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!

Emmette Coleman March 15, 2014 at 06:44 AM
First of all, that “60% of girls nationwide do not want to be leaders" figure is meaningless unless the figure of boys who do not want to be leaders is shown. Secondly, If 40% of girls want to be leaders, we probably don't have a problem of too few girls wanting to be leaders. On a related note: If the figure for boys is the same, then I'm a bit disturbed that 40% of kids would want to be leaders. Some people are good leaders, and enjoy being leaders, and good for them. 40% of the population is not cut out to lead the other 60% tough. Not everyone is cut out to be a leader (nothing to do with gender), and that's perfectly fine, just do the stuff you're good at and enjoy.
Jacquie Van Tassell March 15, 2014 at 10:05 PM
It seems that many of the people who read this article do not have a daughter that is frequently ostracized because she is a beautiful, bright leader. It is heart breaking to witness your daughter who you cherish left out of all social events because she is true to who she is. Personally I believe that all children should be allowed to be who they are without society deeming them "bossy," "nerdy," "dramatic," "sporty" or whatever the stereotype may be. Planned Parenthood, Girl Scouts...these are children that deserve to be respected and protected!
Fortified- I am Buzzlightyear >>>>>>>> March 15, 2014 at 10:59 PM
Jacque, are you perhaps reflecting about other kids being jealous, and insecure?
Darla March 21, 2014 at 01:52 PM
Talk about first world problem. Is this where we are heading to? What a load. Words are interpreted by those that hear it. When I think of "bossy" I think of a girl that is a leader. that does know what she wants and what she is doing. Regardless the age. Only followers can be "bossed". Now if she is "bossy" with no tact or class and is snotty, well that's something else. That is called having no manners. Building a confident child begins in the home. But what most parents are creating is another generation of spoiled brats, that think they can HAVE what they want, when they want it and at any cost. These "bossy" kids of which you speak were created by the parents. Banning the word is not going to fix the problem. This entire campaign is pure idiocy and a waste of money. There are children in need of food, clothing and shelter, and you fools are worried about a freakin word. My support of girl scouts has ended and anyone, company, or entertainer that supports this crap. Lets ban stupidity!
IgnorantA March 21, 2014 at 02:17 PM
let's ban all negative words that might lower the self esteem of everyone and give the a trophy for just participating in life....


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