‘Where is the bossy one?’
The chairman of the organization I was working for – was apparently looking for me. He couldn’t remember my name. The first thing that came into his mind when he thought of me was this one word. My team was in of no doubt who he was talking about and quickly came to find me. From then on, I was the bossy one in my team.
Hey, at least I was memorable, right?
Not that it surprised me. Growing up, I was called bossy. I organized the play dates, family birthdays and would try and act as ‘teacher’ to my unruly little sister who I forced to play school with me.
I said what I thought when asked; I asked for what I wanted if I disagreed, I made it known. I did my job and would speak out when I thought something was wrong. I spoke my mind. If I had to organize big events, I was a master delegator. I worked in crisis communications where I became an expert on getting tough answers to difficult situations with an hour’s notice.
So I was bossy.
I didn’t mind this description. Although when I started my career working in PR 11 years ago, I couldn’t help but notice – that when other men did the same thing I did - they were described as professional, as good colleagues, and good leaders. Never did I hear the phrase ‘He’s bossy.' Although when a man was the ‘boss’ – he was revered.
But I get it. There are different rules in the workplace for men and women. I’m not saying this is right – but I worked enough amongst office politics and bureaucracy and got the ever present – if subtle – expectations of women in the office compared to their male counterparts.
Let’s not even mention the pay gap that still exists for men and women in the workplace – (I’m not going to mention numbers, given the many arguments about the reliability of the current statistics, just to say there is no dispute that a gender pay gap does still exist).
Women are still the nurturers in the workplace – expected to organize the morning teas or the farewell cards for colleagues. As much as I’d love to be appreciated for my skills as a professional – I had to do what the men did and ‘then some’ to stand out.
Stay back late, volunteer for more projects, give up ‘girl lunches’ so I would be seen as different to my gal pal colleagues. I stopped offering to organize work events and socials. Not that I wanted to do these things – but I saw clearly the individual behaviors that were permitted to climb that ladder.
Either be a nice girl who brings in brownies and says yes to everything – or is bossy and successful.
I tried both. Guess which one made me successful?
Being bossy got me promoted at 30 to a management role. Being bossy landed me my dream job working at the BBC. Being bossy meant rubbing shoulders with prime ministers, actors, TV presenters, people from very different walks of life. Being bossy gave the confidence to start my own business. Thank God for the other ‘bossy’ women who helped pave the way and empowered me to step up when it seemed unnatural to me and to continue my bossy ways.
I do think things are changing. Some ways for the better, there are real policies and an acknowledgment that as a female the workplace is just not an easy place to navigate. This may sound cliché, but in my experience, we don’t fit in the office culture as quickly as males do. After all, they created the workplace. So we have to find our way without losing ourselves in the process. Until then, I’ll just take the bossy label as I climb this ladder that I created for myself. And I’m Ok with that – hopefully, I can help other gals on the way up.