When an email lands in your inbox inviting you to join one of the most powerful women in the world at a private event in London, you don’t say no!
When the woman in question is Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and founder of Lean In you make sure that you find a way to be there.
As a founding member of Lean In - four of us met for coffee in late 2014 and the group was set up - I was invited to a Fireside Chat event with her at the British Library in London, hosted by the Belfast leader Nuala Murphy.
Since 2013, when I read her book Lean In to prepare for heading back to work after my first maternity leave, I’ve been a big fan of hers, so to actually be in her presence was really quite a big deal for me.
And the trip was certainly worth it as she had plenty of wisdom to impart. Here are 12 topics she covered and my take on them.
Lean in is all about equality – in the world and in some workplaces huge inequalities still exist. Sheryl believes that the best businesses are those that are diverse and encourage more women into leadership positions and that it truly does make a difference to the bottom line. Diversity is good news for everyone – we need a world where the people in leadership are making decisions which are reflective of those who they actually affect. And good people would prefer to work for companies which embrace equality.
Negative stereotypes still exist - everything from calling little girls bossy, to calling women aggressive in work situations – these labels don’t get used for boys or men exhibiting the same behaviour.
Lack of self-confidence is still an issue for women – women are generally too hard on themselves. Sheryl encourages women to find the power that we have and take it, because, she said, no-one else is going to hand it to you, but she did also add…..
Men have a responsibility to speak up when they see that something isn’t fair – if a man notices a woman is repeatedly being interrupted in a meeting he should say something! Say you’d like to hear her finish making her point. I’d say the same goes for anyone male or female who frequently interrupts.
Your career is a jungle-gym – rather than focusing on a one way upward career path, don’t be afraid of a change of direction. This may mean taking a pay cut for a few years but consider that an investment in yourself which could pay off later. If you’re 40, you probably still have another 30 years left to work so it makes sense to invest for the long term.
Strive towards being an equal partner at home - Even though women still do the majority of housework and childcare even though most work outside the home Sheryl stressed there were clear benefits for men who share in domestic chores. It’s no big surprise that it makes for fewer conflicts, lower divorce rates and happier children, so what is there to lose?
Surround yourself with people who are smarter than you - and don’t be afraid to hire them. It makes sense that we can all learn from each other.
Life is short – Two years ago Sheryl’s husband Dave Goldberg, CEO of SurveyMonkey, died very suddenly at the age of 47. She discussed how she has struggled hugely with getting on with life without him. She was clearly emotional when she speaking about how her husband’s death had changed her. It’s made her much more aware of the passing of time and she says she never complains about getting older anymore because, well, the alternative isn’t a great option either…
It’s ok to cry at work… Yes she admitted that she does and who could blame her after what she’s been through. We’re all human, sometimes life is tough.. In her new book, Option B, written after her husband’s death, she admitted that sometimes leaning in is hard. She said that some days she just couldn’t think clearly. “Lean In?” she asked “I could barely stand up”. There’s no doubt that her husband’s death has given her a new perspective on life.
Support other women - I saw Sheryl demonstrate this first hand when a member of our group shared her story about trying to overcome issues which affected her when she was growing up, so that she could help troubled young people. Sheryl was genuinely moved by her experience, showed a lot of empathy and was so encouraging in her response.
You can build resilience – it’s a muscle which can be trained rather than something you’re born with. You can come through adversity and be even stronger. Apparently there’s a psychological term for this – post traumatic growth.
Celebrate small victories – when you’re really struggling you should write down three things you did well that day. This could be as simple as making a good cup of tea! This technique has helped many people develop a more positive and grateful mind-set and stopped them being so hard on themselves.
Having Sheryl speak to us – we had about 50 Lean In Belfast members at the British Library - was an amazing experience resulting in all of us leaving feeling inspired, encouraged and determined to keep building our own resilience no matter how tough life gets.
Lean In Belfast has provided some fantastic opportunities for local women to network and receive support and encouragement from their peers, with many more to come. So if you fancy getting involved go to http://leanincircles.org/chapter/lean-in--stand-up--belfast