business, there is always a bazooka in the room. The bazooka represents the power, so if you want to succeed, you better make sure it’s in your corner. And if anybody’s going to wield it during a transaction, it has to be you.

Where’d your power go?

One thing I’ve really paid attention to in this last year is: When my power escapes me, how did I lose it and whom did I give it to? A few examples …

  • When I’m afraid to sell my offer, I give my power away to fear of rejection.
  • When I’m afraid to share opinions, I give my power away to fear of not being liked.
  • When I fail to create boundaries, I fragment my power and welcome disruption.
  • When I miss deadlines, I dilute my power and succumb to procrastination.
  • When I fail to issue clear instructions, I leave my power open to interpretation.
  • When I’m too lenient in parenting, I give the power to my children.
  • When I don’t communicate my needs, I replace my power with resentment.
  • When my confidence shrinks from rejection, I give my power away to the rejector.
  • When I make self-deprecating jokes, I dishonor my power.
  • When I “soften the blow” and meekly let others know of my success and accomplishments, I diminish my power for people who have given up on achieving greatness of their own.
  • When I ask a soft question instead of making a strong statement, I forget my power in the quest for validation.

If I asked you to imagine a powerful woman completely in charge of her health, wealth, and happiness, who comes to mind? I’m hoping you can think of a few good role models, but if you can’t, I know why.

For the last century, to be a powerful women meant rejecting all that’s soft, womanly, and nurturing about our nature. It meant pantsuits, foul language, and “being one of the guys.” It meant sacrificing the feminine goddess within and instead learning to “grow a pair.” It meant a lifetime battle of career vs. family because all powerful women seemed to have to choose one or the other.

Think of the high-power, high-profile women in the movies: Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada (dream career, stabs her friends in the back, desperate for her husband’s affection), Jules Ostin in The Intern (dream business, unbalanced life, husband cheats on her), Selina Meyer in Veep (narcissistic woman in charge who makes powerful decisions based on what everyone else thinks), and Joy in Joy (a woman who makes it to the top but remains downright sad and continues to nurture toxic relationships) are only a few examples of how poorly powerful women are portrayed on screen.

Every movie’s theme: If you believe in yourself and chase your wildest dreams, you lose everything else (if you’re a woman). Never mind how irrational that sounds, it’s true (unless you’re a man).

In the movies, to be a woman with power means to ignore her children and lose their respect (or never have a family at all), risk her marriage and take a gamble on her partner’s fidelity (or never have time for a partner at all), and oh by the way, she’s a shrill, narcissistic bitch. At the end of the day, the woman with power goes home to curl up with her sad and lonesome life. (Seriously, I couldn’t make this up. Pay attention to how powerful women are portrayed!)

No wonder we try to hit that power ball right back out of our court!

When I started making good money, hiring people, and eventually, out-earning my husband (who’s always been the breadwinner), I wasn’t celebrating; I was distraught and plagued with fear and anxiety.

I watched The Intern (Anne Hathaway, Robert De Niro) shortly after I started making six figures doing work that I loved, and I burst into a panic. Bad Moms provoked a similar reaction! It was then that I realized how distorted our perception of strong, powerful women actually is.

So, yeah. I wasn’t sure I wanted to make a lot of money or take over the breadwinner role in my family. I certainly wasn’t sure I wanted to embrace my power and channel it according to my desires! Just look at all the entertaining stories about what happens to women who behave in such a way.

(Don’t) Soften the Blow

This is where the picture gets even more harmful. Women want the power—because who doesn’t want to shape their fate and fulfill their true potential? But, we’re afraid of what that means and how we’ll be perceived.

What happens if you actually claim your power? How would that make you look?

To make everyone more comfortable (ourselves included), we try to soften the blow. We aim for playful and light. We proceed with caution; our approach is gentle and meek.

In business, women use hashtags, such as #girlboss, #bossbabe, #ladyboss, and #girlbiz. Just think about that for a second. When was the last time you saw a businessman (powerful or not) use #boyboss?

Putting the final touches on this presentation! #boybiz #boypower #boyzrule #boyboss

Would a 9-year-old boy even write like that? I know my son wouldn’t! Yet grown women mark their hard work with hashtags like these all the time.

Moreover, what a struggle it is to find a female role model who doesn’t dance or use silly props in their business dealings. Why don’t businessmen feel the need to “just bust a move” in their video intros, I wonder?

