Being ‘bossy’ vs being ‘the Boss’

I’ve wanted to write about this for a long time because it’s something that we spoke about at the She Who Dares Wins conference back in October and its been playing on my mind ever since.

I personally have been called bossy in my life. Granted, it was when I was a little girl and I had big ideas and wanted everyone to cooperate in making them happen but nonetheless the word still stuck. Bossy is a pejorative term. It’s a word that means you’re overstepping the mark and maybe you’re forcing people to do things that they don’t want to do.

Its something usually said to children, right?


Back in 2014, research by Nic Subtirelu (Ph.D. in applied linguistics at Georgia State University) showed that ‘bossy’ is used 1.5x more frequently on Google for women and girls than it is for men and boys. This isn’t just an age thing, this is a gender thing.

Around that time, a campaign to #banbossy was started and it was backed by several big names including Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, Beyoncé and even former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice! The idea was that girls who are called ‘bossy’ tend to then shy away from speaking up in class or leading team projects.

If I think about it, the word definitely had an influence on my eagerness to take charge when I was younger. In my experience, girls that got called bossy were labelled ‘opinionated’ too, meaning they spoke when they ‘weren’t supposed to’ about things that ‘weren’t their business’. So I never took heed of that warning and I still speak my mind now but I definitely worry about not being heard or that people won’t take me seriously. We already know that social media can be a pretty difficult place when you’re growing up and trying to find your passion in life. But we also know that there are some incredible women leading projects and speaking out about a whole range of things now too.

So what makes a woman ‘the Boss’? I don’t necessarily think it’s people calling her it. I think its demanding respect for what you’re doing and it’s other people taking note that you and your work matters. Regardless of whether you’re fifteen or fifty, being ‘the Boss’ shouldn’t be about gender, it should be about taking charge. That doesn’t mean you’ve got to dominate or oppress anybody, that just means that you shouldn’t be discouraged if people are uncomfortable with your authority in that role.




At She Who Dares Wins, I asked two great women Melissa Rowley and Tamara Sword what they thought the difference was between being ‘bossy’ and being ‘the Boss’ and they told me how they think women are socially penalised in business for asking for more (raises, promotions, leadership etc).  They advised women not to be discouraged from this and said that being ‘the Boss’ is about negotiation and leadership skills that will fight the institutional bias. I was truly inspired by this idea, that the power lies in me to change that!

In every workplace and following every hobby, there’s always going to be people who feel the need to comment on how you do something or ask why you’re doing it. While criticism and reflection can be a good thing, if someone’s just uncomfortable with you taking charge or calling the shots then I think a crucial part of being ‘the Boss’ is not letting that commentary hold you back.

What would you say to a little girl who’s just been called bossy for trying to organise her school project or giving a speech about equality? She could be the next Malala Yousafzai, Stefanie Mainey or Nina Tandon. I think I’d tell her that she’s The Boss and that no-one can stop her from achieving her dreams.

What do you think, is ‘bossy’ a discriminatory term?
What makes someone ‘the Boss’?


Let me know and leave me links in the comments below.

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If you liked this post, you should check out:

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the empowerment playlist series – music to make you feel strong and beautiful




2 thoughts on “Being ‘bossy’ vs being ‘the Boss’

  1. Totally agree with this! I’m so glad people like Beyoncé and Sheryl Sandberg have been speaking out against the word ‘bossy’ when applied to women. I’ve been called bossy too and I honestly think it just further contributes to a society where women and their actions are always under the microscope and men aren’t criticised. I had a recent experience of the way in which words really differ when applying to women, and I thought it was particularly interesting. My boyfriend and I were in Cologne this new year’s, and I was walking down the street getting increasingly freaked out at how men were looking at me. It was like I belonged to them in some way. Anyway, I told my boyfriend about this because I was quite freaked out and wanted to explain, and he was like ‘oh, I’m sure that’s not the case’. So naturally, I pulled him aside and gave him a half an hour talking to about how his entire perception of reality is based on the position he was born into; that of a white male, and that as not only a woman but a woman of colour, I have had countless episodes where I was mistreated on the basis of that, and that just because it isn’t obvious that there’s a difference it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. I was sad to hear about the assaults in Cologne and to me, it was just a confirmation that something needs to change.


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