Don't Call Girls The B Word - Hampshire Workspace

31 March 2014
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Sheryl Sandberg

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg wants to ban the word Bossy

Calling girls a certain word that begins with B is damaging to them, to business and to society, according to Sheryl Sandberg, who is Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer.

The word we’re talking about is ‘Bossy’. Ms Sandberg wants to ban it. I don’t suppose she really wants to change the First Amendment that protects free speech but she got people’s attention for the important point she makes about the use of this word.

Which is, females are four times more likely to be described as ‘bossy’ than males. We’re talking about behaviour that in males would be called ‘assertive’, ‘confident’ or ‘opinionated’. You’ll note that Roger Hargreaves chose Little Miss Bossy as the title for his book about an aggressive girl.

The consequence is that girls retreat from ideas of leadership while boys see it as their destiny. The co-sponsor of the Ban Bossy campaign, Anna Maria Chavez, is CEO of the Girl Scouts of the USA. She conducted a survey of 4000 boys and girls and found that girls between the ages of 8 and 17 avoid leadership roles for fear that they will be labelled “bossy” or shunned by their peers. In the USA, between elementary and high school, girls’ self esteem drops 3.5 times more than bots’.It continues in the workplace where women giving orders are called ‘bossy’, men simply ‘bosses’.

The consequence of the abuse is that women don’t seek the top positions; and men and women are prejudiced against women leaders. Think how often that other ‘B’ word creeps into descriptions of female managers, just because they’re correcting mistakes or giving unpalatable instructions, as any leader should.

Women make up half the population yet we’re delighted to the point of amazement to hear, as we did last week, that the percentage of women on the boards of the top 100 UK companies has reached 20%. Put the other way, four out of five seats on the board are still occupied by men. Two FTSE 100 companies have no women on their boards- Glencore Xtrata and Antofagasta to name and shame them. Only two boards have female chairs.

Only 22% of MPs are women. Forget about how many Old Etonians there are in the Cabinet, only four of its 22 members are female. No point in looking to Lib Dems to provide more, they have the worst percentage of all the parties.

The argument against enforced quotas is that you don’t get the best people but you have to wonder whether if we actively encouraged the half of the population who are female to lead rather than put them down for being ‘bossy’, we might benefit from having truly the best people in government and business.

Hampshire Workspace itself is a company mainly owned and managed by women. At the moment, by far the majority of the people occupying our serviced offices are male. We want to encourage more women to start their own businesses. So we’re looking at ways to make our building and services more female friendly, and to provide business advice that offers a female perspective. Any ideas or suggestions are welcome. is a non-profit organisation founded by Sheryl Sandberg to help empower women

This blog was written by Paul Lewis, owner of the marketing consultancy The Lewis Experience based at Hampshire Workspace, and former Head of Marketing and Operations at The Mayflower Theatre. You can connect with him on Google+ and LinkedIn.

One response on “Don’t Call Girls The B Word

  1. John says:

    I have two suggestions. Hot desks: there are many people, probably more women than men, who need to work partly in an office and partly at home. Shared office space: again this is something that could appeal to both sexes. Without wishing to stereotype genders, in my experience men tend to be okay about working in solitary situations whereas women tend to like company.

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