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Solidarity, hospitality, “feeling at home”, the courage to assert our rights, the desire to create a world in which there are equal opportunities for everyone and everyone are constants that flow calmly but inexorably like the water of a stream in the stories of Laura, Giorgia , Maddalena and Paola. Without filters and without formalities they told me, through their personal experience, the wonderful revolution from below triggered by Lean In, a network of women united by the desire to promote a gender culture attentive to equality, both in personal and professional life. , in order to support and promote respect for female identity. Founded in California by Sheryl Kara Sandberg, current operating director of Facebook and author of the book of the same name, today it has nearly 500,000 members worldwide. Small groups of confrontation are the winning structure that moves this new modern feminism. Moments of listening and dialogue, creators of a slow but inexorable change that arises precisely from life-to-life exchanges, more attentive and profound than large media campaigns precisely because they are focused on enhancing every single person. Their enthusiasm that has as its lifeblood the extraordinary simplicity of being themselves, rediscovering and rediscovering the beauty of being together, of growing up by learning from each other and also including men as a fundamental and essential part of this great movement because it is only together that we can change the world.
How did you get to know Lean In and how has your life changed?
Laura Dell’Aquila: I live in Rome but as a child I traveled to Italy with my father who was an aviator in the air force. A change that was imposed and continuous at the time. Then in life I learned that you have to choose change, you have to embrace it and you have to go towards it and maybe direct it. Change is something we don’t have to be afraid of because it gives us great opportunities. At the age of 50 I started writing a blog to learn more about the world of social media. Looking for something inspiring to tell in the context of my passion which is female empowerment, in 2013 I came across the book “Lean In” by Sheryl Sandberg. I delved into it and found that she had done a TED talk a few years earlier about why women leaders are too few. When I read it, a sort of conversion took place. I became aware that feminism can be declined in a more modern way without taking anything away from the achievements of feminism of the 1970s and later. Sheryl in her book tells of a movement from below of self-help circles on the theme of female empowerment, a movement that was having a great impact and I felt that this model could also be brought back to Italy based on our local needs and sensitivities. . In 2014 we therefore founded the first club in Rome from which other clubs were born in other areas of Italy.
Giorgia Li Vigni: my approach was more pragmatic than spiritual. When I read Sheryl’s book in 2015, there was a change in my sensitivity to the issue of gender equality. At that moment I was experiencing a strong limitation and discrimination in the workplace with respect to the issue of leadership and therefore being recognized with an executive, managerial management role. I deal with digital communication and I have always found myself in a male environment. The Lean In book opened a world to me. I had met him thanks to a review in which he was defined as the manifesto of the new modern feminism. I was struck by the very pragmatic structure divided into chapters that correspond to concrete strategies and solid leaders for today’s activism for the cause of women. A couple of years after returning to Italy, I received the proposal to start an online club and I received it as a truly great honor and responsibility. I took it as a way to practice leadership where I was limited in the workplace.
Maddalena Commisso: I was one of the first with Laura to enter this reality after the creation of the first club. As often happens, it takes a hand of fate. I had just returned to Italy after some experiences abroad and I was a little upset. I didn’t know what to do with my life. Joining Lean In helped me to become aware of what I really wanted and to see the possibility of change in the moment I was living. Laura suggested that I give new life to a club in Florence that had been abandoned. So I accepted. An incredible journey has begun. The leadership role gave me a sense of the possibility of impact in a person’s life. Obama in his book said “You can’t think of changing the world if you don’t start with one person at a time”. I think there is a great deal of truth to all of this. And it is our strength. We work behind the spotlight but that’s what allows us to make a difference for a person. So I adopted a different point of view, I questioned the fact that what I thought was normal in reality maybe it wasn’t. I have always lived in this dynamic of prejudices deriving from patriarchal culture. Whenever I tried to speak, to express myself, I was interrupted or punished. This made me realize that it was not wrong to speak but it was the dynamic that made sure that my voice was locked in a lockable drawer. There are many girls, girls and women all over the world who have the same experience. Lean In therefore helped me to become aware of what was happening to me by giving me concrete tools to change my path.
Paola Zanet: I work in a bank that deals with the Italian third sector. I have a great passion for what I do and when my children arrived I was honest with my husband: I will not stay home from work, I am not this. Meeting Lean In was a great help. I am fortunate to be with a man with whom we share the same ideas. He changed diapers, prepared bottles and started working part time. I left in the morning and returned in the evening. When I showed up for work I felt I had to justify myself for being there. It is not easy to be proud of what you do without being ashamed to say it because they put the label of a career woman on you. And you ask yourself: why is it a negative meaning if a woman does it while a man does not? In those years at work I often found myself being the only woman during a meeting. You seem to have opened the wrong door but talking about this with other women who have found themselves in the same situation helps you tremendously. Lean In has allowed me to understand that everything starts with you. You are the first to believe that you are not in the wrong place. One of the mottos I like the most is: what would you do if you weren’t afraid? Now if I am the only woman I no longer have many problems and if, for example, I enter a meeting where I see women sitting on a corner with the PC on their knees, now I have the courage to stop the meeting and with a smile say: ” How about if we expand and we are all and all at the table? ”. Without Lean In I wouldn’t have had the momentum to do these things.
