The Lean In organization, co-founded by CEO Rachel Thomas and former Meta COO Sheryl Sandberg, is on a mission to alter the prevalent culture that disempowers girls from an early age. Our society often implies that girls’ appearances matter more than their abilities, causing a significant decrease in girls’ confidence as they progress through school. Girls are continuously discouraged from leadership roles, with a third of girls admitting to avoiding leadership positions to avoid being labeled as “bossy.” By high school, 46% of girls believe they are not intelligent enough for their dream careers.
The traditional understanding of leadership, often associated with control and authority, doesn’t resonate with girls. They tend to identify with a collaborative, supportive, and societal improvement-focused leadership style. Recognizing this, Lean In is launching “Lean In Girls”, a leadership program crafted to help girls reject stereotypes and embrace their inherent leadership abilities.
Shaping the Future Female Leaders
In a 2022 report by Lean In and consulting firm McKinsey & Company, it was revealed that despite women making up 48% of entry-level jobs, they account for just 26% of C-suite roles. USA TODAY analysis also found that women are outnumbered five to one in senior leadership roles among the nation’s top 100 publicly traded companies.
The newly launched Lean In Girls program provides a free curriculum of 15 one-hour group sessions that educate girls and young teens on self-perception as leaders. The curriculum has been developed with the help of Stanford scholars and girl experts, focusing on nurturing inclusive leadership and promoting diversity.
Lean In Girls: Program Breakdown
• The program is specifically designed for girls aged 11 to 15.
• The curriculum is divided into four parts, which can be used separately or combined.
• Discussion prompts are flexible and can be tailored to fit each class.
• The primary aim of the program is to assure girls they are capable of leading and to encourage them to do so.
Fighting Against Gender Bias and Stereotypes
One of the key objectives of Lean In Girls is to openly discuss and fight against the gender bias and stereotypes that are rampant in our society. For example, sexism, over-sexualization, racism, and other forms of discrimination that girls face must be exposed and addressed. These unfair societal norms and attitudes not only diminish the abilities of girls but also form a toxic barrier to their growth.
To change this, Lean In Girls encourages active challenge of gender norms at home and in classrooms, starting from diversifying gendered toys and activities to checking the language we use to describe people.
Encouraging Positive Changes at Home and School
Lean In Girls urges parents, caregivers, teachers, coaches, mentors, and all influential figures in a girl’s life to adopt a more inclusive approach. When women assert themselves and establish boundaries, girls learn self-advocacy and develop courage. When men participate equally in household chores, girls understand the concepts of equality and partnership.
The Success of the Pilot Program
Before its official launch, Lean In Girls underwent a pilot program involving approximately 350 participants through KIPP Public Charter Schools, Girls Inc., and Girl Scouts of Northeast Texas. Feedback was overwhelmingly positive: all facilitators would recommend the program, 91% of girls reported they had learned something new about leadership, and 94% said they would recommend the program to a friend. The organization anticipates that the program will be implemented widely in middle schools, community programs, and after-school programs, thereby facilitating girls’ widespread exposure to these valuable leadership lessons.
Breaking Down Barriers
While the program’s launch represents an essential step forward in empowering girls, it also underscores the need for societal change. “Girl power” has become an important catchphrase but often fails to acknowledge the substantial obstacles girls continue to face, such as sexism, over-sexualization, and racial discrimination.
By getting real with girls about these barriers and equipping them with the necessary tools to challenge unfair treatment, “Lean In Girls” aims to shift these dynamics. It seeks to empower girls to reframe stereotypical messages, stop blaming themselves when they experience bias, and build the resilience needed to overcome adversity.
Proactive Role of the Community
The responsibility doesn’t lie with girls alone. Everyone around them – parents, caregivers, teachers, coaches, mentors – are called to action. We need to ensure we’re not inadvertently encouraging girls to be less assertive. For instance, are we stepping in when we hear a girl called “bossy” or a “know-it-all” for having a strong opinion? Are we correcting a boy who takes the lead in a group, or are we suggesting a girl should tone it down? Recognizing and challenging these subtle biases in our daily interactions is an important part of the solution.
Furthermore, we need to celebrate girls who demonstrate empathy in their leadership, including listening well or standing up for their friends. When we model the right behaviors and challenge gender norms, we create an environment where girls can envision themselves as leaders. As such, the “Lean In Girls” program represents not just a curriculum change but a broader societal shift in how we perceive and foster leadership in girls. It’s not just about what we say, but what we do that truly matters.