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What it’s like to be a ‘Girl Boss’

Publisher Emily Smith reflects about leadership as a woman on International Women's Day.
Bucks County Beacon Publisher Emily Smith

I run a company. No, I run a media company, I run a freelance business, I sell real estate, I run a household, and I help to run a municipal government (as Vice President of my borough council). I don’t feel like I should have to list my bona fides, but here goes. 

I was 6th in my high school graduating class. I have a BFA from Rochester Institute of Technology in graphic design, with a concentration in web design and a minor in art history. 

My first job in high school was working at a department store. Within a year of working there part time, I was promoted to run the training program for employees for inventory management. Before I left for college, I worked at a temp job in medical billing, and was asked to come on full time, as they wanted me to become a manager. During college, I worked for a deli where the owner trusted me to be her second in command, and I created a full branding package for her. 

After I graduated college, I got a job working for a real estate agent in California as her graphic designer and executive assistant. I was responsible for literally every aspect of her business except selling the real estate, from transaction management to advertising to building her web presence to IT and tech support. During my tenure working for her, her real estate sales went from $20m per year to $40m per year. After I left working with her, she continued to be a graphic design client of mine for 10 years. I worked for a well known restaurant chain, where I was quickly promoted to head bartender and trainer. 

I worked for a Fortune 500 title insurance company as a graphic designer. When I left that position because I was moving across the country, they asked for me to freelance for them because I was difficult to replace. That company has been my longest running client. I have worked with various offices of theirs throughout the country for 17 years now. 

I worked with a real estate developer in Texas as a graphic designer, and through our partnership, I helped to build a financial technology platform to sell fractionalized real estate shares. During my time there, I led a team of ten developers, and worked with the principal on ideating how the whole thing would work. 

I have worked with small businesses for the last 15 years, who started with nothing, and grew their businesses by creating their marketing and branding and web packages, and giving them advice on what direction they should go. A number of those businesses are still clients of mine today. 

I became a real estate agent and have sold millions of dollars worth of houses throughout the last 7 years. When the pandemic hit, I set that aside for pandemic reasons, and was hired as the first hire for a PR company in Philadelphia. 

At the PR company, from which I still have clients, I added a new dimension to the company and our business surely doubled. During that time, I worked on political campaigns, worked for unions, worked for non-profits, and worked for small businesses. Through that, a media company was born. 

READ: The Radical History of International Women’s Day

That media company, The Bucks County Beacon, was started three years ago. I created the business plan, the website, the strategy, and have run the business for the last three years. It has grown from nothing to a trusted news source in Bucks County with over 20,000 monthly users. I am now often asked to do the same for other businesses. 

Let’s call all of this my bona fides. 

I am questioned constantly on my abilities. I am second-guessed at every turn. Do I know what I am doing? Am I faking it till I make it? Would anyone ask a man in the same position? 

In our society, it’s understood that women are good at some things (whether it’s true or not) – multi-tasking, raising kids, etc. We hear about microaggressions, usually in terms of people of color and  LGBTQ+ people. What we hear about with women is the ability to lean in or have it all. We hear about women being victims. And then we hear about Girl Bosses. Now that you know my bona fides, let’s agree that I’m a Girl Boss. First of all, being a Girl Boss diminutizes us as lesser. We should be Woman Bosses. And really, let’s be honest, can’t we just be a Boss? 

The daily microaggressions I face by being repeatedly asked if I know what I am doing, or if I’m sure that is the right move, or maybe I should think about something else (that a man prioritizes) when I’m making my decision, wear me down.  

READ: Backlash: Women’s History Month in a Post-Roe World

When I ask my husband for advice on business correspondence that I am sending to a colleague, he tells me I should take my feeling statements out of it, because it’s business. Have you heard this before? My feelings in business do have value. Business relationships are still relationships and everyone has feelings. If we can’t express them, how do we create a culture of community within a business? Recently, in an interaction with colleagues, we had a new male colleague who clearly believes he is the smart one, who knows how things should be done. If we, as women, choose to avoid calling him out on his condescending and patronizing tone, does that make us weak? If we tell him how we feel, does that just make us women who are too sensitive? Is sensitivity bad? 

I know I have posed more questions than answers, because navigating the business and technology world as a woman is hard. We get paid less for the same work, we get less respect, we are constantly questioned on our abilities and our emotions. 

READ: Central Bucks Superintendent Lucabaugh and Board President Hunter Must Answer for Equal Pay Lawsuit

I have a daughter who is about to be 15. I know the world she was born into is much better for women than the world I was born into in the 70s. That being said, she is going to be faced with choosing a career where women are allowed to thrive, or choosing a career where there is a fight to prove that you can be there. She is going to face the question of getting married and having kids, and will have to choose whether she will stay home and take care of her kids, or try to excel in her career. 

I’ve spent my daughter’s life trying to strike a balance between excelling in my career and being there for her when she gets home from school. Somehow, I’ve been able to excel in both, although there are always times when I can’t meet the impossible standards I’ve set for myself. I trust she has watched me walk this fine line and will hopefully find the balance in her own life. Hopefully, she won’t have men in business ask her if she can get something done because they know she also has ‘kids to raise’. Hopefully, she won’t be discriminated against in her workplace for having kids. Hopefully, men will give her the benefit of the doubt, and hopefully she will give herself the same. 

To all the men out there who deal with women, here are a couple pointers: 

  • It’s an impossible decision to raise kids and/or have a career, and if y’all want to step up, that’d be great. 
  • Just because I’m a woman doesn’t mean I don’t know anything about business. 
  • Trust that women who are strong and direct aren’t bitches, but standing up for their right to be there. 
  • Trust that women who talk about their feelings aren’t weak, but are trying to create a world where people can be treated with mutual respect. 
  • My value is not less because I’m a woman. I’ve spent over 20 years working, and I’ve earned my pay and position. 
  • Fake it till you make it is part of literally everyone’s career. You don’t come out of school knowing how things work. That takes time and experience to build. Being a lifelong learner and critical thinker is a good thing. Not knowing the answer and figuring it out is what makes a good business person. Men are praised for these abilities and women are doubted for them. 

Let’s lift up women on International Women’s Day, for whatever kind of boss they are.

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Emily Smith

Emily Smith is the Publisher of the Bucks County Beacon. She is a seasoned design professional with nearly a decade of experience in strategic communications. Emily has spent nearly two decades working with startups and small businesses. Beyond her design chops, Emily is a creative problem solver, and business strategist. She has also owned her own graphic design firm since 2003, working with nearly every imaginable client including small businesses, giant corporations, non-profits, and community organizations.

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