How many times have you heard a parent tell their son to stop being bossy?

Think about how many times you’ve heard little girls called bossy. A lot? Too many.
 

For many women, myself included, we were labeled as bossy when we were children. After being called bossy year after year, told to be quiet, and asked to put your hand down, girls will eventually stop raising their hands all together.
 

This isn’t new, and the numbers don’t lie. Women now make up close to 50% of the total U.S. workforce, but continue to be underrepresented at every level of leadership beyond entry level. We don’t just want women at the table so it’s "fair," we want women to help shape companies where we can speak freely, feel supported and where we want to work.
 

Think of the woman in your office who has been called difficult or aggressive. Is she really, or does she just have a strong point of view? Does she challenge the status quo, and does that make people feel uncomfortable?

In my experience, I’ve been called intimidating or "too much" when I stand my ground or ask for what I feel like I deserve. The balance comes from asking respectfully, but directly, and over-communicating the why. It’s a balancing act, but one that is worth it and can truly drive change in an organization. If your company doesn’t make you feel supported and its leaders aren’t open to hearing a point of view that differs from theirs, it may be time to find a new employer.
 

For the young women in our lives, the changes can start small. Beyond changing the way we speak to young girls and leaving the word "bossy" out of the conversation, it is everyone’s job to teach girls the soft skills to supplement their natural instincts to lead. As a mother to two daughters, I make it a point to be careful in my word choice. Not only do I praise them for leading the group or sharing their opinion, but I also point out when they include everyone in the game, or when they stick up for a friend who is being left out.

Many kids have great instincts — we just need to help them understand how to use those instincts in the real world. We don’t want to squash their ambition to take charge. We need to create well-rounded, kind human beings.
 
 

Kelly Eagle is the director of client services at Spinutech and a co-founder of Salto, an initiative focused on leadership and growth for women under 35. This year she is a finalist for the Inspiring Women of Iowa awards in the Courage category. She lives in Waukee with her husband and two daughters.