Over the last month, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg has been everywhere, from the cover of Time magazine to Jezebel talking about her new book, Lean in: Women, Work and the Will to Lead. But Sandberg’s written treatise is only part of message: She wants women to form supportive “lean in circles” that meet once a month for a year, workshops for the sharing of personal experiences and the discussion of topics such as negotiation. (Curricular videos are provided on the Lean In website.) Each meeting has homework, a set topic, and a multipage agenda for the group facilitator to follow.
Sandberg’s basic premise is that women often hold themselves back from reaching top leadership positions for a number of reasons. These include a lack of self-confidence and concerns about balancing work and family. Her critics claim her message doesn’t apply to all women (is there any book that does?)—and that she doesn’t put enough emphasis on institutional factors like ungenerous family leave policies. But in the book, Sandberg’s observations are supported by many studies and data; she couples personal experiences and useful advice with plenty of hard facts.
If Sandberg fails to speak to every woman’s circumstance, she succeeds in speaking to mine. I’m the Innovations Editor here at Slate. I’m 29 years old, and I’ve worked full time in media for the last five years. My job did not exist here at the magazine before I had it, so it is a role I’ve had to work to define. When my boss, David Plotz, asked me in my job interview two and a half years ago where I saw myself in 10 years, I said I wanted to run my own website or company, and that is still my goal. I’m married and plan to have children at some point. I also anticipate that I’ll work full time as a mom for both personal and financial reasons. Long story short, I found Sandberg’s TED talk about women in the workplace incredibly inspiring when I first saw it two years back, I enjoyed her book, and I wanted to learn more.
I began making inquiries: Did anyone know of an NYC-based circle I could join? When I didn’t find one right away, I paused. Joining a circle was one thing; starting and organizing one from scratch seemed like a lot more work. I began to talk myself out of it before realizing that in front of me was a chance to lean in, wrapped up with a nice pretty bow.
So here goes, everyone. I am starting my own lean in circle, composed of friends and acquaintances—and writing about it as I go. Since confidentiality is a big tenet of being in a group, I’ll focus on my own experience rather than that of the other women. I plan to pen periodic updates over the next year on what I get out of following Sandberg’s prescriptions closely. Is it inspirational? Is it sappy? Is it corporate? Is it not at all what I expected? Don’t worry, I’ll let you know.