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Shelly Hughes

I’m Shelly and I’m not a #GirlBoss. I’m an entrepreneur.

I’ve been around entrepreneurs most of my career and I can say all of them have changed me in some way. Many of them female, I’ve received unconditional mentorship, (tough) love, and guidance that has given me the skills and confidence to bring me where I am today: the CEO of my own company.


The term #GirlBoss was first coined by the founder of the famed women’s retailer Nasty Gal, Sophia Amoruso, to paint a picture of her own journey making independent wealth. A #GirlBoss, in Amoruso’s words, is self-made, “someone who has big dreams and is willing to work hard for them.” Founded in 2006, Nasty Gal was named the “Fastest Growing Retailer” in 2012 by INC Magazine. The online retailer employed approximately 110 people by that time and had an 11,200% growth rate the past 3 years with a revenue of $24 million in 2011. Amoruso has emphasized in interviews the importance of social media in Nasty Gal’s growth. 

Then, just a couple of years later in 2014, Amoruso wrote the mostly biographical book #GIRLBOSS, reminiscing over her life challenges and preaching to other girls like her: outsiders seeking a unique path to success, even when that path is windy as hell and lined with naysayers. I admittedly haven’t dedicated a few days to read the book specifically, but the reviews on Goodreads seem mediocre at best. 

The #GirlBoss empire hasn’t been without its controversies, of course. In 2015, a lawsuit was filed accusing Nasty Gal of allegedly firing four employees because of pregnancy, in violation of California laws. Since then, Nasty Gal has faced criticism online in a variety of publications due to its allegedly “toxic” work environment having numerous negative reviews on Glassdoor from unhappy employees. 


Today, #GirlBoss is a term that encourages female entrepreneurship, references CEOs that are women, and honors women who run businesses who champion other women. The intention is a rallying cry of strong female leaders that encourage other women to hustle and grind their way to the top, overcoming gender stereotypes while doing so. This all sounds great, right? To many, it’s a goal to be a #GirlBoss, as it was for me in my early 20s. But this term, synonymous with the “cool girl” image, seems to be a well-branded, elitist, and performative push for feminism that I just can’t get behind. 

Although it seems that the #GirlBoss narrative has inspired many women to have big dreams and go after them, it’s taken away the professionalism of being a female entrepreneur. It reeks of underlying misogyny dressed up in a vintage pencil skirt and a bob cut. 

#GirlBoss largely reduces feminism to branding. The Girlboss phenomenon is built on empty jargon and self-congratulation. This is because being a Girlboss is largely performative: She’s a product of an era driven by social media, where snappy hashtags, constant self-promotion, and image consciousness are all keys to her success.

The #GirlBoss is essentially selling feminism.

Shelly Hughes with a member of the Nolia Roots team

Also, would you ever dream of calling someone a “boy boss?” No – because that would be offensive since the term “boy” references immaturity and the whole goal for men in our culture is to grow up and be “a man.” But really, you wouldn’t call a male entrepreneur a “man boss” either. He’s just… a boss. 

We are blindly internalizing the blatant misogyny that we have to constantly define ourselves as not just a badass entrepreneur, but a female badass entrepreneur. What do our genitals have to do with our success? 

Being a woman is a huge part of my life but it doesn’t define me and certainly isn’t part of my professional title. Yes, I’m a female entrepreneur – but I’m also an American entrepreneur, a community-driven entrepreneur, a home-owning entrepreneur, and an entrepreneur interested in building generational wealth for my family. 

More and more, gender roles are being merged, allowing for flexibility to let passions shine instead of individuals adhering to a set of rules given to them at birth. With families that have a typical mother/father dynamic, dads are increasingly becoming more involved in the home – and not just because it’s what they have to do since our economy and culture, many times, forces a two-income household, but because they see value in being a part of their children’s lives. As a woman who’s raising a family, I feel more like a parent than a mom; more like a partner than a wife. 

Steve and Tucker Hughes

Don’t ignore: nothing is always 50/50. When I’m low or overwhelmed, my husband takes over the slack, making sure the house is clean and the dog is exercised. Or when my husband is working on a huge project, I step up and do his laundry or something else that’s usually “his job” because we’re partners. 

