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Encouraging Girls to Lead: Sheryl Sandberg, Girl Scouts Partner to 'Ban Bossy'

Did you know girls are twice as likely as boys to avoid leadership roles for fear of negative perceptions from their peers? When a little boy asserts himself, he is called a leader. When a little girl asserts herself, she's called 'bossy.'

The following is a community contribution from blogger Jennifer Thomas on behalf of the Girl Scouts of Rhode Island. It originally appeared on Narragansett - South Kingston Patch. 

Starting at a surprisingly young age, cultural gender expectations discourage girls from leadership.

When a young girl asserts herself in the manner expected of boys, she risks being branded bossy—a precursor to other offensive and dismissive descriptors such as “aggressive,” “angry,” and “overly ambitious.”

Research on girls and leadership is devastatingly clear. According to a study conducted by the Girl Scouts Research Institute (GSRI), middle school girls are less interested in leadership roles than boys because they fear being disliked. Indeed, 53% of Girl Scouts have been called bossy at least once, and teachers are more likely to ask a Girl Scout to lead at school because of her well-developed leadership skills. 

“Girls are twice as likely as boys to avoid leadership roles for fear of being deemed ‘bossy’ by their peers,” explains Anna Maria Chávez, CEO of Girl Scouts of the USA (GSUSA). “At Girl Scouts, we want to bring adults and girls together to empower them as our next generation of leaders.”

Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO, author of Lean In, and cofounder of LeanIn.org, believes we should encourage girls to “lean in” and let their voices be heard. “We need to recognize the ways we systematically discourage leadership in girls from a young age—and instead, we need to encourage them [to lead],” Sandberg explains.

Citing additional research by the Girl Scouts Research Institute, Neil Stamps, CEO of Girl Scouts of Rhode Island, says that “60% of girls nationwide do not want to be leaders. To help encourage more girls to be leaders, Girl Scouts of Rhode Island is focused on delivering the Girl Scout Leadership Experience – including top-notch programming that helps girls develop strong leadership skills and gain confidence in their leadership abilities.”

As part of the Ban Bossy campaign, Lifetime TV will air a “Ban Bossy” PSA with appearances by Chávez and Sandberg, as well as Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, performer Beyoncé, actress Jennifer Gardner, fashion designer Diane von Fürstenberg, and others.

The Ban Bossy campaign will be housed on a newly launched website, BanBossy.com, where visitors can take the pledge to Ban Bossy, share facts and figures on girls’ leadership, read Ban Bossy quotes from celebrities and leaders, and download our leadership tips encouraging girls and women to lead at home, at school, and at work.

We want all girls to know they can be anything they want to be. Whether your girl seeks to be the CEO of the world’s largest company or the CEO of her family at home, the time to ban bossy is now—and the campaign should start at home. “So the next time you have the urge to call your little girl ‘bossy’?” Sandberg explains. “Take a deep breath and say, ‘My daughter has executive leadership skills.’”

How do you empower young women in your life? What are ways your community supports female leadership development? Tell us in the Comments!

Lindsay at Flag Lady Gifts March 14, 2014 at 10:54 AM
I appreciate the sentiment that bossy is overused and causes long-term negative ramifications on self esteem, especially in young girls. However, bossy and being a leader are not the same thing. A child who encourages/guides peers to a decision or outcome is leading. A child who insists on his/her way in a scenario where a group decision should be made or when s/he is not in charge is absolutely being bossy. If peers are very compliant, then a potentially great leader can start steamrolling peers when s/he has no business leading the charge.
Resident March 15, 2014 at 08:46 AM
Yes, read this a week ago in the Wall Street Journal. The girls scouts was a nice touch though. Too bad you didn't list how few boys want to be leaders as well. Are you suggesting 100% of boys would want to be leaders in contrast?
Resident March 15, 2014 at 08:48 AM
Additionally I would've loved to have heard about the Girl Scouts in the Lehigh Valley area and not in Rhode Island because again I keep assuming this is a local reporting (that I signed up for originally) and not something nationwide.
David Segal March 15, 2014 at 03:49 PM
The word b itchy is usual word used.
M March 16, 2014 at 10:18 PM
I agree. I much preferred Patch when it was a source of local news and opinions. I can get the national stuff through other sources. I went to Catholic high school in the 60s and we were all expected and nurtured to be leaders. I felt then as now that good (informed) followers are also needed. True "bitchy" is the word generally heard in middle and high school and not always in the context of "bossy". All children need to be exposed early to the need for universal respect for each other, the environment, the physical school, in school if nowhere else, because too many parents aren't able to parent!

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