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The Perception of Women in Leadership

April 10, 2014

Katerina Krohn ’17  Women in Leadership

After the large success of her book Lean In, Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg’s new campaign has continued to keep people talking. Her campaign, “Ban Bossy,” is working to stop the use of the word “bossy.” After addressing unequal representation of women in professional leadership roles in her book, Sandberg’s new movement focuses its efforts on a younger crowd. Sandberg and her supporters believe that the term “bossy” is too often being used to describe women young and old. The term labels the confident actions of young women as a type of negative behavior. Sandberg’s bold move to denounce bossy has gained the support of not only her followers, but also big name celebrities such as Beyoncé and Condedoleeza Rice, who have also taken the pledge to help eliminate the term bossy.

The campaign’s website states, “When a little boy asserts himself, he’s called a ‘leader.’ Yet when a little girl does the same, she risks being branded ‘bossy.’” Sandberg is working to eliminate the word in order to allow girls to step up as leaders without fear that they will be labeled as bossy. To accomplish this goal, Sandberg has recently teamed up with the Girl Scouts of America. The Girls Scouts share the similar goal with Sandberg of promoting young women in leadership. Research from the Girl Scouts Research Institute found that 53% of young girls involved in girl scouts has been called bossy at least once. U.S. Girl Scouts CEO Anna Maria Chávez recently explained, “Girls are twice as likely as boys to avoid leadership roles for fear of being deemed ‘bossy’ by their peers.” Disappointed by the current setbacks to girls in leadership, Girl Scouts has added banning bossy into their programming. The Girls Scouts will ban bossy and focus on building confident leadership in young women.

As the campaign begins to gain popularity, critics have begun to question whether or not Sandberg’s campaign is necessary. Some wonder whether eradicating bossy from dialogue will actually change the way that young women are viewed by others and themselves. Others are unconvinced that the use of bossy is even a problem, doubting that the word is actually being used to describe women disproportionately. The success of Sandberg’s campaign is still unclear, but studies have shown that the term bossy is clearly being used more frequently to describe females. Nic Subtirelu, a third year Ph.D. student in applied linguistics at Georgia State University, studied Google and literature in order to investigate the use of the word bossy. Subtirelu found that bossy is a gendered word, currently being used to refer to women 1.5 times more frequently than to men.

Sandberg’s campaign may or may not be able to clear the term bossy from everyday vocabulary, but the movements that she has started have already brought light to the topic of women in leadership. Time will tell if her movement can succeed in “banning bossy.”

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