This in the wake of the conversation and brouhaha following Sheryl Sandberg's call to ban the word "bossy."
Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, gathered some attention when she published Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. I've not read the book because I've lived part of that story. An interesting follow-up to the impact of Lean In, which was met with some derision as well as applause, are the Lean In Circles which are meant to help women of all ages think differently about themselves. I applaud the concept of supporting women to be more assertive, to be more self-assured.
In her 2010 TED Talk, Ms. Sandberg reminds us of the reasons we have too few women leaders.
Now Sheryl Sandberg is a self-made woman. When you read her biography on Wikipedia, you might suspect that she had opportunities that are rare for many women. I think you'd be right. But it's one thing to have the opportunities and it's another to make use of them. Sandberg made use of them, and well.
So what does that have to do with the word "bossy"? If you listen to Sandberg's TED Talk or do any research on her concept of leaning in or even read her book, the first thing you'll note is that she says to "sit at the table." The bottom line is that "women systematically underestimate their own abilities."
Sandberg goes on to say that "women don't negotiate for themselves in the work force." Why? We don't have sufficient confidence in our own abilities or we believe that it is wrong or inappropriate to claim our success is because of what we know and can do.
Sandberg also says there is a correlation between success and likeability, something she apparently addresses in her book. One article I found on this was written by the lead researcher for Sandberg's book. Marianne Cooper writes in "For Women Leaders, Likability and Success Hardly Go Hand-in-Hand"
high-achieving women experience social backlash because their very success – and specifically the behaviors that created that success – violates our expectations about how women are supposed to behave. Women are expected to be nice, warm, friendly, and nurturing. Thus, if a woman acts assertively or competitively, if she pushes her team to perform, if she exhibits decisive and forceful leadership, she is deviating from the social script that dictates how she “should” behave. By violating beliefs about what women are like, successful women elicit pushback from others for being insufficiently feminine and too masculine.Carrie Kerpen concludes in her article "Professional Women and Likeability: Does It Matter?"
As women in business, we are faced daily with media that tells us what to do to succeed: Be likeable! No, be ruthless and stoic! The reality is that if you embrace the characteristics of great leadership–if you listen, if you are trustworthy, if you communicate well, if you have vision–then whether you realize it or not, you are, in fact, likeable.Recently Sandberg has begun a campaign to ban the word "bossy." The likes of Jane Lynch and Beyonce have promoted Sandberg's campaign. There are those with a larger voice than mine who disagree with Sandberg. Peggy Drexler is one of them. She writes in her article "Sheryl Sandberg wrong on 'bossy' ban,"
In fact, moving to abolish the word "bossy" risks sending the message that there's something wrong with those characteristics associated with bossiness: taking charge and speaking your mind. Again, the problem isn't the word, or the behavior, but the reaction to the behavior, and the acceptance among women of the word as a disparaging one.I agree with Drexler (obviously, I suppose), but I think part of the problem is the not only the reaction to the behavior but the behavior of the one who calls out a woman as "bossy" and intends that to be a pejorative. Any response to that behavior is fraught with unintended consequences, but the person who calls a woman "bossy" is also calling her a "bitch" and other unpleasant things. In that case, the person probably just doesn't like the woman and it may be because of gender or something else entirely.
Why did I laugh when I heard Brandi Chastain describe her non-profit for girls as "bossy"? Because the mission of that non-profit (@BAWSI on Twitter) is to awaken "the power of female athletes as change makers in the world." Love that. Love the idea of empowering women to be change makers.
So go ahead and be bossy. And thank whoever calls you that for recognizing you're a change maker, and working to change your world and the world for everyone to be a better place.