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Thursday, June 12, 2014

The Other B-Word 06-13

The Other B-Word

By Sheryl Sandberg and Rachel Thomas
Yesterday, something remarkable happened. LeanIn.Org and the Girl Scouts launched Ban Bossy—a public service campaign to ensure that girls grow up with the confidence and support they need to become leaders.
Our community has only been in existence one year—today is the first anniversary of the publication of Lean In and founding of LeanIn.Org. Yet, in the first 24 hours of the Ban Bossy campaign, one million people visited, and #banbossy was one of the top trending topics on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. We believe hundreds of thousands of people took the pledge to ban bossy, including over 100,000 on our site alone and many more on social media. In one day, Ban Bossy has sparked a conversation online and offline—with girls sharing their leadership aspirations, mothers and fathers celebrating their daughters’ potential, and women sharing their own bossy stories.
Why does this have so much resonance? Because almost every woman we know has a “bossy story.” It’s also why leaders including Michelle Obama, Madeleine Albright, Senator Kelly Ayotte, Melinda Gates, Beyoncé, and Maria Shriver lent their voice to this campaign and its cause.
Condoleezza Rice was called bossy by a childhood friend after suggesting that their doll collection be arranged from shortest to tallest. Jezebel founder Anna Holmes was criticized on her fifth-grade report card for being bossy. “I had strong ideas,” she explains. “I still do.”
Indra Nooyi was called bossy. So were Jane Lynch and Katie Couric. Alicia Keys says she has been called aggressive her whole life—precisely what it takes to make it in the music business, or any industry.
A Lean In community member named Osi was called “Bossy Osi” by her younger siblings whenever she tried to direct their play. Another young woman, Jordan, told us how she stuck up for herself when her fourth-grade classmates called her bossy in class.
We too were called bossy as girls. Decades later, the word still stings, and we remember the sentiments it evoked: Keep your voice down. Don’t raise your hand. Don’t take the lead. If you do, people won’t like you.
This is not just about a single word. The stereotypes behind the word “bossy” are deep rooted and discouraging.
We expect boys to be assertive and confident, while we expect girls to be kind and nurturing. We encourage boys to lead and reward them when they do. When girls lead, however, we disapprove—and our language communicates that disapproval clearly.
By middle school, girls are less interested in leadership roles than boys—a trend that continues into adulthood. According to a 2008 Girl Scouts study, young women ages eight to seventeen avoid leadership roles for fear that they’ll be labeled bossy or disliked by their peers. Girls’ confidence also suffers through these years: from elementary to high school their self-esteem drops 3.5 times more than boys’.
As girls become women, the childhood b-word—“bossy”—is replaced by the b-word adult women face—along with “aggressive,” “angry,” and “too ambitious.” The words change, but their impact doesn’t. Women are less well liked when they lead, and all of us are affected. The bossy stereotype contributes to the dearth of leadership we face in every industry and every government in every country in the world.
In one day alone, our community took action in the belief we can change this. We can. We can change our words—because words matter. We can change the story. We can change the outcomes.
There are small, every day adjustments all of us can make to help girls speak up, sit at the table, and lean in. offers leadership tips for girls, parents, teachers, and managers.
For parents, research shows that by seventh grade, parents have higher aspirations for their sons than their daughters. Making parents aware of this is the first step. Then as parents, we can talk openly with our daughters about their ambitions—and help them believe that they can do anything they aspire to do. We can encourage them to use their voice, assert themselves, try something new, and take the lead. We teach our children their mathematics tables. We should make sure they develop their leadership skills too.
For managers, we can be aware of—and push back on—the gender stereotypes that hold women back. When we hear a woman criticized for being “aggressive” or “difficult,” we can find out what she did that was so off-putting—and ask ourselves and others if we’d have the same reaction if a man did the very same thing. The answer will often be no.
We’ll all do better when we tap the full talents of our population and women have a stronger voice when decisions are made.
Let’s change the future today—Ban Bossy and encourage girls to lead. Visit banbossy.comto take the pledge and download our leadership tips. Together, we can create a more equal—and better—world.
Sheryl Sandberg is the COO of Facebook and the co-founder of LeanIn.Org, a nonprofit committed to encouraging all women to achieve their ambitions. Rachel Thomas is the co-founder and President of LeanIn.Org. Ban Bossy can be found at
Words like bossy, pushy, and know-it-all have an impact on girls. This video by BBDO New York highlights the price we pay for discouraging girls from leading and calls on all of us to change the narrative. #banbossy.

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