This idea of partnership emphasizes even more so that we can still be loud and take up space as women in business and support other women in business without pushing away those we have to work with the most: men. Feminism is about everyone working together to celebrate all kinds of femininity. But performative white-washed feminism, in my eyes, has turned into us vs. them, and it’s detrimental. We’ve been so frustrated with the blatant (and not so blatant) boys clubs of the late 20th and early 21st century – and some even today – that we are making the dividing line even greater by building our own club that doesn’t allow anyone with a penis to join – enter, #GirlBoss.

Ladies, we need everyone to feel included in the conversation if we’re going to make revolutionary cultural changes in how women are treated in the workplace and in entrepreneurship. By creating our own girl’s club, we’re just pushing away half of the population that we want on our team. 

Nonetheless, I understand the intentionality of labeling an entrepreneur based on your gender since historically women have not been encouraged to enter the C-Suite or build businesses of their own. Enter: Women’s History Month.


At the moment I’m writing this, it’s Women’s History Month. Women’s History Month is a great opportunity to learn about the inequalities that women have faced in our collective history. Probably the most memorable quote from middle school history class is “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.” 

It’s important to dedicate time to be intentional and reflective of the past and current struggles. Today, things aren’t perfect.

Unfortunately, womens’ biology works against us in the workplace. Today it’s hard to find a business in the United States that genuinely cares about their employees being with their families to raise them. It’s a revolving door. Biologically, parents (specifically moms) feel the need or are forced to stay home for not weeks but months or years after a baby is born to feed them, raise them, and care for them. Yes, a dad is fully capable of this as well if the family decides against exclusively breastfeeding.

So what happens? The employer tells mom she has 6 weeks (possibly paid) maternity leave. Mom takes those 6 weeks but realizes if she goes back to work, her entire paycheck will go toward child care. Plus she feels a desire to raise her own family instead of utilizing external child care from a college student that works at a daycare center part-time. So, she takes a few years off of working outside the home. 

Up until this point (women in their early-mid twenties), women actually have it pretty good in our culture – I know, scandalous to say, right? More women graduate from college than men, women make more money than men in their 20s in similar job roles, men are equally as likely to file bankruptcy, men are much more likely to commit suicide, men are much more likely to be homeless men are more likely to commit crimes and go to jail, and men are much more likely to go to war and die. Women control a huge percentage of the financial decisions in this country and are much more likely to get their doctorate degree, or really, any higher education, for that matter.

Let me note quickly that we currently have no idea how the COVID-19 pandemic will change any of these facts. But let’s go with the stats of the past few years, for now, shall we?

Let me repeat one of those key statistics: in the same job, women in their twenties earn more than men in their twenties. And why does that change? Because leaving the workforce to raise a family in their late twenties is a huge sacrifice that many women take. Most promotions and raises are given out during that time (between 28 and 40 years old) so when men stay in the corporate culture they are able to climb the exponential ladder.

By the time mom wants to come back to work, the gap in her resume puts off many employers and the professional opportunity cost that she lost is extremely apparent compared to her male counterpart that continued to work. 

When women stay in the corporate culture, that’s when they get promoted just as often if not faster than men. So it seems, when women have the same educational experience, the same work experience, the same work ethic, they earn more than men. 

So this idea that I have to gloat about the fact that I’m a woman who started a business is BS. Women in this country have it good if they stay in corporate America, despite what you’ve heard. Yes, of course, it’s not always an option (or a preference). But I feel like when I have to promote that I’m a female entrepreneur I get the “Good for you, sweetie!” symbolic reactions. What’s wrong with gloating that I started a business in the first place? Or, here’s an idea… not gloat at all?

Let’s be clear here: 1) Not all families have the “luxury” of being a one-income household. 2) Not all moms desire to work from the home. 3) Some dads desire to stay at home to raise their children. 

The point is, in our culture women in the corporate world still have a lot of elements holding them back from “success” compared to their male counterparts. I’d never deny that. But when it comes to encouraging women to put their necks out and find their seat at the table – whether through entrepreneurship or working their way up to CEO at an established company, I think it’s more important to celebrate our accomplishments and focus on championing people instead of genders. 


Androgyny is the quality of being neither specifically feminine nor masculine, but a combination of the two sides’ characteristics. The ancient Greek philosopher Plato referenced the myth of the androgynous: ancestors and “people of the third gender” who simultaneously possessed tremendous strength and both masculine and feminine features. They were so powerful that they “accomplished deeds” similar to those of the gods. The gods, fearful of the androgynous’ strengths, wanted to reduce their power, literally dividing them into two halves. After this “division,” the people embraced either one of two features: masculinity or femininity.

