Recently in the Wall Street Journal, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and Girls Scouts CEO Anna Maria Chávez expounded why they think there aren’t more women in leadership roles. Girls, they theorize, are afraid of being seen as an adjective that summons an image of a pouting, tyrannical grade-schooler, crossing her arms and stomping her feet: “bossy.”
The two women base their opposition to the label on a 2008 Girl Scouts survey that found that girls are more worried about being seen as bossy than boys are.
Sandberg and Chavez point to real problems when it comes to women in leadership roles: “Women make up just 19 percent of the U.S. Congress, 5 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs and 10 percent of heads of state,” they write.
The solution, they claim, is to eradicate the word “bossy” from our vocabularies, since it’s disproportionately applied to girls and may have a chilling effect on their ambitions.
The organizational outgrowth of Sandberg’s recent book, LeanIn.org, along with the Girl Scouts, launched an entire site dedicated to “Banning Bossy.”
The cause might be noble, but many of the group’s recommendations for parents, teachers, and other adults don’t have anything to do with bossiness:
“Avoid excessive praise of girls who are ‘well behaved.’ Rewarding them for being quiet may inadvertently encourage similar behavior when speaking up is needed, like during class discussion,” the group advises teachers. Or, “Assure students that there’s no right answer.”
Parents, meanwhile, are urged to help their kids express to their friends what they want to do on weekends. They’re advised to “avoid hedging or softening your opinions” in front of their daughters and to “brainstorm examples of moments when being ‘bossy’ is a good idea.” They should remind girls not to turn factual sentences into questions (“Martin Luther King was a civil rights leader?”).