On Topic: Who's the boss?

Michael Chevy Castranova
Published: March 30 2014 | 6:00 am - Updated: 1 April 2014 | 10:19 am in

It’s an enduring rule of thumb in marketing that it helps if the name of your product suggests what it does.

Aleve is intended to alleviate pain, and that’s a moniker that certainly sounds cozier than naproxen. Goodyear tires are designed to last a good, long time, and Rogaine hints that users could regain what they’ve lost.

Or, as some wag once wrote, the difference between a squirrel and a rat is a bushy tail and good public relations.

Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook chief operating officer and author of “Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead,” and Anna Maria Chavez, CEO of Girls Scouts of the USA, among others, essentially make this same argument with the Ban Bossy campaign.

As its website contends, “When a little boy asserts himself, he's called a ‘leader.’ Yet when a little girl does the same, she risks being branded ‘bossy.’”

The movement’s point is that such branding — to put it in a marketing context — tells girls not speak up or step up. And that’s poor training to grow into a leader role in adult life.

The website (http://banbossy.com) offers recommendations for girls, women, parents, teachers and managers on how think through this generations-old stereotype of looking at confident boys as future leaders but self-assured girls as shrill and, well, bossy.

The management section warns about simply accepting peers’ judgment on, for example, a woman manager who’s described as “aggressive” or “too ambitious.” Do they really mean “direct” and “knowledgeable”?

And could that mean she wants credit and trust where they’re due for a good idea? Or maybe fair and equal pay for work and responsibilities comparable to what men at the same company get?

(The disparity between what women and men are paid remains, as President Obama said in his January State of Union speech, “an embarrassment.” Women, he said, receive 77 cents for every $1 paid to men.)

All this careful-how-you-brand-people approach makes eminent sense for a hardier company. You want all your smart people contributing fully and pushing in the same direction, right?

So I was disappointed — I truly, sadly wish I could say shocked — to come across the letters in a recent Wall Street Journal that characterized Sandberg and Chavez’s efforts as more “incessant whining,” and that despaired of “successful women” who “continue to whine … .”

You’d think we were still out on the playground.

Yes, by golly, we’ve all dealt with female managers who didn’t deserve the brass letter openers and covered parking spots the company gave them. But we’ve also put up with male supervisors who were certified jerks, too.

We need to make sure we can spot potential leaders for who they are, and not be misled by what could be moldy, gender-biased labeling.

Or as we would have deemed it back on the playground, name-calling.

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