"When pronounced in the manner true to its Nigerian roots, my first name ("Osi") rhymes with "bossy." My siblings created a sing-song chant they would recite on a loop: 'Bossy Osi, Bossy Osi, Bossy Osi.'"
"Raise your hand if you have ever been called bossy sometime in your life."
This was the question Sheryl Sandberg posed to the audience at a Girl Scouts awards dinner I was fortunate to attend last Fall. The question made me chuckle as I surveyed the raised hands of women seated at my table and around the room. I was not alone in raising my hand.
To understand why I laughed, you must know that when pronounced in the manner true to its Nigerian roots my first name ("Osi") actually rhymes with "bossy." I don't remember much about my lifetime P.B. (pre-bossy). In fact, around the time I was 10 or 11 years old my three younger siblings created a sing-song chant they would recite on a loop: "Bossy Osi, Bossy Osi, Bossy Osi."
The days of "Bossy Osi" are well behind me. But as I've navigated the professional world, I have grown to understand there are other "b" words used to deflate adult women in leadership, just as "bossy" is used to deflate the confidence of young girls. Fortunately, being called bossy at an early age was not something that shamed me into navigating the world in a less assertive way. I credit much that to my mother, who has been the model for great leadership, hard work, and integrity, and who raised a family while managing a successful career. She has always imparted wisdom like, "If you don't ask, you won't get." I understood from an early age the difference between being "bossy" and being "the boss."
What the Bossy Osi chant lacked in subtlety or wit, my siblings compensated for with their creative delivery -- varying speeds, octaves, and vocal styles added interest to each performance. It was the type of playful torture that only siblings could master. The night of Sheryl's speech I sent them a text message: "Sheryl says I wasn't bossy, I simply had early executive management skills #boom." A few "lols" and several emojis later, I think I managed to convince them that my youthful directives were likely responsible for much of their current success. At least, that's my version of how the conversation ended.