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“It’s not just a corporate movement, it’s a movement for anyone who wants to lean in to their life, their job, their whatever, and I think this group, thanks to Linda, is a really good representation of that,” Picchetti said.
The circles can serve whatever purpose the women want, Sandberg says. They’re modeled on microcredit circles and book clubs. “Book clubs with a purpose,” she said.
Even in the same occupations, women only earn 93 cents for every dollar men earn, and across the population, women earn 77 cents for every dollar men earn, partly because women tend to choose lower-paying professions. A big part of what explains both discrepancies and the lack of female leadership in the world’s biggest companies is that women too often fail to display self-confidence. The result, Sandberg said: “Women are just as much a part of gender bias.”
At the Hopper conference, Sandberg told her audience to ask themselves what they would do if they weren’t afraid, then do it. She admitted that even she occasionally struggles against the impulse to apologize for asserting herself. As she toured Minneapolis the night before, she said one of the main goals of the Lean In circles is to boost women’s confidence.
Toward the end of the visit to the circle at Brandt’s home, Carolyn Vreeman, also a Hennepin County employee, stood and quickly explained that what she’ll take away from the meeting is a commitment to engage more men in conversations about supporting the development of women leaders.
Brandt broke in, asking Vreeman to repeat herself, more slowly.
“I’m like super bossy, can you get up and do it one more time?” Brandt said.
Bossy is a word Sandberg says is too often applied to females, and rarely applied to males, so she seized the opportunity: “You’re not bossy!” she said. “You just have executive leadership skills.”
Sarah Borntrager, the high schooler who attended the second circle Sandberg visited, agrees that girls grow up with that bias. “We’re supposed to be seen as like meek, instead of assertive,” Borntrager said.
She said that attending a camp for Fire Explorers and seeing female leaders who weren’t afraid to stand up for themselves has helped her overcome that bias.
Sandberg thinks the work can start even earlier.
“The next time you see a little girl, and someone’s calling her bossy,” Sandberg said, “walk right up, big smile on your face and say, ‘That little girl’s not being bossy, that little girl has executive leadership skills.’ ”
Adam Belz • 612-673-4405 Twitter: @adambelz