I was called bossy, aggressive, a know-it-all A LOT while I was growing up…my parents, relatives, peers and even teachers. I knew back then it wasn’t something that women should aspire to. It seemed like something undesirable so I did try and tone it down a little but in no way did it stop me from assuming a leadership role in school or in the real world. Personally I always thought it was just my culture which discouraged it but the problem seems to be more widespread than just a cultural boundary.
Kasia Gospos, founder of Leaders in Heels says, “I learnt by example watching my mum work her way up to directorship level in her workplace, she did this through determination, hard work and a clear vision of what her goal was”. Personally, being called bossy doesn’t discourage me in the least, in fact it makes me even more determined to achieve the goal!”
LeanIn.Org and Girl Scouts of the USA launched Ban Bossy on March 10, a campaign to encourage leadership and achievement in girls. The campaign—with draws attention to the ways girls and women are discouraged from leading, beginning when girls are called “bossy.” It will offer educational resources to help girls and women take the lead and give parents, teachers, troop leaders and managers hands-on strategies for supporting female leadership. The campaign is promoting the #banbossy hashtag to spread the word. The #banbossy campaign has received a lot of publicity especially with Beyonce, Michelle Obama and Sheryl Sandberg on board to get everyone to stop calling their girls bossy.
Starting at a surprisingly young age, girls are discouraged from leading. When a little boy asserts himself, he is called a “leader.” Yet when a little girl does the same, she risks being branded “bossy”—a precursor to words like “aggressive,” “angry” and “too ambitious” that are often used to describe strong female leaders. It’s no wonder that by middle school, girls are less interested in leadership roles than boys, a trend that continues into adulthood and reduces the ranks of women at the top of organisations everywhere.
But is it really that simple to ban a word and expect the problem to disappear? After all, bossy possibly has come to limelight until recently but this problem has been around since before women were allowed to vote. There are also other factors that contribute to women not aspiring to executive level positions.
Maybe the answer could be as simple as education at the source. Educating all parents of girls (which is also something this campaign aims to do) to be nurturing, accepting and encouraging of their girl child’s natural talent as well as their male child. So if both want to compete for the head prefect title at school then they be encouraged to do so in the conclusion that the best person, most qualified for the job will win the position. Build your child’s self confidence and self – esteem right from childhood, and prepare them to enter the adult world armed and equipped to overcome any obstacles in their pathway. Their sense of self-worth is not based on their gender rather on what hard work and a sharp mind can achieve.
Then when the girl enters the ‘real’ world she may not be all that deterred by someone calling her bossy and we may not need to ban certain words. And the boy will also be fully used to competing with female counterparts without feeling the need to call them bossy.
Editor of Leaders in Heels and freelance writer. I can be found at my desk most days, trying to finish deadlines with my one+ year old sitting on my lap. Sydney, Australia.