three women's profiles in a lean-in circle

What Are Lean In Circles, And How Can I Join One?

6 min read

In 2013, Sheryl Sandberg, the Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, ignited a global conversation about women’s ambitions and career progression with her groundbreaking book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. Sandberg’s “Lean In” concept challenges women to embrace their professional and personal ambitions, confronting the societal and self-imposed barriers that often hold them back. Born from this movement, Lean In Circles were created as spaces where women can come together to offer each other support, guidance, and encouragement. These circles serve as intimate peer groups that not only foster personal and professional growth but also embody the spirit of collective empowerment and solidarity. Through shared experiences and aspirations, Lean In Circles aim to inspire women to lean into their ambitions with confidence and courage. Read on to learn more about what they are and how you can join one.

How Lean In Circles Got Their Start

“Lean In” circles are small peer groups that foster a space for women to support each other in their personal and professional growth. The concept originates from the book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg, who was the COO of Facebook. Javier Olivan recently followed Sandberg as Meta’s new COO. In her book, Sandberg discusses the challenges women face in the workplace and encourages them to “lean in” to their careers and ambitions, rather than hold back due to societal or self-imposed barriers.

The concept of “Lean In” circles was developed as part of the Lean In organization, which was founded by Sheryl Sandberg alongside the release of her book. While the book inspired the formation and the ethos behind these circles, the structured initiative to create and support Lean In circles as formal groups was an organized effort by the Lean In Foundation, established by Sandberg.

About the Mission of LeanIn.Org

The Lean In organization, also known as LeanIn.Org, facilitates the creation and operation of these circles by providing resources, guidance, and a platform for women to connect and start their own circles. This means that while the concept and inspiration came directly from Sandberg’s work and ideas, the implementation and widespread adoption of Lean In circles were made possible through a collective effort supported by the organization she founded. The organization’s goal was to create a community where women could come together to support each other in striving for their professional development goals, which naturally extended the book’s message into a tangible, community-driven initiative.

Lean In circles are designed to provide a supportive environment where successful women can discuss these challenges, share advice, set goals, and help each other achieve them. These small groups can be found around the world and may focus on various themes or industries, but all share the common goal of empowering women to achieve their ambitions. Circle members typically meet regularly and can vary in size, though they are often kept small to facilitate meaningful discussions and connections. They operate under the belief that together, professional women can learn from each other, gain confidence, and navigate the workplace more effectively.

The Structure of Lean-In Circles

Lean In Circles are structured to facilitate open dialogue and mutual support among circle members, operating on the principle of peer mentorship and collaboration. Typically, these circles are small, comprising 8 to 12 members, which allows for intimate discussions and ensures that every voice can be heard.

This size is intentional, promoting a sense of safety and trust among participants, which is crucial for sharing personal experiences and challenges. The composition of a circle can vary widely, encompassing a diverse range of professions, backgrounds, and life stages, yet all members share a common goal of personal and professional development.

The Role of Circle Leaders and Other Women in the Group

A facilitator (also called the “circle leader”) plays a pivotal role in guiding Lean In Circles, setting the agenda, and ensuring that discussions remain productive and inclusive. While facilitators are not necessarily experts, they are tasked with keeping the group focused and fostering an environment where all members feel encouraged to participate.

Members, on the other hand, are expected to engage actively, contributing their experiences, advice, and peer support. This reciprocal exchange of insights and encouragement is the foundation upon which Lean In Circles are built.

Activities and Discussions in a Lean-In Circle

The activities and discussions within the circles program are varied, ranging from structured workshops and speaker sessions to informal discussions about career challenges, work-life balance, and personal growth. Topics might include strategies for effective leadership, overcoming imposter syndrome, and pursuing opportunities outside your comfort zone, among others.

For example, when a circle meets in honor of Equal Pay Day, they might discuss strategies negotiating for promotions or raises in order to close the gender pay gap. A guest speaker might present during one meeting, sharing personal stories from her life. During the next meeting, a member might host a workshop so more women can learn new skills.

Some circles may also set collective or individual goals, working together to achieve them and holding each other accountable. This blend of activities ensures that members not only receive support and advice but also practical tools and strategies to apply in their professional and personal lives. The dynamic nature of these discussions and activities keeps the circle vibrant and responsive to the members’ evolving needs.

Answering Your FAQ’s About Lean-In Circles

What Are the Benefits of Joining a Lean In Circle?

Joining a Lean In Circle offers numerous benefits that contribute to both personal growth and professional development. These circles provide a unique platform for empowerment, allowing members to explore their capabilities, confront self-imposed limits, and cultivate confidence in their personal and professional lives. The support and encouragement from circle members foster a safe environment for risk-taking and growth, essential for personal evolution and positive change.

Professionally, Lean In Circles act as powerful networking hubs, connecting members with a broader community of professionals across various industries. This exposure can lead to mentorship opportunities, career advice, and even job opportunities that may not have been accessible otherwise. The professional development aspect is further enhanced by workshops, speaker events, and discussions focused on building skills such as leadership, communication, and negotiation.

Support and mentorship are core components of the Lean In Circle experience. The structure of these groups ensures that members can seek advice and feedback on professional challenges in a supportive setting. The mentorship can be formal, with more experienced members guiding others, or informal, through peer-to-peer advice and sharing of experiences.

Where Can I Find and How Do I Join a Lean In Circle?

Locating a Lean In Circle can be done through the Lean In website, which offers a directory of circles by location, including those that meet online, making them accessible regardless of geographic constraints. When choosing the right circle, potential members should consider factors such as industry relevance, shared interests, and common goals to ensure alignment with their personal and professional development objectives.

The process of joining a circle typically involves reaching out to the circle leader or applying through an online platform. Prospective members should expect an introduction meeting to learn more about the circle’s norms and expectations. For those interested in starting their own Lean In Circle, resources are readily available on the Lean In website, providing guidance on setting up, recruiting members, and structuring meetings.

How Can I Maximize My Experience in a Lean In Circle?

To maximize the experience within a Lean In Circle, active participation is key. Members should come prepared to share their experiences, seek feedback, and contribute to discussions. Setting clear personal and professional goals, with the circle’s support, can help direct efforts and track progress over time.

Contributing to the circle’s success involves more than just attending meetings; it’s about engaging with fellow members, offering support, and taking on responsibilities that help the circle run smoothly. Whether it’s facilitating a session, sharing expertise, or simply offering encouragement, every member has a role to play in fostering a supportive and empowering environment.

By focusing on these aspects, members can ensure a rewarding experience in their Lean In Circle, marked by personal growth, professional advancement, and meaningful connections.

Final Thoughts on Participating in a Lean-In Circle

If you are on the fence about joining or starting a Lean In Circle, we hope this article will nudge you towards taking that transformative step. Should you join a Lean in Circle in the future, we encourage you to engage with the broader Lean In community through social media, attending events, and exploring other platforms, as these can amplify your experience.