Illustration: Ashley Siebels
Attention, please. It’s time for a brief public service announcement.
When deciding how to describe your title in your company business cards, it can be tempting to be creative. “Guru” is often a popular choice, for instance, among some. But please, please, don’t choose something like CFbrO.
This detail came about in a long, unflattering profile of Gary Vaynerchuk’s “chaotic, bro-tastic” ad agency VaynerMedia.
In a social-media-savvy company that was all about the CEO’s hustle, Scott Heydt, Vayner’s former CFO, decided it would be cool to have a business card that identified him as a “CFbrO.”
That’s the only detail we learn about Heydt in the whole profile, but it tells us all we need to know about him. It signals that his “bro-tastic” identity matters to him so much that he must feature it in his company title. \
This is a risk. For a client deciding whether to work with VaynerMedia, this business card would signal a person who doesn’t take his job seriously. That’s why job titles matter. They’re the first impression you give a colleague or a prospective client, and as a representative of your company, your title implicitly represents what values your company stands for.
Is bro-iness the limiting, gendered message you want to be communicating to your employees and clients?
Why job titles matter
VaynerMedia is not the only company using provocative business cards. Back when Facebook was known as “The Facebook,” 22-year-old CEO Mark Zuckerberg used business cards that read, “I’m CEO…b—!” It’s a phrase that comes off as arrogant and self-centered, which is what young Zuckerberg, who modeled himself after fellow hothead Steve Jobs, was aiming for.
According to early Facebook employee Andrew “Box” Bosworth, the business cards were “intended as a joke for his friends and speaks to how unclear it was even in his own mind at the time that he would someday become such an important (and scrutinized) leader in our industry.”
It may have added to the unruly “Lord of the Flies” reputation that Facebook gained throughout its early years among investors, according to “The Facebook Effect.” Eventually, as Facebook aimed for bigger heights beyond one hacker’s viewpoint, the cards were phased out.
SHE-E-O is a limiting title
Gendered titles are also used by female executives and becoming increasingly popular. Nasty Gal founder Sophia Amoruso branded herself as a #Girlboss, a title she keeps even after she stepped down as CEO and her company filed for bankruptcy.
Girlboss is a playful, irreverent title for a 22-year-old Amoruso founding a company but she’s long outgrown it. As a 33-year-old grown woman, Amoruso’s decision to continue to identify herself as a girlboss infantilizes and diminishes her accomplishments.
It’s a limiting framework to describe a CEO and leader of a company because it’s inviting people to only see you through one lens.
But Amoruso isn’t the only one to do this. Miki Agrawal, beleagured former CEO of period underwear company Thinx, is currently facing sexual harassment allegations, but before her downfall, she would call herself SHE-E-O in external communications.
In this way, gendering your leadership skills becomes a way to sell yourself short. Even if it seems fun at first, it’s a great way not to be taken seriously later.