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‘Lean In’ at MIT

Institute hosts live broadcast of talk by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, who discusses how women can lead in the workplace.

On Oct. 28, more than 120 MIT students, faculty, and staff gathered for “Lean In Women of MIT”: a live broadcast of Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg, who called for college women across the world to “lean in” — advocate for themselves as business leaders and to think big.

Sandberg shared her story of success in a world where, she said, men still primarily run companies and the world. After her wildly popular 2010 Ted Talk “Why we have too few women leaders,” Sandberg wrote the bestseller “Lean In,” which centered on how women can achieve their goals. Her Lean In Foundation furthers the message in her book.

Viewing parties of Sandberg’s live broadcast took place on 150 college campuses worldwide — including MIT, where it was projected in a large lecture hall in the Stata Center and a smaller overflow room. The Institute’s event was kicked off by Tamara Menghi, associate director of employer relations and career programs at MIT’s Global Education and Career Development (GECD) center, and Christopher Capozzola, an associate professor of history, who spoke before Sandberg’s live broadcast.

Capozzola, who teaches a class on gender and the law in U.S. history, said that there are “challenges that stand between where we are in 2013 and a future world of gender equity in the workplace. MIT is a great place to tackle that question because this is the kind of place where we like to solve problems — and where we know that the toughest puzzles are not only the most important, but also the most fun to solve.”

After Sandberg’s broadcast, Edmund Bertschinger, a professor of physics and a community and equity officer, closed the event, saying, “Women are half the population and half the available talent pool. Tapping this talent more effectively is a great way to strengthen MIT.”

Working towards gender equity

Sandberg argues that although progress has been made for women in education — women now earn 57 percent of the undergraduate and 60 percent of graduate degrees in the United States — far few women are industry leaders. How do we change this?

Inequalities both in the home and workplace are deeply engrained at an institutional level, Sandberg said, but there are a few things individuals can do to make changes.

Have more confidence, for one. Sandberg said that men take sole credit for their successes, while women are more likely to attribute their success to luck, hard work, and help from others. Women are also more likely to feel like frauds, she argued. “Everyone feels like frauds,” she said. “Take a seat at the table anyway. Raise your hand anyway. You will gain more confidence and opportunities over time.”

Another way to initiate change is to defy stereotypes. From a young age, she said, little girls who show leadership qualities are called “bossy,” while boys are not — and these deeply engrained stereotypes stay with us as we grow up. “Because of these stereotypes,” Sandberg said, “we like men who are successful and powerful and dislike women who are successful and powerful. We can fix this today. We can reject the stereotype and lead. If enough women lead, we will be less surprised by leadership in females.”

Men, as well as women, can be instrumental in changing attitudes about gender and leadership in the workplace.

Lean in circles

Sandberg said she believes the current generation of college students has the power to bring greater equality to workplaces, leadership ranks, and homes. Her Lean In Organization offers free expert lectures and resources, and toolkits to create Lean In Circles, small groups that meet regularly to develop leadership skills and raise awareness of gender inequalities. “Sheryl Sandberg’s on-campus circles can help us,” Bertschinger said.

Sandberg said the best circles consist of eight to 12 people, meet about once a month, and educate members and allow for exploration.

Why do circles work? Sandberg explained, “People are more creative, accomplished, and effective when they work together. Circles are not only about learning more, but also about achieving more. Being challenged. Learning and support.” Because individuals in a circle mentor each other, everyone can lead and everyone can learn, she said.

If you missed MIT’s live broadcast event — including her discussion of Lean In Circles — you can listen to a recording of Sandberg’s talk.

There are other resources on campus as well: The GECD can help both female and male students develop leadership skills, learn how to negotiate more effectively, and advocate for themselves in the workplace. Make an appointment with a career counselor today.

“Lean In Women of MIT” was sponsored by the GECD, MIT Women’s and Gender Studies, Graduate Women at MIT, Society of Women Engineers, MIT Women’s League, Biogen Idec Women’s Innovation Network, and Bridgewater Associates.

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