Sunday, March 16, 2014

The B’s vs The A’s: A Wider Lens on the #BanBossy Campaign

First of all, let me say that this is not a post where I blast Sheryl Sandberg and all she is trying to do to help young women feel empowered. Change is hard and I applaud her efforts.

But…I do want to challenge the notion of talking about “bossy” in the context of girls vs boys because, while I get that it’s sexy, I don’t think it’s very helpful.  Talking about gender equality, while not addressing the fallacy of standards within both sexes doesn’t make much sense to me. 

Bossy vs Boss?

The second thing you should know is that I have 2 children, one girl and one boy and they are both VERY bossy.

I don’t tell them that, but I have been known to whisper a heads up to a parent at a play date, because both of my children have no problem laying down the law if you let them.

While I’m trying to preserve the awesome core of their behavior (confidence, self-directedness and a desire to lead), I am also trying to help them understand the difference between a path leader and a bulldozer.  My son is 6 and my daughter is 3, so I have a long way to go.

But despite my best efforts, it’s highly likely that, at some point, someone is going to call each of them bossy and the effect will not be positive, for very different reasons.  And that’s what struck me as missing from the #BanBossy PSA.  It’s not that I don’t understand that when girls insist we’re considered pushy and when boys insist they’re considered strong.  I’m female. I’m alive.  I know.

But I don’t think we need to "ban bossy" as much as we need to rewrite the entire script for both girls and boys on how we define and cultivate leadership in this country.  Because girls aren’t the only ones who get called bossy and boys aren’t always celebrated for it.

In adulthood, when women are thought of as bossy, we’re called bitches.  When men are thought of as bossy, they’re called assholes. 

Neither title seems covetous to me. 

And the sad truth of it is that men, even boys, are expected to be assholes.  In fact, they are demeaned if they aren’t.  Watch this chilling documentary preview that illustrates how this dynamics plays out among young boys, below. 

Girls, of course, are expected to play second fiddle.  So if we want to be heard, we’re too bossy.  If boys want to listen, they’re not bossy enough. 

We’re both trapped in a prison of our own making.  Brene Brown talks a lot about how that prison turns into shame for both men and women here.  She really get’s cooking around 15:20.
What I hope to nurture in both my children is the character of a leader – someone who listens and respects (even if they don’t agree), someone who inspires, someone who motivates people to do and be their best, someone with both compassion and conviction, someone who leads by example and has integrity in their words and their actions.  And above all, someone who seeks to contribute to making the world a better place. 

A person who can do these things is someone people will follow.  Not everyone, of course, but you don’t need everyone.  You just need the people willing to work towards a common goal and a better future. 

But these characteristics also describe someone who will be a target for criticism.  It is inevitable.  If you’re going to lead, you have to be ready for that.  For girls, the criticism may be harsher, but believe that it will be harsh for boys as well. To lead, your convictions, your confidence, your notion of self-worth must be strong enough to weather the criticism of others.  Maybe that’s why a strong woman is the strongest thing there is. 

So, to me, the answer is not in trying to get someone to stop calling girls bossy.  If we don’t address the programming that teaches boys (and girls) that strong girls are a threat to a boy’s manhood (see how crazy that sounds?), then when he grows up, he’ll just replace bossy with bitch while he struggles to maintain the upper-hand as an asshole. 

What we, as a society, need to focus on is developing the characteristics of a leader in all our children.  When we do this, boys and girls, men and women won’t be working against each other.  We will recognize each other’s right, our common duty as individuals to voice our opinions and contribute meaningfully to the world in whatever way we choose.

Until then, I fear we’re just playing with words.    

You can read more of my thoughts on Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In here

Leaning In or Breaking Out - A Different Take on Why Some Woman Aren't Climbing the Corporate Ladder

Sheryl Sandberg's book Lean In has got me thinking about my own decisions and assumptions about what the balance of work and family would be in my own life and I wanted to share some of those thoughts with you.

I grew up in a 2 adults working/ 1 1/2 parent household, which means both my parents had full-time jobs, but my mom did most of the parenting.  Watching her walk through the door at 5:30pm everyday, rest her bags by the staircase, then head straight to the kitchen to cook dinner in her heels (while my Dad was upstairs watching TV) is probably one of the defining images of my life.

I decided right then and there (before I was even 12) that if I ever had a family, I would work part-time when I had kids.  The idea that I would, should or could do all the house work, all the cooking and all the childrearing AND work a full-time job just seemed ridiculous.  Putting aside the fact that, as a little girl, I didn't think I would ever get married, even I knew that the suggestion that I could "bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan and never let you forget you're a man" was a bunch of bull and I refused to drink the Kool-Aid.

I STILL can't believe this crap!

Fast forward 28 years, 2 career, 3 businesses, 1 marriage and 2 kids later and I still agree with that little girl.  There is no shortage of dreams and ambition in my bones. Ask any of my former bosses, staff members or colleagues and they will tell you that I'm not afraid to challenge or be challenged.  If I'm sitting in a business meeting, I expect a seat at the table.  In fact, it's where I'm most comfortable (it's also where I am least likely to fall asleep).

But my choice to work part-time and seek out more flexible careers when my husband and I decided to start a family had less to do with giving up the corporate world than creating the greatest number of options for me to define motherhood in the way that worked best for me and my family.  And I see a lot of women in my generation doing the same - rejecting the either/or choice of work vs home to break the mold entirely and map out a new road - the world according to me.  

In June of last year, Forbes magazine declared "Entrepreneurship is the New Women's Movement".  This brave new world includes negotiating everything from dinner to financing terms for your home-based start-up and managing a team of contractors on a job site while you coach little league.  The balance is defined by the way we want to live:
  • Passionate about the things that are important to us
  • Powerful in the realms we choose to walk and
  • Connected to what we value most.
I know the numbers for women represented at the top of the corporate ladder may not be as impressive as some would like, but the view from where I'm standing looks pretty darn good because I'm standing with a bunch of other women who measure their lives and their contribution to the world by the only metrics that matter - their own. 

Haven't heard of Sheryl Sandberg?  She's the COO of Facebook. Check out a brief seminar she gave on women in corporate leadership here.

*Addendum* I wrote this post quite awhile ago, but didn't post it because I heard Ms. Sandberg was getting a lot of backlash for her book and I didn't want to be a part of the chorus.  For the record, I don't think that Ms. Sandberg is trying to tell mothers how to run their lives. My impression is that her book is geared towards young women at the beginning of their careers.  I think her book is primarily designed to help them ask important questions BEFORE they make assumptions and decisions that may not be right for them and I, for one, think that is a good thing. For my thoughts on the "Ban Bossy" campaign click here.