#LeanInBristol listening to Kate Grey, Sept 2017

Lean in circle: a supportive network for professional women who want to achieve their goals

When I first read Lean in by Sheryl Sandberg in January 2015, I couldn’t believe how unaware I had been until that point about the barriers that block women from progressing in the workplace or in any other political or social institution. I had experienced myself some sexist comments at work but thought it was due to be working in a male dominated industry. I had also made career choices based on the future children I was planning to have one day but never realised I was unconsciously but voluntarily slowing my career progression down. Reading Lean in highlighted this for me: both society and women themselves are responsible for putting these barriers up and for not questioning them. Since that moment, bringing awareness on unconscious bias, building more inclusive cultures and supporting individuals in achieving their personal and professional goals, has become my new purpose. This is why, on top of becoming a Diversity and Inclusion consultant, I have decided to create a Lean in circle in Bristol, where I live.

As described on Leanincircles.org, “Lean In Circles are small groups who meet regularly to learn and grow together, and they’re changing lives. Women are asking for more, stepping outside their comfort zones, and leaning in.” There are currently over 33 000 circles in 150 countries and these numbers are growing every day. Some circles gather women working in the same industry, company or area of expertise. I wanted my circle to be welcoming any type of professional women, from entrepreneurs, teachers and nurses to women working in the corporate world. I wanted the Bristol circle to be diverse and inclusive. The circle got created in May 2017 and has met once a month since.

We used the first session to set up goals for the next six months and we came up with these three:
1. Build our CONFIDENCE / ASSERTIVENESS and TAKE RISKS
2. Learn how to INFLUENCE / ENGAGE / navigate through the POLITICS
3. Be better equipped to FOCUS our ENERGY on what matters to us, SAY NO, make the RIGHT DECISIONS and put ourselves FIRST

After that, each session was built around one of the goals and would be structured in a similar way: a connexion activity to get to know each other better, some exercises to develop a particular skill, a guest speaker to share their story and inspire us and an opportunity for networking. This is how we looked at our talents, we built our individual vision board, we practiced public speaking using drama exercises and we shared best practices on how to build resilience. We had the chance to listen to amazing speakers, including Kate Grey a British Paralympics swimmer who shared her story on resilience and how to transform failure into opportunity. Over the last five months, the circle has grown from 12 to about 30 members and keeps on growing each time we meet.

#LeanInBristol in September 2017

Overall, the circle is perceived by participants as a great support network that can help them to achieve their biggest ambitions thanks to other members inspiring them or coaching them. I remember particularly one session when we went around the circle to give updates from last time we met and five members had resigned and moved on to creating their own business or to accepting a position in another organisation. They all said they found the strength in seeing others doing it: “if she can do it, I can too!” This really proved me that the circle was going in the right direction, not because the aim is to have everyone resigning — can you imagine? — but because these women had finally found the courage to take action on what they really wanted for their career and their lives.

Lucky enough, only two months after creating the circle we got invited into London to meet with Sheryl Sandberg in person and listen to her presenting her new book, Option B, which talks about building resilience and facing adversity. This was a truly inspirational moment for us and definitely a tick for our bucket list!

Meeting Sheryl Sandberg in London, June 2017

I think that having a circle dedicated to women is important because it is quite rare to find a space in the workplace where women can share about their experiences with other women; and the more women support each other, the easier it gets for them to lean in or even take the lead. However, I do also think that it is crucial to get men involved in the conversation as society will only evolve if we build the future together. And rather than focusing on our differences, I would be an advocate for thinking on how we can build a more inclusive society, where people can be themselves and valued for who they are while feeling that they belong to a team or a community. This is a conversation that Sheryl Sandberg has started with her Lean in Together movement where men and women are invited to join and this is only the beginning of that journey. Exciting times ahead!

Click here to read about one #LeanInBristol participant’s experience.

If you are in Bristol and want to join the circle, click here.