In Mexico, says marketing executive Ana Falcon, employers often assume that women like her, in their childbearing years, arent going to last too long in the job – that theyre going to quickly Lean Back, rather than Lean In.
They just think youre going to have kids and leave right away, says Falcon, 26.
And so, shes working to form a Lean In circle, or small empowerment group, in her home city of Monterrey. Meantime, shes also part of a virtual Lean In circle with women in other countries. They call it the Lonely Whale circle.
The name refers to a whale who feels no one can hear it, Falcon says. But we found each other. Its really helpful to compare strategies, to talk about handling pressure. The good thing is, no matter how old you are, no matter where you live, you can relate to women everywhere.
Its been nearly five months since Facebook COO Sheryl Sandbergs Lean In, a manifesto for working women, was published, shooting to the top of best-seller lists with its mix of practical advice, pep talks, research and amusing anecdotes from one of the most successful businesswomen in the world.
The book met its share of skepticism – including from people who hadnt had the chance to read it yet – but that clearly didnt hurt sales. The Lean In Foundation, which gets all the proceeds, recently announced that more than 1 million books have been sold in 11 languages, and it will be published in at least 19 more by the end of 2014.
On top of that, five months after the book urged women to form Lean In empowerment circles, some 7,000 of those circles have been formed, the foundation announced – in all 50 states and at least 50 countries. And thats only counting groups that have registered.
We believe thats only a fraction of the total number of circles, because many are forming without telling us, says Rachel Thomas, president of the foundation. Were thrilled.
And how about Sandberg, who started it all?
I think weve all been pleasantly surprised – its exceeded everyones expectations, the author said in a recent interview, speaking on the telephone from her California home while supervising her two young children and their cousins.
I wrote this book because I wanted to have a conversation, she said. The issue of ambition in women is complicated, in a way that it is not for men.
But what about the complaint that the book wasnt relevant to the average woman?
An undercurrent in the commentary was that Sandberg, a billionaire, was hardly the typical working mom.
Because I wrote it, a lot of people said this is only applicable to a woman of my resources, says Sandberg. Of course, a lot of the book was my story – I wrote it. But Lean In, she says, is about ANY ambition you have.
Are people getting the message? Well, listen, theres a lot more people to get to! Sandberg laughs.
Some of Sandbergs favorite Lean In success stories involve men – like the CEO who told her that hed never realized, until her book, how many women sat on the side of rooms during meetings, not at the table. Now its a rule – you sit at the table, she said he told her.
Falcon notes that even though Monterrey, in northeastern Mexico, is a large commercial center, there arent support networks for female businesswomen, like there are in Mexico City. She notes ruefully that a business journal she has just been reading – focused on young entrepreneurs – has no female voice in it.
Meanwhile, Falcon continues with her virtual group – along with Linda Brandt, who works in public health in Minneapolis. Brandt may hold a Lean In record: She now participates in four circles, two in person, and two electronically.
I have just found it a great way to network, says Brandt, 43. How cool, to talk to people in Mexico, for example! She says each group has a different flavor, but the common point is: a bit of feminism, and a bit of wanting to change ourselves in some way.