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the 'ban bossy' movement highlights just how early the gen der gap starts

THE Ban Bossy campaign that hit our social media feeds last week may be an American initiative, spearheaded by Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook and the Girl Scouts of the USA, but its message isn't entirely irrelevant to modern day Ireland.

Sandberg, whose Lean In organisation encourages women to pursue and achieve their goals, is a shining example of how you can have it all, and make it to the top, as a mum and a professional.

Click on the website or Ban Bossy hashtag and it takes you to the following statement: "When a little boy asserts himself, he's called a 'leader'. Yet when a little girl does the same, she risks being branded 'bossy'.

"Words like bossy send a message: don't raise your hand or speak up.

"By middle school (ages 11-14) girls are less interested in leading than boys – a trend that continues into adulthood. Together we can encourage girls to lead."

The campaign includes a video of females like Condoleezza Rice and Beyonce. interspersed with a few male figures, beseeching us to ban the word 'bossy' because it discourages girls from ambition and leadership. "I'm not bossy: I'm the boss," says Beyonce.

My initial reaction was one of applause – schoolgirls can be tough on each other, quick to dis in class mates who speak up and put themselves forward for leadership roles.


There will always be natural-born leaders; the problem is that many will peter out as they become teenagers. Ban Bossy tells us that the confidence gap starts early.

Between elementary and high school, girls' self-esteem drops 3.5 times more than boys'. Girls, it seems, are twice as likely as boys to worry that leadership roles will make them seem 'bossy'.

According to 2012 figures, compiled by accountancy firm Grant Thornton, 21pc of chief financial officers (CFO) in Irish businesses are women, which makes us something of a global leader in promoting women to senior financial management positions.

The report shows that Ireland is ranked 9th globally for the number of women in senior financial positions.

That might look promising, but it's less so when you look elsewhere. A mere 5pc of CEOs in Ireland are women and only 25 of our 166 TDs are women.

Of course, there's a certain irony in the campaign; seeking to ban anything is bossy by its nature.

It's also unlikely that gender inequality can be put down to a single word. No one will ever know if charges of bossiness at a young age stopped budding female athletes/politicians/entrepreneurs in their tracks.

The Twittersphere is awash with counter-arguments damning the Ban Bossy campaign: "People will just find another hurtful word to put down little girls" / "Girls who are so easily offended won't make good leaders" etc.

Some commentators make valid arguments, but I'm still leaning in favour of Ban Bossy.


They want to start a dialogue that supports confident young girls and one that nurtures assertiveness and individuality.

Gender equality can't be solved by a hashtag, but maybe a new generation of little girls will benefit from having parents who've been inspired to nurture their child's confidence and sense that anything is possible.