Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In is Launching a New Program for Young Girls
For a decade, Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In has encouraged women to become leaders in the workplace. But the pipeline to leadership starts much earlier than a first job.
The organization announced last week that it will debut a program for girls ages 11 to 15. While this program isn’t the career-focused Lean In shrunk down for girls, it still aims to help girls become leaders, whether that’s in the workplace, in politics, or in their own communities. Lean In is known for its “circles,” or small groups for women’s networking and peer mentorship. The Lean In Girls program includes a curriculum of 15 one-hour sessions, with games and activities focused on building confidence.
The lessons from Lean In’s workplace expertise and research, however, still apply. “You have to start with telling girls about the biases,” Sandberg told me in an interview. “You need to say to your 13-year-old, ‘You’re probably speaking less than the boy next to you in class, and your teacher probably thinks you’re speaking more.’”
“Who wants to say to your daughter, ‘Listen, sweetie, when you get to the workforce, you’re going to sit next to some guy who’s going to interrupt you and get credit for your ideas’?” the former Meta COO adds. “But it’s only by telling our daughters the challenges they’re going to face that they can identify and counteract them.”
The program’s age range is inspired by research that shows confidence starts to decline for girls compared to boys around 11 years old—and never bounces back. Sandberg and LeanIn.org cofounder Rachel Thomas were also motivated by research that shows how girls have struggled with their mental health, especially throughout the pandemic. Over the past two years of a pilot program, girls have participated in the Lean In curriculum through organizations like the Girl Scouts and Girls Inc.
Lean In aims to expand the definition of leadership to make it seem less like a “thirst for power” to girls in this cohort and seem more inclusive and empathetic. By redefining leadership, they hope more girls will seek it out.
While the organization hopes that girls who participate in its program go on to lead the most influential institutions in the U.S.—contributing to Lean In’s original mission to get more women in positions of power—it also sees potential for more immediate change. “We hope they run for student government,” Sandberg says, “and we hope they speak their mind at their dinner tables with their brothers.”