The Bossy campaign fires back

Another salvo today in the ongoing battle over whether women should be called “bossy.”

It started a year ago when author Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook, first published her essay claiming that when women lead, they’re called “bossy.” When men lead, they’re called leaders.

Over the weekend, her Wall St. Journal Saturday essay suggested things haven’t gotten much better:

This doesn’t only affect women at the highest levels of power. Over the past year, I (Sheryl) have traveled around the world speaking about my book, “Lean In.” From Beijing to Minneapolis, I have asked groups of men and women to raise their hands if they’ve been called “too aggressive” at work. Time and again, a small fraction of men raise their hands, while a great majority of women shoot a hand into the air…and sometimes two. At Howard University, I asked a group of female students if they had been called “bossy” during their childhoods. From within the sea of waving hands, one woman shouted, “During my childhood? How about last week!”

These stereotypes become self-fulfilling prophecies. Despite earning the majority of college degrees, women make up just 19% of the U.S. Congress, 5% of Fortune 500 CEOs and 10% of heads of state. Most leadership positions are held by men, so society continues to expect leadership to look and act male and to react negatively when women lead.

“Bossy isn’t leadership,” countered Suzanne Lucas, who writes on Inc., as the “Evil HR Lady.

“Bossy girls are sometimes queen bees–with their little minions following after them. This mimics leadership, but it’s not. Queen bees attain their positions of power by tearing other girls down, by instilling fear, and by being the prettiest, or the one with the best clothes. These girls are masters of manipulation and persuade the adults that they are just that–leaders. But anyone who has ever been a victim of one of these “bossy” little girls knows that it isn’t leadership.”

Today, however, the Ban Bossy campaign unveiled a series of advertisements from some powerful women — From Condoleeza Rice to Beyonce — who disagree.

But its most effective ad might just be the one with women nobody recognizes:

Related: An Ode to Mad Men’s Peggy Olson: How She Learned to Lean In (Time).

  • John

    I hate that 5% of Fortune 500 ceo’s statistic. Here’s why: when most of these 500 CEOs graduated from college, I bet far more men were graduating than women. Today’s ratio of graduates has no relation to the current status of business leadership.

    There’s no doubt that the number of women running these companies is disproportionately low, but there must be a better way to represent it than a completely unrelated stat.

    In other words: it turns out that you’re not qualified to run GE or 3M the day you graduate, regardless of gender.

  • John Peschken

    “Queen bees attain their positions of power by tearing other girls down, by instilling fear, and by being the prettiest, or the one with the best clothes.’

    There are men like that in some leadership positions too. They drive the expensive car, wear expensive clothes, like to intimidate others and impress you with their power. We just call them jerks and bad leaders. Sometimes they fool top management. When things go really wrong they become top management. No reason to give it a different name when it’s a woman.

    • Jack

      Well said.

  • kevinfromminneapolis

    I must be an outlier cause I’ve always thought there were bossy people, not bossy genders.

    • joetron2030

      My wife was commenting similarly last night when we were discussing this.

  • Al

    …I think the point is, lads, that it’s a systemic problem. YOU might not call women bossy, but the fact remains that it’s an often-used stereotype, which continues to inform our society’s ideas of a woman’s “proper place” (as in, her proper place isn’t in a leadership position).