Bossy or direct? How to make space for strong female voices

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Walking the fine line between “bossy” and “direct” is a battle that women have to fight every day. In school projects and at work, women are forced to navigate spaces with more implicit, subtle modes of leadership as a result of these labels. If not, we risk being judged as less likable compared to our male peers. While many aspects of UC Berkeley are welcoming, high-stress circumstances like group projects, case competitions and lab work can shed light on some of our campus community’s excluding tendencies.

So, how can you support the strong women of the UC Berkeley community and make space for their voices? In honor of International Women’s Day, we at the Clog have compiled a few tips to help you do just that.

Change your language

Carefully consider the words you use to describe your friends, bosses, employees and teammates. Adjectives like “shrill”, “bossy” and “abrasive” are typically used exclusively to describe women and are detrimental to teams that strive toward being gender inclusive. By using words that implicitly exclude women, team members limit the potential of their group. Language matters, and using the right language in and around school is absolutely essential to creating a welcoming environment for all genders. 

Remove invisibility

If members of your community feel invisible, they cannot readily contribute ideas to your team. Maybe you are working on a group project in IEOR 171 and you notice someone in your group is quieter than the others. Make time and space for everyone on your team to give input by explicitly asking for it! If you only rely on the same members of your group for idea generation or feedback loops, you will only hear the loudest voices, which shuts out others. By asking for all opinions, you can help individuals in your group feel heard and valued.

Listen, acknowledge, thank!

A single dismissive response to feedback can instantly quiet even the strongest voices on a team. Being shut down when offering meaningful feedback on a teammate’s performance is both demoralizing and discouraging. In order to help women have strong feedback loops, ensure that those loops aren’t being cut off by defensive responses. Instead of offering counterarguments to feedback, practice a cycle of “listen, acknowledge, thank“! Closely listen to the feedback you’re given, acknowledge that you understand and thank your team members for their willingness to share their ideas. 

Hopefully these tips will help you build better spaces that embrace and encourage strong female voices. Whether you’re female-identifying or not, allyship is everything. We can all play a role in welcoming strength, dissent and courage. By changing your language, asking everyone for ideas and remembering the “listen, acknowledge, thank” loop, you can support the strong voices of the women in your life.

Contact Brookey Villanueva at [email protected].