Sheryl Sandberg is on a mission to ban the B-word. No, not that one. In an attempt to nurture more female leaders, Sandberg's organization, Lean In, is partnering with former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and Girl Scouts of the USA CEO Ana Maria Chavez to launch a "Ban Bossy" campaign—so that we stop sending little girls negative messages and start encouraging them to lead.
Boys are taught early on to be assertive, loud, and confident, while girls are simultaneously taught to be quiet, kind, and compassionate, Sandberg says in a piece for the Wall Street Journal. While we expect boys to lead on the playground and men to lead in the boardroom, we still punish women who try to do the same.
"We call girls bossy on the playground," Sandberg told ABC. "We call them too aggressive or other B-words in the workplace. They're bossy as little girls, and then they're aggressive, political, shrill, too ambitious as women."
I don't think anyone would suggest that women be immune to criticism in either their personal or professional lives. But study after study shows that both men and women like powerful men more than they like powerful women. And unfortunately, history backs this up: Margaret Thatcher was once described by a foreign-policy advisor as "that bossy, intrusive Englishwoman." Susan Rice, the U.S. national security adviser, has also been described as having a "bossy demeanor" and Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor has been called "nasty" and "difficult" by lawyers she's worked with. It even goes beyond "bossy." Just ask Hillary Clinton and German chancellor Angela Merkel about some of the critcism that's been lobbied at them regarding their emotions, clothes, hair, or weight.
Famous, powerful women aren't the only ones affected, either. Teachers inadvertently call on boys more than they call on girls in class, and studies have shown that by seventh grade, parents place more emphasis on leadership for their sons than their daughters. Additionally, a 2008 survey conducted by Girl Scouts of 4,000 girls and boys found that girls between the ages of eight and 17 avoid leadership roles for fear that they will be labeled "bossy" or be disliked by their peers.
Anecdotally, almost every woman I know can share a story about a time when they were told they were too bossy, demanding, or some iteration of the two (see: irrational, emotional, hysterical, ridiculous, cold, bitchy, or unprofessional). I don't think a single man I know can share a similar story (that's not to say it never happens to men). In her WSJ piece, Sandberg shares her experience of traveling around on her Lean In book tour: "At Howard University, I asked a group of female students if they had been called 'bossy' during their childhoods. From within the sea of waving hands, one woman shouted, 'During my childhood? How about last week!'" Sandberg points out that when she asks men the same question, she gets very few responses.
So Sandberg and friends have enlisted the help of some of their famous colleagues—including Beyoncé, Jennifer Garner, Diane Von Furstenerg, and Jane Lynch—to change the conversation and encourage girls to embrace their bossiness—not so they can grow up to be rude, bullies, or mean girls, but so they can lead...like a boss.
Watch the PSA below and then tell us: What do you think of Sandberg's campaign? Have you ever been called bossy? Let us know in the comments below or Tweet us @Shape_Magazine!