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Bossy, Leader, Bitch

The word “bossy” is linked to leadership. When a little boy asserts himself, he’s considered a leader. When a young girl asserts herself, she’s called bossy. This is not a thing of the past. This stereotype still exists today and leads to many young girls holding back their natural leadership talent from an early age. This trend leads into adulthood with fewer women stepping up and fosters a lack of confidence in young girls and women alike.

The Ban Bossy campaign, founded by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and backed by world renowned women leaders and luminaries, argues that from a young age, girls are trained to be quiet and submissive, and when they break these gender norms, they are often criticized, disliked, and called “bossy” — a word that can discourage girls from growing up to be leaders.

The Center for Creative Leadership conducted research on the role of the word “bossy” in the workplace. After surveying 201 U.S. leaders, this is what they discovered:

  • The term isn’t a synonym for assertiveness, or other positive executive leadership skills.

  • Women are called bossy in the workplace more often than men are.

  • Bossy coworkers are described as unpopular and unlikely to be successful in the future, and bossy women coworkers are seen as more unpopular and less successful compared to bossy men coworkers.

  • When we look at bossy behaviors — without the label — men are just as likely as women to exhibit bossiness in the workplace.

  • Acting bossy is related to being seen as less promotable by bosses for both men and women. However, the relationship was stronger for women. Altogether, our results show a consistent trend that bossiness in the workplace has negative consequences, and those consequences are particularly harsh for women.

They found that 33% of women and 17% of men reported that they have received feedback that they are bossy at work. In other words, women were twice as likely to be branded as bossy in the workplace.

Another way to look at the findings is:

Being bossy is a sign of bad leadership. Bossy is not a synonym for positive executive leadership skills, such as assertiveness.

Women are called bossy in the workplace more often than men. Women were twice as likely to be told they are bossy (33% of women, 17% of men).

All bossy coworkers are described as unpopular and unlikely to be successful in the future, but bossy women are seen as less popular and less successful than bossy males.

Women are twice as likely to be called bossy at work, but they are not more likely to act bossy. Men are just as likely as women to act bossy in the workplace.

Supervisors view bossy women and men as less promotable. Because the relationship was stronger for women, the consequences of being bossy are more serious for women.

Bossy = Bitch, First-hand experience from Tamara Payne, Founder of Ensemble

Strike 1: I was born and raised in New Jersey.

Strike 2: My mom was a tough cookie, bold, strong and assertive. I have many of her traits and characteristics.

Strike 3: I am good at what I do, I know it and I do not hold back when I feel strongly about something.

I own two businesses, both of which require strong leadership skills and the ability to manage various types of clients; from heavy involvement and strong hand holding to completely hands off and doing what I know is the right thing for the client.

At times, clients push to do what they think is best when it comes to the marketing they hired me to perform. I listen intently, with a focus on the results they desire. I am assertive when necessary, especially when it comes to knowing what needs to be done. After all, that’s why they hired me.

I am also a leader in the small business community. I have led multiple networking groups, for chambers of commerce, international organizations, national companies and on my own. I have been an organizer for startup events, mentored over one hundred micro and small business owners, and developed and executed small to large scale events.

I feel that I am respected in the community for my marketing knowledge and experience (20+ years), small business ownership (18 years), and community building (16 years). However, as I have sat in committee meetings, big and small, where everyone is invited to share and give input, I am hesitant to share freely for fear of being perceived as bossy, and even a bitch sometimes.

I can think of several situations when I shared my thoughts on how something was being mishandled or gave a different point of view. When I did, the men in the room sat back in their chairs, tilted their heads and stared at me as if to say “who do you think you are?” The information I shared was valuable and actually correct but when I assert myself in most situations where men are the majority, I get that same look or reaction. Quite frankly, the negative effects of asserting myself and getting that reaction is long term.

All it takes is a few people (mostly men) to say that I am a bitch (when I’m really just being a leader) and then I’ve got that reputation. The word bossy is synonymous with bitch when it comes to women in business. It’s negative and leaves a mark on women like me. It causes me to hesitate in sharing my thoughts and my expertise when I’m in certain situations because I don’t want to be perceived as a bitch. The hard part is that it's difficult to judge the crowd and know when it's okay to be yourself. Even men I've known for some time, with good hearts and good intentions, act poorly when myself or another women with leadership skills assert themselves in a meeting. I don't think they mean to do it.

To reference the survey that was conducted by the Center for Creative Leadership, women are called bossy in the workplace more often than men. Women were twice as likely to be told they are bossy (33% of women, 17% of men). This applies to the entrepreneurial world as well.

This is a reality, and still exists today no matter how far we have come. I am not complaining but I want to bring awareness to this so men can be more observant of their own behavior. This is a learned behavior, from the everyday happenings of our world, what we see on television, it's picked up unconsciously and has been happening for hundreds of years.

Next time you hear someone call a woman bossy or a bitch because she is a strong leader, who stands up for what she believes in, who leads from strength and knowledge, speak up - stand up for her, for me, for women! #banbossy

Ensemble is a collaborative business community and coworking space with multiple locations in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. We offer busy entrepreneurs, small businesses and remote workers a warm and welcoming place to be productive, to connect and collaborate while being connected to a community.


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