That’s Intriguing #109: Reconsider Ban Bossy


First, congratulations to Sheryl Sandberg and Anna Maria Chavez for starting your organization to address this important issue.

Second, I hope you’ll reconsider its name as it unintentionally reinforces the very stereotype you are trying to change.

As you may already know, the mind can’t focus on the opposite of a visual word.

Anytime we state what we don’t want, (i.e, “I am not going to cry.” “Don’t double-fault.”  “Don’t interrupt me.”) we are thinking about and thereby likely to produce the very thing we’re trying to avoid.

It is crucial to state what we DO want so we paint a word picture of the desired outcome, (i.e., “I will stay calm and confident.” “Get your first serve in.” “Let me finish what I’m saying.”)  This focuses our mind, and the conversation, on the preferred behavior and increases the likelihood of it happening.

Furthermore, your March 8-9, 2014 Wall Street Journal article emphasizes the GoogleNgram research that shows “in 2008 … the word ‘bossy’ appeared in books four times more often to refer to females than to males.”

Using that word as your organization title, along with the speaking, writing and media you will be doing as part of your advocacy, is going to increase that ratio and perpetuate that inequity.

Almost every time I speak at a women’s leadership conferences, someone will raise their hand in the Q & A and ask a version of, “Why are women so catty to each other?”

As a communications strategist, I know that if we deny or defend an unfair, unwanted accusation, (i.e., “We are NOT catty!”) we end up arguing and proving their point.

If we want this to be different, and we do, the ball is in our court to change the conversation, elevate the dialogue and introduce a new word association for female leadership behaviors.

From now on, refuse to use or repeat negative words being attached to our gender.  Switch the wording to how we choose to be perceived to earn the respect we want, need and deserve.

What to do if asked the “catty” question? How about, “You know what I’ve found?  Women are incredibly supportive of each other.  For example,” and then share a recent, real-life story of a women who championed a colleague or celebrated a peer’s success.

If you’re accused of being too bossy, aggressive or ambitious; remember not to reiterate those put-downs.  Replace them with a smile and with how you do want to be characterized, (i.e., “It’s true I like to get things done. “ “That situation required strong leadership so I stepped up.” “I keep my antenna up for career opportunities that give me a chance to contribute at my highest level.”)

Ms. Sandberg and Ms. Chavez; I imagine you already have brand equity in the name of your public service campaign and may be reluctant to change it now.   You’ve probably spent thousands on developing the website, marketing collateral and outreach programs.

The good news is, you don’t need to abandon the word “bossy” altogether.  You could change it to BAN BOSSY: BE BOLD.

That name is still short, alliterative, and easy to say and remember. The word “bold” has positive, pro-active, powerful connotations and will serve every woman who wants to lean in, step up and add value.  Plus, it shows the shift.

You identify the stereotype we want to put behind us and communicate who we want to be and what we want to do, now and in the future.  Every time you discuss your vision and initiatives, you will be imprinting a preferred alternative we can all embrace and act upon. Thanks … and onward.

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