Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Should we Ban Bossy?

Girl Scouts of America and Lean In have started a campaign to ban the word bossy.  I hope they don't mean literally (that would be weird) but highlighting the stigma of that word is an interesting idea.  The main idea of it is that by middle school most girls are no longer interested in being in leadership positions, especially over boys.  As a driven woman in the male world of engineering, I have a lot of thoughts on this.
Being a smart girl is hard.  It's really hard to find yourself when you're young.  There's a constant conflict between being "girly" and being intelligent.  This never fully goes away.  I've already been in situations at work where it's hard to make my voice heard because I'm a woman.  I had to go through nicer men in the office to get my opinions up the chain of command.  Needless to say when my contract was up I quit, but it's still very discouraging.  If you're a fashionable or attractive woman, it can be hard to be taken seriously.  Walk into any career fair of hiring office, and you'll see women in pant-suits, pencil skirts and blazers.  It's a sea of black, grey and beige.  Walking into an interview in a bright, conservative tea dress can make it almost seem like you care more about your looks than the job (that hasn't stopped me yet though).  As someone who refuses to become a grey zombie, I find I have to seriously up my game in interviews to seem like a good engineer.
When these problems start at the entry level, imagine the problems that arise when you're a manager.
Actually, I'm pretty sure they disappear.  If you're a good manager.
You're probably thinking they would compound, but being in various work environments and seeing how good bosses handle themselves, I don't think women managers are seen any more negatively than their male counterparts.  A good manager leads by example, is respected, and forgiving.  You have to be likable to lead.  Period.  I've gotten around the gender barrier by being one of the guys.  You have to joke, be relaxes, and listen.  If you're my way or the highway and have a huge stick up your ass about "immaturity", of course you'll be labeled a "B-Word".  Except in the grownup world, you're not "bossy", you're a "bitch".  But guess what, men that act like that as a manager don't get away with it.  They're labeled too, with a "D-Word".
  Roll with the punches, dish out playful sarcasm, and most importantly take what you dish out.  Take jokes about being a woman in stride, and later dish some out about being messy or joke that their a jackass.  A sense of humor goes a long way and makes you more approachable.  If you throw shade at anyone who crosses you, no one will want your input.
Get your work done.  People aren't leaders because they want to be; they're leaders because others want them to be.  You know how to solve problems and solve them fast.  You can get a team to work together efficiently.  If you just bark orders at people, that's not effective or pleasant.  Your team will hate you and you'll hate your job.
This is what we have to teach young girls.  I remember being in middle and high school, and being told to work to hold my own as a girl interested in STEM.  You're taught to be unwavering in your opinions, and to "be a leader".  Well not everyone can be a leader, and if you go into a project dead set on it, then no crap people will think you're bossy.  Being a leader isn't a personality trait you can just have at all times.  It's a privilege given to you when you've earned it.  You earn it as part of a team, it's not a mindset that allows you to be above the team.  That definition is not made clear to young girls, and they begin to think that they have to be a leader all the time or none of the time.
So is banning "bossy" the answer?  I don't think so.  That seems like handing out free bitch passes.  Instead teach girls to earn leadership, rather than demand it.  Be unwavering in your determination to be an equal member of the team, not above the team.  Women still have a little way to go to be complete equals in engineering, but they way to this isn't by barking orders, it's by being "one of the guys."  When you're a good team player, people will naturally want you to be in charge.  So let's focus less on banning "bossy", and more on banning attitude problems.

1 comment:

  1. I agree whole heartedly. Aside from being a good leader, a leader in many instances have to deal with malcontents. Sometimes malcontents resort to name calling. A leader must be able to deal with this and not fall apart everytime it happens. The earlier kids learn this the better. We can't expect everyone to be polite and sensitive all the time. I feel the same way about our national obsession with bullying. As adults we should discourage bullying and teach kids why they should not bully, but when I hear about efforts to legislate the banning of bullying or kids being prosecuted for bullying on facebook ... I have to shake my head. Bullying has been around forever. There will always be bullys. We should be teaching our children how to deal with bullys and why they have no power over us. We have to teach our children to deal with adversity and to build character. We used to celebrate the underdog. Cinderella was bullied, Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer was bullied, Superman was bullied. The goal is to overcome adversity, not to lead a protected life.