Why #BanBossy won’t work for women in Pakistan

Published: April 23, 2014

The Ban Bossy campaign has been initiated to encourage girls to be leaders.

Sheryl Sandberg, author of Lean In and the Chief Operating Officer (COO) of Facebook is on a mission. A couple of weeks ago, she, in collaboration with a star line-up of women in other leadership roles launched the ‘Ban Bossy’ (#BanBossy) campaign.

They argue on their website that,

“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, girls are less interested in leading than boys – a trend that continues into adulthood. Together we can encourage girls to lead”.

Of course, a topic this controversial stirred up a significant amount of debate with ‘#bebossy’ and ‘#isbossy’ alternatives quickly popping up. Adversaries from across the spectrum point out that picking just one word will not solve the problem.

According to Ann Handley, an author, mother and advocate of encouraging young girls but anti #BanBossy says,

 “What’s missing from the #BanBossy conversation is a more nuanced, rational discussion about the nature of leadership itself. For one, not all strong woman leaders are bossy, and not all bossy women (or men!) are leaders”.

Both have a point and that’s the whole thing – it doesn’t matter whether Sheryl Sandberg has done the right thing or picked the right word. What she’s done right is stir up a debate about what prevents girls from taking on leadership roles at a young age and continuing this throughout their careers.

Unsurprisingly, the campaign hasn’t gained much traction in the Islamic world where the challenge of girls taking up leadership roles in school, business or the public sector remains daunting. Our research through interviews with highly successful female business leaders in Pakistan show there are actually four common factors contributing to their success, none of which involve banning one word.

1. Support from family

First and by far the most important element is the support they receive from a young age in pursuing their dream to lead. Often one or both parents are identified as a larger than life influence in shaping their future.

A senior executive from a pharmaceutical company said,

“I come from a background where women don’t actually work. They are expected to get married and have children. I was lucky enough that my father thought differently, had a different mind-set and encouraged us to pursue our careers. I think family support is really key”.

Alongside parents, husbands are also a foundational pillar to female success as highlighted by a female executive from a local organisation:

“My husband has been extremely supportive and has helped me in attaining my goals. When a good job offer came, he was willing to move with me. I think the mutual understanding that my work is important is what helped me”.

2. Great mentors

The second great influence comes from bosses who believe in these women, who challenge them, protect them and guide them throughout their career.

A senior executive from a telecom company shared her experience.

“My boss, in my last job, really saw potential in me and gave me a lot of opportunity and exposure; pushing me in situations where I was challenged… he really gave me the wings to fly, encouraged and supported me at every step.”

3. Drive and perseverance

Becoming a successful female leader in our society is not an easy road and requires a significant amount of perseverance and drive. The motivation to challenge and prove to yourself that it’s possible is shared amongst almost all successful female leaders.

A director in an oil and gas company shared,

“I have always felt the need to perform and live up to my expectations. Even though no one has asked me to, I feel the need to prove myself. I have progressed really fast in this company and so I feel that I need to show everyone that I work hard to deserve it. Sometimes my boss tells me I have to unplug, that I need a hobby but I just can’t seem to do it. He would get mad at me for working so much from home and sending emails out at night. I now schedule my mails to deliver at 9am so that they don’t know I’m working at 1am”.

4. Slay the stereotypes

In Pakistan, as well as many other Muslim countries, the cultural restrictions are often too large for women to overcome to fulfil their dreams. Stereotypes rule the Pakistani workplace and many male colleagues either as part of their cultural heritage, personal held beliefs or fear of ‘being put out of my job by a woman’ display strong prejudices. However, successful female executives are able to hold their own and slay these stereo types.

As one executive pointed out,

“There will always be stereotypes with women, no matter what they do. I think it is important that overtime you conduct yourself the way you want to be treated and so you are responsible for how people see you. You have to define your own imprint on the organisation”.

Different functions have different stereotypes. Marketing and Human Resources departments are seen as more female friendly while making a mark as a female leader in an industry such as manufacturing can be one of the toughest challenges.

One female manufacturing executive explained,

“Being a woman in this organisation is tough. I had to prove myself, I went to the factories and stood in the heat watching the product on the assembly line. A lot of people thought I would not be able to do it because I am a female, that I would prefer some desk job but I had to show them that anything a man can do I can do as well. Yes, it’s not easy for every female to do that because there are cultural taboos and stereotypes that a woman is not going to travel to the corners of the city to the factory site every day, but I had to show people that I was the exception”.