It’s sickening to me how many women get to the top of their industry, and then resort to selfies. Is that what it’s come to? Must you entertain people with goofiness and superficial #girlpics to take up commercial space these days? Where’s the substance in that?

I refuse to perpetuate this harmful cycle.

Be You, Be Powerful

I’m so damn serious when I work. I’m creating a living and making a life. I’m blazing a trail. When I’m on the mic, I’m not there to entertain you. That’s not my job! I am an entrepreneur on fire. I train day and night for this career, and I pass the torch to other women by sharing substance and strategies that empower.

At first, I was scared that owning my power meant losing my softness, that I would somehow be harder. I was literally shaking the first time I picked up the bazooka in a meeting, but I came away with the control and the respect I deserved in the situation.

It took me a year to get comfortable enough to wear my power like the queen’s cloak that it is. I credit quiet self-therapy and my husband, because I wouldn’t be so fearless and bold without either that self-awareness or open communication behind me.

I thank God for the power each of us carries, and I promise to honor mine always.

I’ve learned that when I’m feeling misunderstood, it’s because I’m not clearly stating what I need. If I’m disappointed, it’s because I gave up too much control in the situation. I’ve learned that when I’m disrespected, it’s because I gave my power away. I’ve learned that when things aren’t going my way it’s because I haven’t told anyone which way I intended to go.

The morale of the story: I haven’t gotten harder, but I do get better every day. In this quest for success, I’ve only become more of myself, and that’s made me happier than ever.

Give Her Credit

In the comments below, please share the names of some powerful women you admire. If you have an extra minute, tell us why + how they inspire you. I’ll share mine as well and continue to add to the list every chance I get.

Here’s to your success,

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  • I will always be inspired by Tina Fey.

    I love almost this whole thing, as I love almost all of what you do.

    But as a side note, I wonder how many boy bosses would act just as silly, dancing and posting selfies if it was socially acceptable. We’re not encouraged to speak up and stand up for ourselves, that’s true. But we are encouraged to be excited! I love that! I love being really freaking happy and sharing it. Sometimes that comes off as silly, but it’s not an act or a ploy to be seen as cute or feminine. I’m just happy.

    We should applaud the boys in creative business who dance around and get excited just as we should applaud women who chose not to.

    • I like your point, Nicole. I have to expand!

      You can bet that I get silly in life—I definitely do. When I’m with my family and friends, I try to rap like Chris Pratt (“carrot cake muffin”), talk in phony foreign accents, dance around to make them laugh, and more. Really, there’s no limit to how happy and excited I’ll live life, or how silly I’m willing to be to have fun with my loved ones. I love other women who live this way, and I love the men who live this way, too.

      Here, I’m talking about business and professionalism. I’m talking about proposals, presentations, and initial impressions, but more importantly, I’m talking about how important it is to your bottom line to take those things more seriously, show up more powerfully, and fully honor your own work.

  • Loved this post and agree with all of it! Except I don’t think we should disapprove of business women posting the odd selfie or personal insight to their life; most of the time this is a personality thing, not a gender thing, and if women are leading the way on making these ‘personal insights in professional life’ things more acceptable, then rock on! X


    • Agreed, Anna! I love when women actually show up in their feeds; nothing against it. I’m confused when their selfies *become* the feed, and I’ve seen this happen a few times in different industries. I love substance! 🙂

      Thanks for adding.

  • THANK YOU Lisa for this. I needed to hear this right now. I applied for a job today back in the real world because it’s feeling too hard to give owning my own business a go.

    Financially we might need for me to work elsewhere right now, and I’m ok with looking for alternative work to subsidise lack of income in my own fledgling creative space. What’s not ok is that I’m giving up my power to fear of rejection and not being good enough. Simply, just giving up when I haven’t really tried. I can’t say I’ve given it 100% and it hasn’t worked.

    So thank you for the pep talk and the kick in the backside I needed to remind me to love myself and invest in me too!

  • Great piece, Lisa! Am sharing it with my husband.

    There are so many amazing women around us! Elizabeth Warren and Sally Yates are just two who come to mind as I sit in the airport waiting for an early morning flight.

  • Thank you for the thought-and-ferling-provoking words. At the top of my role-model, for decades now, is Ruth Bader Ginsburg, of the US Supreme Court. She is followed by Elizabeth Warren, US Senator. Fortunately, there also are more women that I know personally that are role models.

