This morning I got up at 5:30 am (argh!) because I had promised to help a friend start a running program. She needed the motivation to get out the door and it definitely was motivation for me as well. I started the day walking through a morning sun shower and popped on a new audio book another friend had recommended, "Playing Big: Find Your Voice, Your Mission, Your Message" by Tara Mohr. I hadn't even gotten through the introduction of the book and my reaction was, "Wow!”
Three years ago, I had attended a boot camp for women at Communitech in Kitchener, Waterloo. It was at this Google Entrepreneur Bootcamp for Women that I met my new running partner. In the boot camp, 24 women from varied backgrounds who had start-up business ideas attended 6 days of intense business and "pitch" training. Intense it was. We learned everything from writing lean business plans, networking, and pitching to venture capitalists. After the end of the boot camp, there were several of us in the group who wanted to stay in touch and to continue growing with each other.
At the same time that I had attended this boot camp, which is now called the Fierce Founders program, I had just finished listening to Sheryl Sandberg's book, "Lean In". The idea behind the concept of "Lean In" is "to empower women to achieve their ambitions." Towards the end of the book, the idea of local "Lean In Circles" was mentioned. You could go to the website leanin.org and find a local Lean In Circle to join. I did this and was surprised that there was no such group already formed in my area of the world. Being the person who "organizes the Brownies" I decided to apply to lead a new Lean In Chapter in my area.
It's now been almost three years that our local Lean In Circle was started and we have over 100 members. We meet once a month on rotating Friday and Saturday afternoons. Typically each month, we have 10-20 women attending our group and we discuss topics related to women's leadership. We've discussing mentorship, giving back to your community, executive presence, and much more. In the coming months, we'll discuss unconscious bias, the HeforShe program and one of our members is going to lead a workshop on ramping up your LinkedIn profile (with volunteer photographers for updated headshots).
Through leading my local Lean In Circle my own confidence has grown while working through the curriculum that Lean In provides. I've also made wonderful friends and been inspired by the phenomenally strong women in the group. Every month in our Circle I hear from women who have bachelor, masters and PhD degrees who have struggled in moving forward to some degree in their careers. We live in a high tech community, so I've heard stories have women in STEM dealing with the old boys’ or bro club way of thinking and we continue to discuss how to overcome challenges that women face at work.
I realized this morning that in my local Lean In Circle, I see what Tara Mohr describes in the introduction of Playing Big, "women with tremendous talent, ideas and aspiration often didn’t see their own brilliance". In the Google Entrepreneur boot camp, I met software engineers, nano-technologists and others. In that first group of 24 women, I believe I was 1 of 6 in the group who weren't wearing engineering rings. It was intimidating!
In my Lean In Circle I continued to meet brilliant and talented women who came to our group for support and a place to be heard. After running the group for two plus years as a volunteer, I was feeling burned out and fatigued. Was I making a difference? Did it matter if our group continued? Then the US election happened in November 2016. I felt that I couldn't give up. What we were discussing was important. Being there for each other was crucial. In my head I relaunch our Circle and put a call out for help.
Asking for help...who knew? I got 10 volunteers to help with the programming and leading of our monthly groups. We were together brainstorming and reaching further into our community for guest speakers. Our group no longer needed to rely on the ideas that I could bring to them. With a larger number of women organize our group, our reach is further and the depth of our collective knowledge is just so much deeper.
Over the next few weeks as I read through Playing Big (and run more with my friend), I'll be sharing the knowledge and insight that I gain with my local Lean In group and I'll share it here as well. Why? Because I know that sometimes I can play it small but when I share and discuss with other, I am encouraged to play big!
Sara Bingham is one of two Executive Directors with Women's March Canada. She is the author of "The Baby Signing Book" and the founder of WeeHands, a sign language program with instructors across North America. She is a frequent contributor to parenting magazines and baby-related professional websites.