Heads up, everyone, there is a ban on the term “bossy” and the leaders want you to join their campaign.

Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, Condoleezza Rice, Director of Stanford University’s Global Center for Business and the Economy, and Anna Maria Chavez, CEO of the Girl Scouts, have joined together with other celebrities and powerful women to put a ban on the term “bossy.” They claim that “bossy” is applied to girls when they are being assertive, bold and courageous, whereas boys are simply called assertive, bold or courageous. This is an effort to change society’s treatment of girls and enable girls to grow into confident leaders.

This is Sandberg’s latest step to encourage women and girls to take on leadership roles; despite women having ascended the corporate ladder to the C-Suite, there is still not equality at that level. Women represent only 18% of the total executive roles in businesses across the country and only 5% in Fortune 500 companies. Sandberg wants 50% across the board.

The quest for 50% is bold and Sandberg’s tactics are even more so. She continues to approach the issue from the perspective that WOMEN can change this picture. They can be more of what the term, “bossy” embodies: assertive, outspoken, and fearless about leading regardless of what others have to say. Despite receiving much criticism for her approach, many other female leaders agree with her.

In an attempt to understand this issue better, I spoke with the two Verity Credit Union female executives, Sherry Steckly and Sarah Slonsky. Steckly is Verity’s Chief Operating Officer and Slonsky is our Chief Lending Officer and the head of CUHMS and Business Lending. I asked each her perspective on why women executives and board members are still so rare.

Surprisingly to me, Steckly and Slonsky had messages similar to Sheryl Sandberg’s, though neither had read her book, Lean In, or any of the press about the banning bossy campaign. In our discussions, both wanted women to be more confident and assertive in their careers. They felt that this change in attitude would greatly increase the number of women in executive roles.

Steckly spoke about how confidence plays a role asking for raises, promotions, and bonuses. In her experience, men are comfortable walking into their supervisor’s office to openly request a desired pay increase or promotion, talking up their successes, skills, and contributions. She found that her female employees are less apt to make such bold requests. Most women wait for the manager to give them a raise or bonus or to offer the next position. This leaves the women behind because those handouts just don’t happen.

Similarly, Slonsky feels that women tend to be more humble about their accomplishments. She says this isn’t a bad thing, but humility is not going to get a woman recognized for her achievements. Slonsky believes that structurally, all the elements are in place for women to excel in business. Of course there are many improvements that can be made across the board involving work/family balance and how business supports all people who are raising families (this will be the topic of another post). That aside, Slonsky believes that the biggest hurdle for women is to get out of their comfort zone and take risks in their careers.

Steckly’s and Slonsky’s careers path are positive examples to all women. Steckly became an executive by being curious, willing to challenge herself, and open to taking on new roles. Slonsky became an executive at age 36 by reaching out and taking opportunities. She seeks out each next challenge rather than waiting for one to fall into her lap. Both want to see more women doing the same thing.

Verity’s female executives’ experiences echo the need for Sandberg’s focus on removing the stigma against women being outspoken leaders. Women have knowingly or unconsciously learned to hold back in an attempt to fulfill societal norms and avoid criticism. But here is the rub. It is not just women’s careers that suffer from this trend. It is business itself.

In the introduction of Lean In, Sandberg refers to mega-investor Warren Buffet as attributing part of his success to the fact that, “he was competing with only half the population.” After decades of women making strides in business, it is time for us to have a more equal say. Think of what could be done if women had an equal role in what and how things were done in businesses across the country and the world.

Just like men, not all women want to be C-Suite executives. For those women who are driven to lead, however, female executive role models do exist and their message is clear. We need you. Their advice:

Speak up. Take the risk. Be bold.

Along the way, some may call you bossy to get you to back down. Along the way you may be uncertain and not truly believe you can do it. When that happens, look to the women ahead of you. Take a deep breath and step up anyway.

 

Robin Dowdy

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