'Ban Bossy': the fight against stereotyping that will benefit men and women

By Dr Diane Sinclair, @DianSinclair


Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, in Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead (2013) and through the campaign by the Lean In organization that she founded, has made us more consciously aware of the impact of stereotypes for girls, and thereby women. Girls who take a leadership stance, she says, are called ‘bossy’. A term not used for boys.


The Lean In organisation has started a campaign to 'ban bossy’. It’s simple, direct and I’ve no doubt will have an impact.


In essence, what being called bossy does to girls and women is to cause shame. Shame is the feeling that you’re not enough, or smaller than you are. When girls are called bossy, they’re told: you’re not how you should be; you don’t fit the stereotype of a girl; you don’t fit in. And the shame can stop girls being themselves – being authentic – and is likely to impact their leadership and their willingness to take leadership positions. They can't be leaders and be liked.


This stereotyping of leaders continues in the workplace.  The Female FTSE Board Report (2014) by Cranfield University found “masculine models of an 'ideal leader' engrained in organisations”. The leadership programmes most effective in developing female talent were those that allowed women 'to find their own leadership voice'. 


The 'ban bossy' campaign is focused on one issue affecting girls particularly, but shame can be created when we don't fit a stereotype for many other reasons; for example, we might be seen as too young or too old to lead. And the shame of not fitting a stereotype can affect anyone; men, as well as women. We need to ensure that we're conscious of our stereotypes of leaders when we're assessing others' suitability for leader roles, but also our own willingness to take on the leadership mantle. 


Dr Diane Sinclair, previously global Employee Relations and Compliance Leader at Cisco, is a leadership and performance coach and Employee Relations Consultant.

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