Looking back it seems very ironic to have been so nervous to ask to leave work early for an event that focused on empowering women’s ambitions and encouraging equality for women, particularly within the workplace. Isn’t hindsight a wonderful thing?
I remember feeling very hesitant about whether I would actually attend the event or not when it had been first mentioned to me. Other than being hesitant about asking for time off, most of the hesitation was that I wouldn’t fit in. I was expecting a room full of powerful, successful women, an inspiring but intimidating prospect for the 21 year old intern at the very bottom of the career ladder. What did I know about encouraging and empowering the ambitions of others? What was my Lean In story? I’d heard of women experiencing things like “mansplaining” and sexism within the workplace and while I whole heartedly disagreed with both, it wasn’t something I had yet experienced (thankfully.) I hadn’t even graduated from intern to permanent employee and off the top of my head, didn't think I’d had a chance to Lean In yet.
As I sat on the DART from Dun Laoghaire on my way to the Lean In Ireland launch at Facebook HQ, the real fretting started. What would I say? How on earth would I brave any form of networking? Thankfully I had brought along a friend who I thought would be interested in Lean In too. Having a trusty sidekick helped cushion the nerves in the beginning but I quickly realised as I sat listening tentatively, stealing a quick glance around the room that I had absolutely nothing to be nervous about. There were women at the top of the ladder, women who had made a sudden jump to a different ladder and women terrified of (career) heights with no idea where to start. What we did have in common though was that we were all women with ambitions who wanted to support one another. The room truly radiated warmth, positivity and a sense of safety. At some point while the different speakers told their stories both in terms of their career and how they got involved in Lean In, any shyness and fears I had, faded away. It was a chance for women around the room to ask questions, admit to fears, announce ambitions and unintentionally inspire others. It was by far the most positive atmosphere I had experienced in a long time and what a breath of fresh air that was.
The networking section of the evening fast approached and admittedly, some of my previous nerves briefly returned. I say briefly because all it took was a few seconds of conversation with another woman to realise that everyone there wanted nothing but to help everyone else. The advice, offers and ideas I was gifted with by others was almost overwhelming and at a time when burn out was fast approaching, it was exactly inspirational boost I needed. Since getting involved in Lean In I find myself talking to strangers about it, recommending the book and the organisation to friends who have just graduated and passing it on to friends of friends of friends who I think it might help. I’ve found some of my favourite people to spend time with are the fellow Lean In women and I have to stop myself from portraying utter shock when others haven’t heard of Lean In. I will be the first to put my hands up and say that I underestimated how much one organisation could impact my life and I can safely say, I won’t be the last. Never underestimate the power of women supporting one another. Lesson learned.