Author rallies readers to turn words into action

By Zhang Yuchen ( China Daily ) Updated: 2013-10-29 09:47:34

When Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, wrote Lean In, she did not want the book to be just a book, or just another celebration of the world's top-achieving C-suite women.

"I wanted the book about the community," says Sandberg. Her goal was to form circles of professional women around the globe who would support, mentor and help each other.

While no one doubts her personal influence in the arenas of gender equality, and her own influence as a role model, the impact of the working circles, has surprised many observers.

Inspired by her best-selling book, the Lean In Circle has registered more than 270,000 people connecting to the organization since it started early this year. When its Beijing circle kicked off in June, the social network drew more than 100 professionals in the capital.

"Our goal is to make the conversation for women all around the world," Sandberg says.

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In Beijing, participants are reaching out to form new circles with themes from "leftover" women to bottleneck problems at work. Meetings are usually monthly.

A Lean In survey of around 500 working women in Beijing indicates that the top five challenges female professionals face are establishing a work-life balance, negotiating maternity leave, making sacrifices for the career of their other half, and being outnumbered by males in top positions.

"While we are working with our partners in companies to get them to mentor women, we want women to help them help themselves." Sandberg says.

"Through surveys in circles, will give us some space to share the different local issues women meet around the world."

By the Beijing launch, Lean In had built over 70,000 circles globally - many registered with the website, running in 15 countries.

Charlotte Han, a local organizer who met Sandberg last month, says the effort has "motivated me to get involved in meaningful and challenging work in which I can learn, take initiative, and be responsible for myself."

She also says taking part in volunteer work has helped her gain useful experience.

Taking advantage of the website and many social media platforms, Sandberg has also been eager to help educate.

"We are trying to get materials that only our senior women get access to and make them freely available to everyone."

Working with companies and negotiating with male CEOs, Sandberg's team has more than 220 partners - companies, non-profits and some government entities - trying to find the space for the idea to grow in a male word.

Some partners responded that they want to "lean in" and started circles even within their companies.

"Cisco's president, John Chambers, sent my book to his top 400 managers around the world and asked them to write a memo on what they think about the book."

Though many social circles die out, the Lean In conversation needs to keep going, says Sandberg.

"The truth is if it's valuable and people feel they get values on themselves, they'll stay involved."

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