Thought Leadership

The Bitch Pitfall: Are you getting caught up in it?

March 8, 2023 | Brown & Brown Insurance | Thought Leadership

The Bitch Pitfall: Are you getting caught up in it?
by Julie Turpin, Chief People Officer at Brown & Brown Insurance

I’m a female leader in a male-dominated industry. You would think then that my main professional competitors are men. But from a young age, many women are taught to compete with each other for attention, popularity and value in our communities.

I was popular in elementary school until a group of girls turned against me in the sixth grade. It was the first time I questioned why women (we were still girls) don’t always support each other.

I had to realize it didn’t matter how other people saw me – that was their problem, not mine. I just had to be proud of the type of person I was. The kind of person who has spent her career fighting against the idea that women need to compete for a seat at the table because we have so much to learn from each other.

When we compete instead of empower, we allow external factors to dictate the type of leaders we are and often act in a way that holds us back. It’s what I consider The Bitch Pitfall. And, in honor of International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month, I’m here to debunk it.

“Sometimes you have to be a bitch to get things done.” — Madonna

With all due respect, Madonna, I completely disagree.

That doesn’t mean female leaders shouldn’t declare their point of view and stick firmly to their non-negotiables. Sometimes it’s not a democracy. Female leaders need to be clear about expectations and direction. Let us be clear: This is not called being a bitch. Because the same strong female leader knows there is always room for listening to other points of view and nurturing the many voices on your team and that there is value in leading with vulnerability.

When do women leaders fall into the trap of a more aggressive, manipulative leadership style? When two of our most human needs are not being met: our need for self-belief (or confidence) and our need for external opportunity.

The less you believe and trust in yourself, the tougher you are because you feel like you have to show up in a tough way. A truly confident leader leads with a softer and more compassionate touch.

The Law of Scarcity is the real bitch

The Law of Scarcity wants us to believe that the amount of opportunity available to us is out of our control and that we must compete with each other in order to succeed.

Yes, a glass ceiling does exist. Just last year, The Economist’s glass-ceiling index showed that women are still lagging behind their male counterparts in senior business roles. But when we limit our perspective to our individual success, we fall into the trap that the Law of Scarcity sets for us.

Consider how much easier a glass ceiling would be to break with more people pounding at it together.

6 ways to support your teammates and peers

We need to leave behind the scarcity perspective of, “If you get more, I get less.” Instead, let’s support each other on their climb to the top.

As you determine the type of leader you want to be, here are six best practices to bring your best self forward.

  1. Ask yourself, “Who do I want to be?” Then make moves that enable you to be that person. Not every environment is the right place for us. It’s your responsibility to recognize when the situation is wrong and do something about it.
  2. When anger calls, don’t answer. Being a “bitch” is about using anger instead of rational thinking or compassion. When you feel anger building, ask yourself a couple of questions: “What about the situation has me feeling this way?” and “Is there a better way to react?” Taking a minute or two to self-reflect almost always helps cool the blood and tone down the reaction.
  3. Trust in your natural gifts. I use humor and curiosity when declaring my point of view because it enables me to think about the other person. Everyone has their own natural characteristics and tools that they carry with them in what I like to call our wisdom packs. The resources we carry change and grow throughout our careers, and knowing how and when to use your inherent gifts is a valuable skill.
  4. Use your female intuition. I am often the only woman in a meeting, and it is sometimes very clear that I approach situations differently than my male counterparts. I see this as a value, not something to overcome. I’m intuitive, and I use that intuition to build relationships with the people I work with and serve.
  5. Decide what you stand for. If you don’t know what you stand for, you fall for anything. This can be especially helpful in determining where you spend your efforts. Duking it out isn’t always the right path, but if you define your boundaries and values, you’ll know when to stand firm and when to compromise.
  6. Be consistent in how you show up. Deciding to lead with vulnerability and compassion means showing up in that way for everyone. Even when faced with combative peers, showing them your more open approach will often change theirs. They might even let their walls down a little. Something that has always helped me going into every encounter is thinking: What can I learn from this person?

In honor of International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month, I challenge each of us to self-reflect on our personal approaches to leadership.

  • Are we leading with a firm hand or an open heart?
  • Are we competing or looking to make more room at the table?

Let’s make the extra effort to support and lift each other up because I truly believe we are stronger together.


PurposeFULL Leadership
How Personal & Professional Growth Can Help You Lead A Fullfilled Life
by Julie Turpin, Chief People Officer at Brown & Brown Insurance

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