How do your meetings take place?
Giorgia: They are places of confrontation, of mutual help, places where you can learn from each other. A discussion guide is provided for each topic that is addressed, a structure of a meeting with the activities to be carried out. Then follows the passage of coaching from the exploration of a goal with complete exercises to the elaboration of an action plan. Each circle ends with a “One action” so we set ourselves the goal, from that moment to next month, to carry out a certain action. Then the experiences are told in the next meeting. Sometimes we gather all the circles and have meetings on specific issues with external personalities. I think some of our core points are being feminists for women who can’t be and seeing men as allies. The theme of future generations is also a cornerstone.
Paola: The beauty of Lean In is that it gives a lot of freedom. You can shape the material based on how the group is made and what is needed at that time. To give you an idea of concreteness, let’s pretend that you have just arrived in the club. The first thing is to get yourself a “connection card” in which you find a question like: “what is the thing you are proud of?” or “Tell us a big and a small goal you have achieved. If you had to give your younger self a piece of advice, which one would it be? ”. Starting a meeting in this way is different than saying I am a wife, mother, etc …
Are the reference materials you have contained in the book or is there more?
Sheryl in addition to writing a book has also started a project on gender equality structured and supported by the most important American universities such as Harvard, Berkeley, Standford. While in Italy you have always been dealt with in the sociological field and only recently in universities, in the USA the issues related to gender equality have been a topic studied at a transversal level for years. Sheryl has funded a number of research and studies that have helped her put together the truly resourceful, open source Lean In site to draw from. The site is in English and for some of our members it is a barrier so we were able to translate it and create one in Italian but we must make improvements in this by trying to adapt the Anglo-Saxon materials to our realities, each with its own specificity. What you realize at the end is that regardless of the translation of the contents and the diversity of the stories, the semantics are always the same. It is like speaking a single music, a single harmonic symphony. Another important tool is the opportunity to train in leadership. You don’t have to be the oldest or a manager. Whoever assumes this role is someone who has decided to step out of their comfort zone and who believes they have enough human material about themselves to spread it to other people.
What are the issues that you feel most important to address at this time?
Giorgia: The motto of the club I lead is “Be ambitious without apologizing” and this, in my opinion, is the center of what we need to change as women now, that is to acquire the right to ask for everything we deserve as human beings in society and therefore claim it, step forward (Lean In fact), demonstrate talents, carry out our needs in public, private, working life, without having to motivate what we do because ambition is not a bad thing. I have experienced a great personal change and this has helped me to identify the dream I have for my future and for that of society, and Sheryl explains it with a phrase “in the future there will be no female or male leaders, there will only be leader”. I hope, with what I do, to create a world in which today’s girls can have the same tools as children to realize themselves in order to create an inevitably more equitable world in which everyone can fully realize their life.
Are men also involved in your meetings?
Maddalena: It’s one of the possible models. We aim to include them and find a way to communicate this content to them too. I realize that there are basic issues that need to be reviewed in communication. Some think ours is a niche topic others see Lean In as a movement that can take away their rights. There is not enough data at the moment that can help us to understand the extent and effects of our experiences to those who do not live them directly: we must work on this and create adequate communication.
Laura: Female empowerment is a job we do together with men. The existence of barriers that I thought were systemic, such as thinking that the world is bad and that it does not allow women to make a career is true, but the barriers are also internal. For example, my son has always been used to waiting in front of the television while I set the table. It costs me nothing to put three plates but to change my habit I started asking him: “Will you help me put the plates on the table?” Including men will be new in our meetings and we will speak a different language but we can learn a lot from this exchange. Talking only between women can sometimes be limiting because then the conversation has to be placed in the real world.
Giorgia: One of the current activities we are doing are the 50 cards to fight stereotypes. This allows the men and women present to become aware that they exist and what they are. Men can support the female cause by becoming aware of these discriminations that are sometimes invisible and then acquire the tools to fight them. For example, in a meeting where a woman is interrupted frequently, a colleague or colleague may raise their hand and say “sorry but I want to hear what the colleague is saying and what has been interrupted”.
Paola: The stereotype is transversal. It is rooted but is present in both men and women. Maria Montessori said that if the girls have skirts and the boys have trousers it is obvious that the girls will have a harder time playing but on the other hand why do you scold a boy when she cries? So when the internal barriers that Laura was talking about come down in one person they start coming down for everyone. She thinks of a company where a young girl has no problems, raises her hand and says quietly that she could be the head of the office. It would be equally nice to see a young guy have the same momentum in front of an audience of more experienced seniors. Breaking down barriers allows talents to emerge.