It’s possible to succeed as a female professional in Pakistan. Many have proven it. You need support, dedication, perseverance and guts. These role models have shown it’s possible. Of course, we have to facilitate more women to come into the work place and earn their leadership position.

We would like to encourage women to take up the challenge and prove they can do it, men to accept and support women who want to lead and organisations to believe in the value women can bring to their companies. It’s imperative that we create facilities and support to enable women to reach and maximise their potential.

What have you done to help women rise as leaders in Asia?

This post originally appeared here

Paul Keijzer

Paul Keijzer

An innovative business leader and an HR professional, Paul firmly believes that outstanding results can only be achieved through engaging people, teams, and building commitment. He tweets as @paul_keijzer

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • rukhsar

    Excellent article with well laid points..its thought provoking and describes the real life situation very wellRecommend

  • AaA

    We don’t need a feminist as a role model in Pakistan. No need for a white man coming here and telling us how things should be. Please keep your feminist theories to your own countries. I don’t know when this ” white man’s burden” is going to go away.Recommend

  • AaA

    We don’t need a feminist role model in a Pakistan.
    ET please publish it.Recommend

  • Nobody

    Good piece. Unfortunately some people don’t understand the affect a simple word with a negative connotation can have. I was called bossy for a time as a young girl, but luckily I was too “bossy” to care and didn’t pay any attention or alter my behavior. Women in restrictive cultures are often not as lucky.
    The ban bossy movement ought to join hands with encouraging more science/technology related fields for young girls as well. The gender gap in leadership roles and science/tech industry is mostly due to decades of social conditioning.Recommend

  • Queen

    Nice write up.The author has rightly said that there are different stereotypes concerning different functions. It is a good sign that women have become aware of their potential but it is sad to see that women have to make twice the effort to prove themselves to the outer world.Recommend

  • waztaz

    Nobody likes bossy people. I’m afraid the ban bossy mantra will just encourage more women to be bossy.Recommend

  • MarahaK

    The point of the movement is not to ban one word but make people aware of the dichotomy that exists in society when we praise little boys for the same behaviour which we condemn in little girls. This makes little girls more likely to be bullied because they have never learned to stand up for themselves.Recommend

  • Naeem

    An intelligent article, one that doesn’t ooze feminazi agenda. Good writing, lays down things as they are, and doesn’t confuse or muddies things through a raging, rabid feminist point of view, as others in these blogs do.Recommend

  • Nobody

    What a racist and unnecessary comment. Your complex is on display for all to see. No wonder Pakistanis are in the situation they are in. A people that refuse to learn from the success of others or their own failures amount to nothing.
    P.S. If ever a place needed feminism, it’s Pakistan. And much of the Muslim world might I add.Recommend

  • Nobody

    The issue isn’t with girls becoming bossy per se; it’s the fact that girls who take on leadership roles are often wrongfully called bossy. Bossy is one thing and you are correct: nobody likes bossy people, but being a leader or an assertive person does not equate to being bossy, as assertive young girls can sometimes be labeled.Recommend

  • Nobody

    Yes you’re right. Women in Pakistan are envied as they are treated better than most other women, right?Recommend

  • Nupur Chowdhury

    Arrogant much? Condemning an entire nation for the silly comment of one person? There are stereotypes everywhere…about men and women, about countries, religions, linguistic groups, you name it. This article itself is a study in stereotypes about Pakistan as a nation. I’m not even a Pakistani and the stereotyping made me sick! There are stupid men everywhere, just like stupid women, who stereotype people based on superficial attributes, be it skin colour, facial features or reproductive organs. Pakistan, or any other country, doesn’t have an exclusive patent on stupidity or prejudice!Recommend

  • Nupur Chowdhury

    The problem with the world, really, is that the stupid people are full of confidence, and the intelligent ones are full of doubt. You’ll find this holds true for men and women equally. Being assertive is a good thing, but people who try to impose their own opinions on other people, be they male or female, are usually not all that bright themselves. Bossiness, or overconfidence, usually comes from a place of ignorance, regardless of the person’s gender. A smart person would be able to realise that their version of the truth is not the only version available or acceptable.Recommend