Yesterday Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg launched a campaign to ban the use of the word bossy when describing women, and in just one day, millions have flocked to lend their support, including celebrities like Beyonce and even former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice.
I understand where these women are coming from. Bossy has a negative connotation in our society, and that is unfortunate. Men are rarely labeled bossy; they’re just called bosses. I was once one of less than a handful of women in an executive position at a company of hundreds, if not thousands, and much of what I did exactly in the same way as my male counterparts was received negatively. They were seen as strong leaders, while I was often labeled bitchy and probably menstruating. The men “knew what they wanted,” while I was “hard to figure out.” The hardest part was that a lot of times these labels came from other women.
It bothered me at times, but honestly, I don’t think being called bossy is the biggest problem women face at work.
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If you think about it, you can be bossy without being good at your job. You can be bossy without having an ounce of leadership qualities. Frankly, you can be bossy and have every right to be, because that’s what bosses have to do sometimes, whether they’re the head of a company or a household.
If we keep taking every single thing that’s said about us in the workplace personally, we are going to get…nowhere. In my almost twenty years in the corporate world, I saw our penchant towards sensitivity and an inability to let things roll off our backs as easily as men to have far greater consequences. We tend to feel things before we think them through. Maybe it’s how we’re wired; maybe it’s not. But for those of us who constantly push ourselves to ditch that stereotype and approach our work—dare I say it—like a man, it often backfires.
That’s where the other “B” word comes in, and I was probably called it more times than I would ever care to think about.
So while millions have already flocked to Sandberg’s website and more than 100,000 have signed pledges promising to stop using the word, I sigh with disappointment that these women with huge platforms aren’t seizing the opportunity to talk about far more important issues facing working women, like say, flexible work schedules, better maternity leave policies, mentorship programs, and more affordable child care.
But far be it for me to tell anyone else what to do.