Blog post by Jess Erickson, Founder of Berlin Geekettes
Today I opened up WSJ and read an article on Chief Executive Marissa Mayer’s performance at Yahoo this past year. Share price has risen to more than 70%, 17 tech startups were acquired and morale has improved in both the engineering and product departments. Mayer joined Yahoo when she was 6 months pregnant. Conclusion? Marissa is a fearless leader. A woman who is willing to take big risks. A woman who chose to ignore rude questions and accusatory remarks about shortchanging both her job and child. It’s no surprise to me that Yahoo now offers up to 16 weeks paid leave for new mothers (doubling that of the past), and an 8-week sabbatical for every five years of tenure with the company. It’s small changes like this that can have a long lasting impact for future families and working moms. However, despite Mayer’s ability to make things better for her employees, her quick return to work after the birth of her child struck a chord of discontent among many. Which leads me to the discussion that takes place in Sheryl Sandberg’s new book Lean In.
Back in late May I organized Berlin’s first Lean In Circle via the Berlin Geekettes community. Together, 100 women and 4 men of the tech startup hub joined a lively discussion to better understand the characteristics and behaviors we live with — as well as addressing uncomfortable issues that both men and women encounter in their daily lives. One by one we peeled back the layers and exposed the impact that our behaviors have had on women in the past and present. After I summarized each chapter, we split off into mini groups and asked each other important questions such as:
- What would you do if you weren’t afraid?
- What can companies do to be more supportive to mothers/fathers?
- Have you ever been a victim of gender bias? If so, how did you overcome that challenge?
- Do you split tasks evenly with your partner?
- Share one example from the past month where you were authoritative or approachable? What happened?
After our first two workshops, many came to the conclusion that we’ve become complacent and often times silent when addressing the challenges we have in the workplace. Something needed to change on a fundamental level. So we started to take action. Both ladies and gentlemen stood up and shared their thoughts before the entire group. Some agreeing and some disagreeing with the discussion points brought up. This was quite an exciting moment. My favorite quote from Lean In: “Shutting down discussion is self-defeating and impedes progress. We need to talk and listen and debate and refute and instruct and learn and evolve."
In the end, we came up with a general consensus, and a list of solutions that will be added to our online Lean In Circle. For the privacy and protection of our discussions, they will forever remain private within the group, but we are opening up our circle. If you would like to be part of future Berlin Geekettes Lean In Circles, please do not hesitate to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
3 things that I’ve concluded after reading Lean In and organizing this workshop:
1) The book is for all genders and for all ages. We had entrepreneurial mothers , daughters (as young as 16), and young gentlemen attend. All had their own unique perspectives and really added a lot of value to the discussion.
2) We’ve started a conversation in a room that will lead to change in the workplace, in companies and in schools throughout Berlin. Many participants are already looking at gender differently and reaching out to one another to form deeper discussions within new Lean In Circles. I’m thrilled that the conversation has begun, as it’s the first step towards change.
3) A new outlook for the future has been made. I believe all the women participating have realized its up to them to shape their own destinies. But what this Lean In workshop has provided is a platform for women to come together and empower one another which will allow us to reach our goals faster and inspire the next generation to follow. I firmly believe that the women of Berlin Geekettes are ready to Lean In.
Many thanks to Sheryl Sandberg and her team at Lean In. If you ever come back to Germany, you know where to find us.