red stilettos on dark floor

From bedroom to boardroom: this woman wants to help boost your career using kink

How often at work do you feel overlooked or like your opinions are ignored? Like you need to find the perfect - completely unattainable - balance of making your voice heard enough to impress, without making it too heard, lest you get labelled pushy or aggressive? You're probably not wrong to be nervous. A 2015 survey of 1,500 small business owners found that more than half of respondents had heard female bosses being described as "bitchy" or "emotional", compared to just one in eight male counterparts.

While the days when women were seen as too feeble to work may be long gone, women in the workplace too often feel that they're expected to remain a mess of contradictory attributes: unemotional but emotionally supportive, ruthless but willing to concede defeat, leading the way but never asking for too much. It's the career equivalent of being too fat until you're too thin - a feeling most of us know all too well.

But if there's a woman who should know a thing or two about demanding respect on her own terms, it is Kasia Urbaniak. Previously “one of the world's most successful dominatrixes”, as she puts it, she spent years perfecting the art of asserting power and communicating boundaries. Today, she is a professional empowerment coach and in 2013, along with business partner Reuben Flores, founded The Academy, a programme with the goal of encouraging women to find their voices by handing them the “practical tools to radically transform their lives by breaking the yoke of cultural 'good girl' conditioning.”

So how exactly does it work? Well, Urbaniak uses the skills - and the, ahem, tools - that you would associate with a traditional dominatrix, but has the women in her class focus on what they would want from life and from the people around them. There may be whips and male busts and roleplay, but these are used strictly within the context of learning. After all, this isn’t a place to learn to be a dominatrix, but to learn to channel your inner dom: “I don’t teach anything related to BDSM or sex, just the application of power dynamics,” Urbaniak told British newspaper The Guardian. “It’s about the communications that women carry that either make them go speechless, or afraid of coming across as too bossy or too needy.”

Initially aimed at corporate high-fliers who hadn't yet managed to crack through the glass-ceiling, it has since been extended to include everyday women searching for the confidence to get what they want from life. The Academy's signature course is Power With Men, which promises to educate women in how to "ask for the unimaginable in a way that feels good and emerge as a leader in every area of your life", "how to powerfully navigate uncomfortable situations that often leave women speechless" and perhaps most importantly: "how to navigate life's most difficult conversations - from breakups to salary negotiations - with power and ease."

This, it does by teaching conversational tactics; learning the "art of verbal self-defence" against being interrupted, patronised, and subjected to other attacks on their personal authority. The Academy's website state's that: "[Women] make bold, life-changing asks of the people around them in a way that feels good to the person being asked. They can hear 'no' without getting flustered or giving up, and use resistance as a way to build intimacy and partnership." Not just for individuals, Urbaniak also offers a similar coaching course directly designed for businesses. 

Priced at just under $1,500 dollars, the course does not come cheap. However, according its graduates, it is worth the money. Among those who have completed a course from The Academy is Manal Omar, Founder & CEO of Across Red Lines. She explained how the Power With Men classes had helped her approach her work life:

“Having a job that puts me in the position of negotiating with powerful men, from NATO generals to local militia leaders in Northern Nigeria, I always struggled to bring my feminine energy into the room. I felt my only option was to adopt the masculine style of leadership.”

“Kasia showed me a different, and equally powerful way. Suddenly I had the tools to dig myself out. My attention had been so focused inward that I was not able to truly be heard.”

In the wake of the election of President Trump, the Harvey Weinstein scandal and the #MeToo movement, The Academy's course offering has been extended to include a "Cornering Harvey" option, which teaches women how to use language to take control in uncomfortable or threatening situations. The FAQ section of Urbaniak's website does highlight that the course is not a form of therapy, and should not be used in place of counsellors in the aftermath of a bad experience.

But just because this course doesn't directly teach its students about sex techniques, that doesn't mean that being more assertive in the bedroom won't help you in the boardroom. Alexandra Levit, business consultant, researcher and author of They Don’t Teach Corporate in College, argues that when women are practiced in asserting what they want at home, this is a transferable skill: “Women who are accustomed to putting their own needs first will naturally be more assertive in a business environment that is frequently dominated by men who do this more naturally.”

At first glance, it's easy to see how making your voice heard by taking a class that features a riding crop and role play, taught by an ex-dominatrix, sounds a bit basement-creepy and desperate. But when you think about it, it makes perfect sense. After all, confidence, great communication skills and a willingness to take control are all things you look for in a lover as much as an employee - and all of them can be practised.