Sheryl Sandberg is the Chief Operating Officer (COO) of Facebook and founder of Lean In. On Friday 23rd June, I was fortunate enough to attend the largest Fireside Chat with Sheryl Sandberg outside of the USA – the first in Europe - at London’s British Library where she was interviewed by Nuala Murphy, a tech entrepreneur and CEO of Moment Health and founder of Lean In Belfast and Lean In Ireland.
One of the aims of Lean in Belfast has been to bring Sheryl to Belfast - instead Sheryl brought Lean In Belfast to the centre stage of the European Lean In community as recognition of the impact that that the chapter has had over the last couple of years under the leadership of Nuala Murphy, and to inspire the other communities to achieve such greatness.
The event was for 250 members of Lean In Chapters across Ireland, UK and Europe, and I was among a large contingent of Lean In Belfast whom travelled to attend. I was very fortunately able to attend after being awarded a scholarship because the Lean In Belfast Leadership team sponsored and promoted me as a promising leader of the Women In Tech Belfast Lean In circle.
Sheryl started by talking about the inspiration for both the Lean In book, non-profit organisation, and movement which started four years ago. Sheryl noticed when she first started her career that whilst there were only men in positions above her, there were equal numbers of men and women to the side and believed that as people progressed, women would take their ‘rightful positions as leaders’. But that didn’t happen. As Sheryl didn’t believe that she was the right woman to talk about this as she wasn’t senior enough, she approached women CEOs to take up the mantle. But no-one wanted to speak out as they were worried that as business women, if they spoke out as a woman, they would no longer be taken seriously. Sheryl was soon after invited to give a Ted Talk and decided to use that platform to talk about the lack of women leaders, rather than social media – and a movement was born.
‘We want a different world. We want a world that is equal. Where people are in leadership roles who are women, who are of different races, where the people at the top making decisions reflect the diversity of the world as it is, and that’s not the world we live in.’
Lean In was started 4 years ago with a mission of empowering women to achieve their ambitions. Lean In also focuses on race and underrepresented minorities – not just women – as they have also long been discriminated against, with the aim of changing those biases to create more diverse leaders. This is done in three ways.
The original goal was to create 1,000 circles worldwide. Today there are over 33,000 circles in 150 countries, with almost 100 new circles being created a week. Research shows that women feel more confident and accomplish more in groups, and via the peer support of these circles:
· 85% of people whom join a new circle will take on a new challenge
· 67% of people will reach for a new opportunity
· 50% of people will get through something hard in their life because their circle supports them.
2. Annual Campaigns
Lean In runs annual public awareness campaigns to issues critical to advancing women such as #banbossy – encouraging girls to lead - and #LeanInTogether – focussing on the different ways men and women can support women and equality. Last year, for International Women’s Day, US women were able to avail of a selection of 20% discounts to highlight the gender pay gap, and this initiative will be extended internationally in the future.
Leanin.org also offers a growing library of free resources to educate women and male allies.
Sheryl’s latest book, written with Adam Grant, is Option B (of which all event attendees got a copy), was inspired by the heart-breaking sudden loss of her husband, Dave Goldberg, two years ago. Sharing the experience with us, Sheryl was visibly emotional, and it was an incredible honour and privilege to be part of that moment.
Nuala Murphy: ‘You’re kinda normal’
Sheryl Sandberg: ‘We’re all kinda normal’
The book is all about building resilience and trying to change the conversation away from ‘How much resilience do you have?’ to ‘How much resilience can you build?’. Tips for doing this included:
· Cultivating self-compassion
We rarely say mean things to our friends, but our internal monologue often tells ourselves incredibly mean things.
· Collective resilience
Building strength through the support of others – such as through a Lean In circle. Often people think that seeking help and support is a weakness, but it is one of the best things that you can do to build strength of resilience.
· Improving self-confidence
Data shows that women underestimate their successes more than men do so Sheryl suggests keeping a notebook by your bed and each night, to note down three things that you have done well that day. The point is not to write down big successes (even if it’s a small as something as having made a great cup of tea) but to not focus on what you did wrong, or could have done better. The idea is to end the day on a positive so you wake up knowing that you can achieve great things.
‘I used to joke about getting old all the time, but I’ll never joke about it again – it’s a gift.’
· Finding joy
So often we fear the ageing process and limit ourselves in our minds about what we can do. Sheryl sees ageing as a gift – if you are getting old, then you are still alive. Sheryl’s husband would have turned 50 this year and she dearly wishes he was still here to become old. Happiness is to be found in life’s minute detail: within the ‘Forgettable Wednesdays’, not the big events.
Throughout the event, Sheryl shared much advice with the audience, as well as answering questions from the audience. The following points particularly spoke to me, as a woman from a family where no-one had a “career”, nor attended university, whom at the age of 32 left a job in the Financial Services industry to become unemployed to try and break into tech because I was (and am) fascinated by this industry. Just two months later, I started a software engineering apprenticeship at Civica Digital, and have since created the Women In Tech Belfast Lean In circle to encourage more women into the industry, and keep and elevate the ones already there.
· ‘Find great people’
The main thing you can do in your career - whether you are a junior member of staff just starting out, or hiring staff as the COO of Facebook – is surround yourself with great people. To be the best, surround yourself and learn with the best.
· Step backwards to move forward
If you want to change career, then you may have to take a step backwards from where you are currently, in order to move forwards into your new chosen area. And if it’s an industry you wish to work in for the next 30 years or so, then consider it an investment rather than a demotion.
· Leadership is from all levels
Upon taking up the mantle to talk about the lack of women leaders because no CEO would, she realised she didn’t need to be at the top to lead the conversation, and neither does anyone else. ‘The world never tires of good ideas, artfully expressed'. If you have a good idea that needs actioning, lead it from wherever, and whatever level, you are right now.
‘Men still run the world. And it’s not going too well.’
Sheryl was very frank in her thoughts about advancing equality. Men don’t want equality because it’s the right thing to do: the data shows that white men feel* discriminated against because of the conversation around equality. So it’s time to take a different approach. We need to play to male egos and convince them that being a male champion is good for them personally and their career - a man will do better if he engages in diversity and inclusion, because the business case is concrete. Why hire a man whom only plays well with 50% of the workforce? The man that is revered by all staff will rise. So if you’re a man whom is not bothered or convinced that diversity, inclusion, and equality is the good thing to do, then know that is the good and smart thing for you.
I know it sounds trite to some (including my cynical self!), but joining Lean In Belfast has sincerely been one of the most incredible and transformative things I’ve ever done. I always imagined “networking” to be akin to cold calling – disingenuous, uncomfortable, callous – and for women more senior and successful than me. But it’s actually just socialising, and I LOVE making new friend
s that I care for an want to help. Being surrounded by so many visibly driven, flawed, accomplished, and inspirational role models has been life changing. And these women are diverse: activists, community advocates, cancer and abuse survivors, parents, career switchers, sole traders, senior managers, CEOs, VCs – yet what they have in common is that they are all supportive of each other’s dreams.
I feel part of something tangibly important, and just being part of the network has grown my self-belief and confidence exponentially. I have put myself forward for opportunities that I would never have considered doing so before because of Lean In. I have been offered opportunities that would never have been offered to me without Lean In. And although I’m currently an apprentice – the lowest level one could be in any industry – I know I have the ability to lead the Women In Tech Belfast Lean In circle, with the support and mentoring from the Lean In Belfast Leadership team, and I am driven and excited to affect real positive change within this incredible industry.
If you wish to be part of the adventure, please come and join us!
There are a number of different circles locally for you to join – or better yet, start your own! You absolutely will not regret it.