Shelly Hughes

In today’s world, the ability to possess and strengthen both masculine and feminine characteristics is a huge advantage in the business world. An article from Forbes details, “Male leaders are commonly stereotyped with actions, ambitions, confidence, assertiveness, independence, rationality, decisiveness, domination, intimidation and risk assessment. On the contrary, female leaders are typically stereotyped with expressiveness, concern for others, acceptance, patience, sensitivity, warmth, compassion, helpfulness, nurturance, conformity, and attention to detail.”

But an alternative position by psychologist Sanda Bem promoted that masculinity and femininity are not diametrically opposed. That androgyny can describe a person that uses the benefits of each traditional list of characteristics in their lives. 

If you think of all your favorite bosses in the past, I’d bet that most of them you’d now describe as androgynous. The behavior of a good, androgynous leader, for example, could incorporate flexibility and implement both assertiveness and acceptance, domination and collaboration, risk behavior and cautiousness, giving and receiving.

Regardless of one’s gender, the ability to collaborate and change roles depending on the situation is one that is most admired in today’s professional realm. The cycles of giving and receiving, following and leading, being active and passive should be flexible and are the strength of androgyny. 

It’s hard to ignore, of course, that biologically female individuals, many times, possess both physical and emotional strengths that biologically male individuals may not have as developed, and vice versa. But the keyword here is “many times.” I, for example, have worked hard to develop both my “traditionally” feminine and “traditionally” masculine traits that help me be a better parent, better partner, and a better entrepreneur. 

But in today’s culture, there is a constant pulling and tugging to what it means to be a good leader. The #GirlBoss narrative encourages assertiveness and domination. Naira Velumyan, communication and relationship coach explained, “Many of my female clients, successful businesswomen in their own right, verbalize their concerns about their inner toughness and intransigence and inquire about coping mechanisms. Having progressed their masculine qualities to the limit, they seem to have alienated their femininity and created a level of discomfort.”

Velumyan continues, “Another common category of clients are men who exude kindness, obedience, and acceptance, typically feminine features, but lack toughness, perseverance, and efficiency. They aspire to build their careers but the seemingly required level of masculinity interferes with the process.”

Instead of pushing a set of rules that leaders should follow in order to succeed, why not just appreciate people as individuals with their natural strengths  – both the traditionally feminine and masculine?

I’ve been told I have many naturally masculine characteristics: I’m assertive, decisive, ambitious, independent, and I speak my mind. But is that because I’m naturally that way or because as a business owner, society has taught me those are the characteristics of success? Recently, especially since becoming pregnant, I’ve made it a goal of mine to rediscover the natural softness inside me. The balance of highly effective communication skills and ambition has allowed myself, my business, and my team to blossom. 

So to men, women, and everyone in between, don’t diminish your feminine traits – they’re just as important as the masculine ones and will get you far both at work and at home.


One of Nolia Roots’ most important core values guides me through much of my hiring, firing, and client interaction: diversity of thought. I have to admit – even though we have many diverse members of our team, we have attracted mostly female applicants to our open positions. That can be for a thousand reasons, but no matter who I interview, my biggest focus in the process is not their skillset but 1) are their values aligned with those of Nolia Roots? And 2) Do I like this person just because they think like me or will they give a much-needed different perspective to our client and community work output?

The more I see women adhering to the #GirlBoss narrative, the less I notice the diversity of thought within their team. Adam Grant, organizational psychologist, and bestselling author promotes that Diversity of Thought is imperative to a successful team. He once said in his Ted Talk, “If you want to build trust, don’t just look for commonalities. Look for uncommon commonalities. We want to fit in and stand out. But most workplaces focus on the fitting in part. They hire on culture fit. And that’s a great recipe for groupthink because they end up just cloning the same backgrounds and skills over and over. They favor similarity and weed out the diversity of thought. 

Instead of culture fit, what you want is cultural contribution. Don’t ask whether someone matches your culture. Ask what’s missing from your culture and bring in people who can enrich it. That doesn’t require you to be best friends.”

We need to start including everyone, even those who think differently than us to the table. Unfortunately, the standoff-ish, one-sided tone of #GirlBoss doesn’t do that. 

I argue it’s time to scrap the term and the ideology behind #GirlBoss. Instead, let’s celebrate all bosses, regardless of gender, who provide jobs to our community, build our economy, and recognize what it truly means to be intersectional, in theory, and practice. 


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