Monday, March 17, 2014

The Other 'B' Word

Our words have power.  They can inspire or wound, excite or depress, delight or anger our audience.  We may choose our words with deliberation, in the express intent of instilling a particular feeling within our audience. The words we use can remain in the hearts and minds of our audience for years, even decades, continuing the mission we originally set for them.  Consider the ongoing power of the speech highlighted by four simple words - I Have a Dream.

One of the challenges we face with our words though, is the impact they have when we are not looking, the impact they have when we utter them without deliberation or conscious thought.  They often influence our audience in ways that we did not intend, could not imagine and, typically, would never have chosen. Following on the success of her book - Lean In (see link below if you have not yet taken the time to read this book!) - Sheryl Sandberg, COO of FaceBook, has once again chosen to continue her fight to make women more comfortable assuming Leadership roles within the workplace.

In her latest campaign she has chosen to raise public awareness of an insidious phrase that I have railed against for years, the 'B' word that has no place in Business - Bossy.  Although this may not, at first glance, seem to have the same negative as the 'other' popular female B-word, its roots often run far deeper and therefore have a greater negative impact.  Young girls learn early that to be called bossy is negative.  You will not be liked if you are bossy and will typically find yourself ostracized from your playgroups.  Bossy girls find themselves playing alone.  As a result, young girls learn quickly to modify their behaviour, not giving directions or taking on a leadership role, to 'blend-in', to 'fit-in', to be liked.  

Contrast this to little boys, who will often take on the role of leader within a given activity, giving directions, setting rules.  Once they have tired of that activity, another boy in the group suggests an activity and takes charge of it.  Leadership is accepted, typically expected, and is certainly rewarded.  Rarely are little boys labelled bossy.  Instead, they are applauded for taking on a leadership role.  Listen to the little girls, in the ABC news story about Sheryl Sandberg's 'Ban Bossy' campaign Here.  Listen to how they speak openly and convincingly of the need to avoid being labelled Bossy.  These young girls are already making decisions and choices that will serve to keep them from aspiring to leadership roles.

The words that we use often become the labels by which others view themselves and, in so doing, shape their future.  Banning Bossy is simply the metaphor used to draw attention to how insidious the development of gender stereotypes is, how pervasive it is, and to highlight how much we need to begin to openly challenge and change these Barriers to the Boardroom.

We'll know we have made it when little girls everywhere are confident in their declaration that they are not Bossy, they are The Boss!

Get a copy of Lean In, it's worth a read!

No comments:

Post a Comment

This blog is all about and for you! I welcome your comments, criticisms, added thoughts and insights. Feel free to share openly with everyone here on the blog but know that if you want to share something directly with me, you can do so by emailing me.