Acknowledge your fears…. and then overcome them. This is what Sheryl Sandberg taught me about Leaning In at #BlogHer13

Have you read Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead yet? Over 1 million copies have sold so far in at least 11 different languages; so if you bought one of them I’d be interested to know what you thought? 

After flying all the way from Australia to Chicago, a particular highlight of my past 3 days at BlogHer13 was spending a morning with Sheryl Sandberg (yep just me, Sheryl and a few hundred other women!).  Sandberg (author of Lean In and COO of Facebook who reportedly became a billionaire on its listing) was keen to share her thinking on the Lean In concept. 

And after the main presentation, some of us stayed on to experience how the Lean In Circles work in practice (I’ll save the mechanics for another post, but the vote from my “circle” was a big thumbs up!) 

Sandberg began the day by explaining she is unapologetically a businesswoman and unapologetically a feminist, and how she’s managed to reconcile the two.  She believes it will take all of us working together to make change happen, and for true gender equality to become the norm in our workplaces. 

And she thinks women have the power – individually and collectively – to make the necessary difference for our own generations and those that follow.

But you know what? I went into this presentation with some skepticism.  I wondered whether women haven’t done enough leaning in already? Whether it wasn’t time to shift the emphasis from leaning in to leaning on important influencers instead? 

Influencers like career sponsors (by Sandberg’s own admission Larry Summers opened many doors throughout her career); or those CEOs and business leaders who drive corporate culture from the top? (and who, throughout the world, are overwhelmingly men).

Sandberg herself proved the point when she asked the women in the audience: “Who here was told they were bossy as kids?” – and around 70% of hands shot in the air.  “And who here has been told – at any time throughout their career – that they’ve been too aggressive at work?”  This time more than 90% of hands went up.

These stereotypes are hard to break down. They’re ingrained in attitudes that are hard to shift.  And they won’t move unless they’re forced to.  So Sandberg says the book is about trying to point out these stereotypes, so that something can give.

Having now met Sheryl Sandberg, I get where she’s going with this. Quite simply, she wants women to imagine what they would do if they weren’t afraid. And then do it.

And as she recounted stories of women who’ve been spurred into action by the book, I realized it’s having the desired effect already.

Women who have asked for a payrise for the first time in 15 years. Women who have started their own businesses. Women who have gone back to school, to create a better life for their kids.  One by one, Sandberg recounted stories of women who have been encouraged and empowered to take action to improve their position, and that can only be a good thing.

Less than a year from its inception, the LeanIn.org community is 250,000 members strong and all of them are sharing their fears, their aspirations and increasingly, their success stories (with the hashtag #notafraid).

I know now what I’d do if I weren’t afraid… so how about you?

I’d love you to post your comments and share your thoughts.

 

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