What’s wrong with Sheryl Sandberg’s ‘Ban Bossy’ campaign

The Facebook executive wants to do away with the word, but it will not change the harsh realities that women face in the workplace.

Our modern day Rosie the Riveter, Sheryl Sandberg, is at it again with a new campaign called “Ban Bossy.”

It is a campaign that was launched as a collaborative effort between Girl Scouts USA and LeanIn.org to empower young girls to be leaders without the fear of being labeled “bossy.” She has some celebrities and/or notable women and men helping her to propel the reach of the campaign, including Beyoncé and Condoleezza Rice.

As a woman who has two young girls, I appreciate the sentiment behind the campaign, but it ends there.

“An admirable attempt to change the conversation”

“Bossy” is the least of what women are called in the workplace for being strong-willed, knowledgeable in their craft, and determined. Unfortunately, the reality of being a woman and a leader of color in the workplace also has its own distinct challenges.

As a mother, leader, and professional, I strive constantly to show my daughters that you have to be a no-nonsense kind of gal to get anywhere in business.

A woman’s success in business requires persistence, self-confidence, advocacy, and the knowledge that you deserve better, when all you would rather do is retreat in fear of rubbing the very people you are trying to impress the wrong way.

I have reservations about the efficiency of banning a word like “bossy” in the hope that it will get more girls to realize their worth and fight the good fight when they become working professionals. From a psychological perspective, words hurt and they are powerful. Therefore, this is an admirable attempt to change the conversation and urge others to use more endearing words.

The problem is that “banning bossy” isn’t going to change the blatant and ongoing deficits in pay that women experience in stark contrast to their male counterparts. It will not change the apparent lack of representation of female leaders in organizations across the U.S.

“Ban Bossy” falls short of having an impact on what this is all about, which is for organizations to regard women as viable, thinking, worthy, tenacious, dynamic professionals that deserve the same respect, pay, and recognition that males similarly situated have been afforded.

Sometimes, leaning in isn’t enough…

I have “leaned in” and advocated for higher pay. Guess what. I got, “I hear you, and I appreciate you,” but we can’t do anything for you. I have taken a strong position on issues in organizations where I have worked and watched as my managers sat across from me with smug smirks and nothing else to lend to the conversation.

I have also been the best qualified person in the room to handle a job and watched as a less qualified man took over the reins (under my tutelage) without any accolades being thrown my way. Furthermore, I have had women in leadership try to derail my career or diminish the value of my talents out of fear that I was plotting to take their jobs.

How does banning a word prepare my daughters or any other young women for those disappointments?

Our challenge in prepping our young women for leadership is not dependent on what they may be called but on the unfortunate reality they will face in trying to achieve, learn, and become leaders. We owe them the reality of the struggle and the blueprint to navigate it so the journey doesn’t “sting” as much—never mind being called “bossy.”

Where’s the cavalry of all of these successful women who have “leaned in?” Are they on the front lines making sure that situations like what I have experienced don’t happen to women in organizations anywhere?

Until I hear data and evidence around how this campaign is changing perceptions and subsequent actions in corporate America, I will reserve my right to teach my girls about the reality of leadership for women via my School of Hard Knocks—the truth.

Janine Truitt’s career spans nine years in HR and recruitment. A version of this article first appeared on Truitt’s The Aristocracy of HR blog.

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