#BanBossy Campaign is Not High Gear

March 17th, 2014   •   4 comments   


WiHG_Front_HighResAs women business owners and co-authors of Women in High Gear, we invest a lot of time and attention in writing, speaking, and encouraging women to “Find Their Voice” and “Tell Their Story.” Our own stories represent a tapestry of experiences, and that makes us each unique. We have benefited from the examples of strong men and women in business, and we challenge women to discover and reach their own high gear.


Last week the Girls Scouts teamed with LeanIn.org to launch a #BanBossy PSA campaign. Using celebrities like Beyoncé and Victoria Beckham they make the case that “bossy” is a pejorative, a disparaging term, and as such should be banned (yes, you read that correctly) in reference to girls. Their assumption: if young girls are called bossy, perhaps they will be disinclined to pursue leadership roles. We haven’t seen data or Pew Research stats to quantify this claim, and Googling the term “bossy” to see what images appear based on gender is not scientific evidence.


Women will never advance by telling others—men or women—how not to perceive them and what language to use to describe them. As children, we were both called bossy—by our siblings and classmates. Our parents probably called us bossy too. Why? Because we were. We had ideas and weren’t afraid to share them. Amy D. Howell


The idea that we women will get ahead and reach new career heights, or see new doors open, because a word is banned is disingenuous to our gender and our individual leadership capabilities. Are we that sensitive? Is our emotional resilience that tenuous and delicate?


Just because someone is considered powerful, influential, politically connected, successful, or entertaining doesn’t mean we jump on a bandwagon to sign a petition to ban a word in the English language. The idea of banning a word like “bossy” is silly and a waste of our greatest resource–time. While many have asserted that this campaign has been positive for raising awareness, we believe it further isolates women from achieving the skills and experiences necessary to reach the C-suite. We all want opportunities for women to advance at work. We need women to open doors, to mentor, to advocate, to introduce young women to CEOs, to help connect the dots for success. This campaign belies the strength of women.


In fact, it’s condescending for an influential and elite group of women to create a video telling us what to do. Words are words. Actions speak louder.


Anne 2012 FINALAt @WomenInHighGear, we want to make sure young girls and women celebrate what we can become. We need strong women who can boss (Margaret Thatcher), women who can nurture (Ruth Bell Graham), women who can lead with courage (Marie Curie), women who can explore (Amelia Earhart), and women who can negotiate (Condoleezza Rice). We need every type of woman who can recognize her high gear potential and take action. That won’t happen by telling others what words to use.


In an interview on Fox news last week, Penny Young Nance, President and CEO of Concerned Women for America (CWA) said, “True strength is being bossy in a way that empowers others to greatness, not to degradation.” Well stated.


In our experiences as mothers and women in business, High Gear means working hard and smart at the same time and not being afraid to tell your story, to rise to a business challenge, to recognize opportunities for professional development, and to seek support to reach goals. We believe that leadership, success, and profitability know no gender. The #BanBossy campaign diverts our attention from the more productive conversations of women in #STEM, Wall Street Journal Women in The Economy Task Force, and many other national women’s initiatives.


Being bossy can be a positive character trait. Bossy need not hold a negative connotation. We have known many men and women who are great at being bossy while leading others to success and high performance. Women in High Gear understand that our gender differences are also our strengths as we work together on teams. There are times to be assertive and there are times to be attentive. High gear means knowing the difference.


Finally, High Gear means selecting role models that possess the character, integrity, wisdom, and intelligence that young girls and women are seeking to learn from. It’s ironic that we would listen to an entertainer –who sells lyrics using profanity and intense sexuality –tell us what not to say to young girls. We do need real examples of everyday men and women leaders who work to help others, provide for their families, and care for aging parents while raising children and working.


We don’t need censorship of silly terms; we do need more high gear women and men to demonstrate confidence, courage, hard work, and emotional resilience–even to #EmbraceBossy if need be. The fortitude and productivity of future generations depends on it.


Co-written by Amy D. Howell and Anne D. Gallaher




  1. I’m with you ladies. And how about how much time is lost by stopping and debating these kind of topics every time someone thinks of a new term we should ban? Really? We all have far better things to do than discuss what words we can or can’t use. All of my girls are sassy and bossy. Both words can be spun in a negative way if that’s how you choose to do it. Me? I’m just trying to make sure they use their powers for good 🙂

  2. Amy Howell says:

    Thank you Kristen! Great points and we totally agree. One thing I will add is that my daughter is bossy but not in a bad way…As her mom, I’m helping her assert herself in productive ways. She is 14 and we’re having fun talking about this. My son (almost 18) thinks Beyonce is the worst role model for kids and said that right off the bat. It will be interesting to see what happens with this. My bet? It’s redirected or edited to a more productive set of actionable ideas or goals. Like find 100 women and get them placed on Boards…find 100 girls who need scholarships for STEM programs…think of what that could do! Thanks for reading and commenting.

  3. Ronnie Biggs says:

    I am a Girl Scout troop leader, and this past weekend I had a conversation about this with my girls in between customers at cookie booths. The girls brought up excellent points, such as how can you lead without being bossy. Another point they brought up was regarding following the Girl Scout Law – those are rules handed down that are bossy, so with this campaign, that means they should not have to be adhered to now. My heart fell upon hearing that. However, my scouts made a good point when they pointed to the Girl Scout Law, which is a very “bossy” lady wrote the words that are used by millions of Girl Scouts and Girl Guides around the world as words to live by. They pointed out that without a “bossy” Juliette Gordon Lowe in 1912, we wouldn’t have Girl Scouts.

    Perhaps they should build on last year’s campaign, ‘What A Girl Can Do,’ instead of send a mixed message. Or, as my girls put it, “No labels, please. We like being the individuals we are.”

  4. Amy Howell says:

    Ronnie: I love this “first hand feedback” from some Girl Scouts themselves and good for you for having the discussion! Excellent points you make here. I like the “no labels” idea. Good stuff! Thank you for stopping here and taking time to comment.

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