Inspired by Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg’s book “Lean In” and the associated campaign, a group of six Yale students are launching a project called “Lean In at Yale” to empower each other and fellow students.
Starting this week, the project — led by Caroline Smith ’14, Nancy Xia ’15, Hannia Zia ’16, Anna Sophia Young ’17, Nicole Ng ’17 and Hailey Winston ’17 — will take the form of weekly “circles” in which organizers lead small group discussions in pairs about leadership and feminism. Often, circle discussions will incorporate activities from Sandberg’s Lean In Foundation’s curriculum.
Smith’s motivation to spearhead Lean In at Yale, she said, was her decision to pursue a career in the military — a choice that pushed her to consider questions about her gender.
“Being female has never stopped me from climbing higher than the boys in gym class or running for class councils,” she said. “My goal for Lean In is to dive into new material that will bring me closer to becoming the platoon leader that I dream of becoming.”
Zia, another organizer, said her Pakistani upbringing made her interested in women’s rights. Zia’s internship at Facebook this past summer gave her a chance to meet Sheryl Sandberg and connect with women at Sandberg’s foundation.
The main goal of the Lean In Foundation — and of Lean In at Yale — is to foster a community of discussion, Zia said, as Yale students are ambitious and should do their best to support each other in achieving goals.
Young said the organizers hope men will attend meetings to educate themselves on how they can help their female peers search for their own voices.
Lean In at Yale’s circle groups will include other members of the Yale community. The organizers have reached out to a small group of faculty members and invited them to attend some circles, and they are looking for speakers to join as well, Young said.
“Circle groups will focus on developing certain skills,” Zia added. “We want more women in leadership positions in the future, and one of the steps is acknowledging what is holding us back and tackling those issues together.”
As the new project takes off, student interest and awareness on campus is growing rapidly.
Amey Mahajan ’17 said he has heard about the project from friends, though he would not personally be interested in attending the weekly meetings. Women at Yale are especially underrepresented in his science and mathematics classes, he said, and Lean In at Yale seems like an effective approach towards encouraging equal leadership for the future.
Danielle Stamer ’17 has not heard about the circle groups, but said she would possibly be interested in attending.
“It’s great to share ideas and experiences with other women about issues,” she said.
According Brea Baker ’16, women at Yale have already provided plenty of support for other women at Yale. Her suitemate Karleh Wilson ’16 created a Yale Facebook group “Yale Feminists” as a forum for women to share ideas and publicize events.
“I personally have never felt as if I was lacking support,” said Baker, pointing to women in leadership positions at Yale and communities within sororities as examples of encouraging female groups on campus. “There can never be too much support though, and I’m sure many women would appreciate another outlet.”
The Lean In at Yale circle groups will meet weekly on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays at 8 p.m. Participants choose one of the three sessions to attend each week.