(PIX11) — At Putnam Dance Company they’re getting a lesson in following the rules, these ballerinas are hitting their marks perfectly in time with the music. But do these future dance stars have big dreams of being in charge, too?
“Do you want to be the boss?” I ask them all, neat buns, pointed toes, sitting criss-cross-applesauce on the floor of the studio. “No, no!” they enthusiastically answer. I’m taken by surprise, since their happy chatter gives me bits-n-bites of how they have lots of dreams and plans.
One of the older girls softly, yet firmly tells me, “I want to be a baker.” Lots of girls chime in, “I want to be a dancer.” “A Rockette!” excitedly exclaims another. “A waitress,” smiles one of the more talkative girls. I can’t help but think she’s glamorizing that profession since going to a restaurant is a happy experience for her. She probably doesn’t realize what tiring work it can be to make people happy all night.
But I’m still trying to understand why none of them wanted to be a leader. I talk about President Obama, the president of Dylan’s Candies. No one bites. As a mom of a saucy young daughter on the verge of teenager-hood, there are lots of 11 year old girls in my orbit who are clearly leaders. Of the pack, of the school, of the softball, hockey, basketball teams they all play on.
Then I toss out my next question. “So is bossy a good thing or a bad?” Ah-ha!! “Bad!!” they all shoot in unison. I ask my follow up, “But we have to be a little bossy to get what we want?” lots of blinking and thinking. Then head nodding. “Yeah, yeah,” come the soft choruses of answers.
So it’s the bossy part of being the boss that vexes these tough little girls. How to be the leader, without being disliked. Because being liked is one of the most important quests in a girl’s young years.
“Bossy is a word that many find threatening and offensive because girls want to please and be liked and for some people the word bossy has a connotation of aggressiveness as opposed to assertiveness,” Donna Ceravolo, the CEO of The Girl Scouts of Nassau County tells me. She leads 20,000 girls and 7,000 adult volunteers. She says they’ve been embracing the idea of #BanBossy for years with their programs, but says we all have a long way to go.
I tell her about my focus group of young dancers. How none of them wanted to be the president of the United States. Or boss of anything. One girl’s answer spoke for them all. “I don’t want to be a boss, because everyone will think you’re mean and not like you,” says this little dynamo, who, by the way, would be an excellent boss if she can make peace with the idea.
Ceravolo says at the core of it, our girls too often put a premium on nice. Indeed, when I asked who wanted to be nice, every hand shot up in a second.
Could that be at the heart of what’s holding us back? We’re doing great in graduation rates, undergraduate colleges, Ph.D.’s, graduate schools, law school, medical school. Yet today, women are woefully underrepresented in the corner officer.
There’s a long way to go. Only 5% of CEO’s are women. 17% of Board Room seats go to women. And they make up just 19% of Congress.
Most of those numbers haven’t seen any growth either in the last few years. Leaders today say it stems from what they learn early on.
“They need to learn from the earliest years to express their ideas. Language matters. It really matters,” says Ceravolo.