In 1969, a feminist group called the Redstockings published a manifesto on women’s liberation. In it, they emphasized the importance of women coming together and discussing the particular obstacles they faced on account of their gender. They called this process “female consciousness-raising,” and considered it essential to the pursuit of gender equality. “It is the only method,” they insisted, “by which we can ensure that our program for liberation is based on the concrete realities of our lives.”
Following the launch of Leanin.org, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg delivered a similar message about support networks to today’s college students. She began by emphasizing how “men still run the world”: They continue to hold the highest leadership positions “in almost every industry, in almost every government, in almost every country.” If young people today hope to become “the generation that brings the promise of equality to fruition,” Sandberg contends they will need to support and encourage one another. Sandberg hopes that a new program launched by Leanin.org called Lean In on Campus will encourage young people, especially women, to form the support networks necessary for them to succeed.
Sandberg and her colleague Tessa Lyons launched Lean In on Campus before an audience of 300 students from San Jose State, UC Berkeley, and Stanford. Thousands of young people from all over the world tuned in to the presentation online via Livestream.
The founding education partner for Leanin.org, the Clayman Institute is thrilled that its educational modules are being used by college students nationwide, thanks to the efforts of Lean In on campus.
For Sandberg, a conversation with her four-year-old daughter drove home the importance of closing the female leadership gap. After singing a song celebrating President’s Day, her daughter asked her a simple question: “Mommy, why are they all boys?” The answer to her daughter’s question, Sandberg maintains, has a lot to do with cultural ideals of what it means to be male and female.
“All over the world, no matter how different our cultures are, we believe that men should be assertive and aggressive — (that they should) speak-out and decide things,” she said during the live-streamed event. “All over the world, we believe that women should give to others, be communal, and speak when spoken to.”
In order to “lean in and change this,” Sandberg suggests that women have more confidence in themselves and aim high in their pursuit of professional goals. Most importantly, they should educate and support one another.
Sandberg and Lyons consider support networks—what they call “Circles”—as a crucial part of fostering female ambition. Circles are small peer groups that meet regularly to learn and share together using materials provided by Leanin.org. Education modules from the Clayman Institute’s successful Voice & Influence program and, likewise, from advisor and entrepreneur Gina Bianchini's Mightybell software fuel the Circle meetings and help extend the impact of online education overall. Since March of 2013, LeanIn.org has already helped launch 10,000 circles all over the world. Sandberg and Lyons are eager to expand their program to college campuses.
Sandberg believes young people can achieve gender equality “circle by circle, campus by campus, university by university.” Lyons, a recent college graduate herself, shares in this resolve. “If we’re going to change the trajectory, change is going to start with us in this generation and it’s going to start now,” she said.
Judging by the hundreds of campus circles already formed within a week of the programs launch, Leanin.org seems to be onto something. A millennial wave of “consciousness-raising” may well be upon us.