This morning Google is drawing attention to a movement to encourage young girls to be leaders and if you visit the webpage banbossy.com; you will notice a ton of pictures with women holding up “BAN BOSSY” signs. The idea is that we should stop telling girls who are assertive to stop being “bossy”. This is the first time I have seen this movement and I find it interesting on a couple of levels. To be clear, this country suffers a terrible dearth of female leadership in business and science/technology for no good reason that I can think of. In no way do I support this disparity and one of my values is that women should more represented in business and technology than they are now.
I wonder, though, what the effectiveness of a campaign like #BANBOSSY could be. Real leadership skill is an important skill to develop and hone; crucially for our young girls. However, I have to point out that one of the key traits of being a leader is not telling people what to do all the time.
I grew up with a bossy-pants, probably to no ones surprise it is/was an older sister of mine. Those close to me know who I am talking about. I have a great amount of affection for my sister and at this point in her life (a mother and a principal) she actually is the boss. It occurs to me that over the last several years, even though she is the boss, traits I would normally have considered “bossy” have been less prevalent in her.
Without launching into an entire study of men and women in leadership and how we treat assertive young girls (which is often badly) compared to young boys I would say that young men who are identified as good leaders often display good decision making skills rather than telling others what to do skills. I am not talking about the decision on the scale of whether to eat a hamburger or a hot dog, I am talking about decisions that have a number of consequences including consequences of doing an action and the consequences of not doing an action. Young men are groomed this way in sports like football where they need to make quick decisions that could have certain consequences later in the game. Even in games like chess, players are required to think ahead many moves and evaluate their competitor and his/her moves. No surprise, both chess and football are dominated by men.
I would suggest that instead of attacking a phrase like “bossy”, we should invest our time in developing the types of leadership qualities in women that we have always developed in men. This is hard because it requires us to get down and dirty and be honest about the gender inequalities our society has incubated.
As a closing note I would like to say that men can be, and are, just as bossy as women. I don’t think that being bossy is an inherently female trait. I think that we disparage girls who appear to be bossy without teaching them to be true leaders – that is a paradigm that needs shifting.