On an awful, rainy, no-good Monday, Sheryl Sandberg has the attention of every up-and-coming woman in the room. At Facebook’s downtown New York HQ, Sandberg has gathered an impromptu meeting of her Lean In Circles New York City Members and invited Elite Daily along for the ride.
Aside from the glitz and glamor of the room, the fact that we’re deep inside Facebook’s HQ and five seats away from the social network’s COO, best-selling author and champion of women everywhere, the most captivating component of this evening is the college- and career-aged women, themselves.
Each woman is leading, co-leading or is responsible for bringing Sandberg’s remarkably successful Lean In Circles program to her college campus.
And while the women range in age and in origin (some have come to the United States to study from as far as Russia), they’re all united by a common goal: breaking down the glass ceiling and trudging through with all the might, muster and magic of a woman.
Tonight, the girls have joined Sheryl to share some of their biggest challenges, in the classroom and outside of the classroom, and how they can help each other take a seat at the table, and lean in.
While some are completing a master’s degree, others are in the thick of an undergraduate program, some are getting ready to embark on the world and others have already been there, but are now headed back to school.
Their questions are so similar: “How can we teach ourselves, and each other, to be more prepared for the working world?”
Sheryl, who feels more like that amazing friend you can ask just about anything (and who always has the most insightful advice in return) than the media maven she is, sits comfortably at the head of the table. The girls look up to her, obviously, but they’re also interested to learn from her – and to help her learn. It’s an incredibly exciting dynamic.
Zoe Y. asks the group whether or not there is a larger role for men to play in the Circles meet-ups on campus, while Jing Q. from Columbia University shares how hard the “myth of equality” has been for her. “[My] biggest fear,” she shares with the group, is “not being prepared for the biases that exist in college and in post-college experiences.”
Her question is something that every woman thinks about. The girls in the room, some from Columbia University, others from The College of New Jersey, some from NYU, NYU Stern School of Business and Brooklyn College-CUNY, talk about how in college a “safety net” exists. Safe within its confines, you aren’t exactly ready for the dynamic that the real world spits at you.
Nazli T. shares that one of the biggest advantages for her and fellow Circle members has been, “learning to ask for help without feeling inadequate.”
Sheryl adds that popping that safety net has been one of the tougher hurdles to conquer so far. She talks about her daughter, who was 5 at the time Sheryl was writing her now-famous book, “Lean In.”
She says that telling her, at 5, that the life isn’t fair didn’t seem like the right moment, but she lamented the fact that women aren’t getting that information in college.
Megan L., from The College of New Jersey, felt that it’s because “people still have such an issue with the word ‘feminist’; it still has such an ugly connotation.”
Sheryl adds, to the delight of everyone in the room, that we should trade words like “bossy” for “feminism” and see just how quickly the message resonates.
It’s true. Lean In Circles, like this very one, are all about finding women who are looking for leadership opportunities and who want to be a part of changing the cultural dynamic, the ways we see women and the means by which we give women opportunities both in the workplace and outside of it.
It’s about bringing women together and giving them opportunities to do great things.
The organization, pioneered by Sheryl and so many women before her, now rests comfortably in the hands of these intelligent, encouraging and compassionate women.
Seated around the table, they are leaning in. For each other. For themselves. For every sister, daughter, friend and classmate to come.
That’s powerful stuff.