  • I love this post! This is something I’ve been really thinking about (and struggling with) over the last year – being authentically and unashamedly me because there’s power in that. Maybe it’s midlife, or maybe it’s just life. Regardless, thanks for this post. I couldn’t think of any good role models initially (although, after writing this, you’re on my short, literally, list!), but scrolling through the other comments has given me some inspiration (I do love Joanna Gaines). Thanks for being passionate about this and for calling out our representation of powerful women for what it is.

  • I’m a scientist running my own lab in an academic setting and I’ve often felt that the business side of this job has a lot in common with self-owned small businesses. I’ve been really inspired by your blog; so much of it feels applicable to the stuff I have to deal with and I’ve been learning a lot from your work. There are many women I look up to including the following who have caught a lot of flak over the years but still keep going: Hillary Clinton and Sheryl Sandberg.

  • I think that as women in business we don’t want to do it the same as the men. Of course we want to be clear and decisive in our business dealings but we also want to be ourselves. You wouldn’t see many men dancing around because that isn’t fun for a lot of them. What you would see is car racing, diving off cliffs, boating, etc. and in our culture that is also see as strong and adventurous but for men that’s their fun. So I don’t see anything wrong with the joyful dancing of someone who is also a strong businesswoman. It shows her as multifaceted, more human to me and that she’s a happy businesswoman living a good life – also a great aspiration.

    • I’ve never seen men diving off cliffs in their business videos.

      I’m certainly not suggesting women don’t have fun (or dance!) in their lives. Strong business women should definitely do all the dancing! Just not in their business presentations.

  • I would like to add Condaleeza Rice I’m hoping that’s spelled correctly, this is a confident, self assured woman who is so Intelligent. As for fictional characters that have Inspried me the main character on Baby Boom. She has it all a great business family and a great guy. It’s out there folks I just think we’re looking at the world to negatively. I like your message, it’s ok to succeed. What a great way to start the day. Thanks!

  • You really made me think here, Lisa. My biggest fear has always been a success, and I didn’t know why that is. You articulated so clearly what I couldn’t myself.

    I don’t want to be those women we see in the movies. I don’t want to lose my family over the things I love. I don’t want to choose. And somehow, it feels like it’s one way or another – I can’t have both (although I know my husband will have my back, and my kids are my biggest cheerleaders…it still feels like I have to choose).

    Also, it feels like a successful business woman don’t have feelings – she is strong, she doesn’t care about others, she doesn’t care about the world…

    like power = selfishness

    And I’m exactly the opposite – I care for other people, I care for the world we are living in, I cry when I’m happy and I cry when I’m sad, I love my family, and I love what I do (which is knitting).

    I don’t want to be like that successful woman doing her dance moves either. I’m not like this when I’m in my zone.

    I just want to knit. And teach others to knit. And no selfies at all. and no dance moves. I might do some knitting jokes only knitters understand – like counting stitches, disturbing and sticking needles somewhere….

    And I can be all that without the fear.

    It really hit home here – I’m giving my power away for the fear that has no logic. I won’t loose my supportive family if I don’t loose myself. My success will look like I want it to look. My reality doesn’t have to be what other people think it has to be.

    Thanks, Lisa!

  • Personally, I love what YOU are doing! I just recently found you, and what you are teaching is markedly different from the other messages on growing your business out there. After finding a few women who were obsessed with calling their students cute names like “(insert product name) hotties” or other glittery glamery things, I kind of checked out of this kind of grassroots business movement.

    While I don’t want to get into slamming other women in business, I do think that when we dumb down what we’re doing, calling ourselves #bossbabe or #(such and such)hottie is really doing not only ourselves a disservice, but our customers and clients as well.

    If a man came up to us and said, “You’re such a #bossbabe,” we’d say he was objectifying us and dumbing us down–and we’d be right! Why are we doing it to one another?

    There’s nothing wrong with being playful and having fun, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with enjoying how we look, but we’re so much more than that! Each of us is a force to be reckoned with, and there is no reason to act otherwise!

  • My passion is the environment so the strong women I have looked up to include Caroline Lucas (only UK Green MP), Vandana Shiva (Indian campaigner) and the late Wangari Maathai (Kenya political and tree planter extraordinaire). Strength, compassion and deep wisdom.

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