My Lean In journey – the power of peer support

Feeling Lost

When I returned to work after the birth of my second child after a 15 month childcare leave (thanks Japan for your lack of daycare spaces), I was lost.

Whilst I returned at the same grade and pay scale, in effect, I’d had a demotion. I’d had the bright idea to hire a Director to support the hyper growth we expected due to several planned acquisitions across Asia. I still stand by this idea as the right thing to do for the business. However, I had no idea how much returning to an individual contributor role would effect my motivation and impact my identity at work.

Gone were the days of being the go to person on projects, the joy (and tears) of managing and motivating a team. I felt like a part of me was missing.

As I struggled with the logistics of two different day care locations, I was having deeper struggles with my own sense of purpose and values in regards to my career.

Inspiration strikes

It was at that time I read Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg (and if you still haven’t read it yet, get a copy now!).
There were so many inspiring ideas and most powerful to me was the idea of the Lean In Circle, a grass roots, peer to peer support network for professional development for women.

During a CEO sponsored lunch about our organisations need to increase female participation in our management team, I raised the idea of having a corporate Lean In Circle to my high-potential female colleagues.

Overcoming resistance

“Oh, we should probably wait until the official D&I programmes are established.”

“It sounds like a lot of work. I don’t know if I can commit got attend a meeting every month.”

I was so disappointed in these replies and they seemed to me symptomatic of the participation challenges faced in many organisations.

Creating your own path

Waiting for the official D&I programmes to be established? How about taking the initiative and driving your own change? If you want a seat at the table, you need to show that you can make things happen.

Corporate decision making can be slow (understatement!) and in the meantime, my life is passing, my career is going nowhere. Why on earth would you want to wait and give that power to someone else? Own your future and create the reality you want to see, please, ladies!

As for the meeting attendance, if you can’t commit two hours per month to personal development, then you are going to find it a very slow and painful process hauling yourself up that corporate ladder. We need to continually grow and develop ourselves. If not Lean In, then fine do something else! My colleagues had given clear feedback that the company was not developing them and yet as individuals they were not investing time and energy in taking charge of their own future.

Leaning In

So I set out on my own! With the CEO’s permission, I got access to one of our large meeting rooms and reached out to my network. That was in September 2014. The Lean In Tokyo Girls on Fire Circle is about to go into our third year. Our membership is fluid as people get transferred, have babies, get promoted with increased travel but some things are unchanging.

I look forward to every single meeting.

I leave energised, motivated and inspired.

I learn something new about myself every single meeting.

I have a group of cheerleaders in my corner who have no agenda other than seeing me be successful.

I have more accountability knowing that these women will ask me at the next meeting “So did you do what you said you were going to do?”

I’ve made some amazing new friends and I will always be grateful for their support.


Creating real change

Lean In runs so well due to very strict confidentiality so I can’t share details but it has been inspiring to see the members support each other through job changes, promotions, interviews, negotiations, pregnancy and relationships.

In July 2016, I launched a second Lean In Circle, Lean In Japan Entrepreneurs. Whilst we plan to meet online only I can already feel how committed the members are to each others success.

My advice to women who are stuck in a rut – Look for like minded women and start your own circle.

(Or Contact Me if you would like to join one of the circles I facilitate)

Stop waiting for someone else to tell you how to develop your career and take matters into your own hands. LeanIn will be a valuable tool for you to move your career forward.

Would love to hear your Lean In stories in the comments below!


Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead

Lean In Org – lots of great free resources to get your Circle started

Lean In Tokyo Girls on Fire

Lean In Japan Entrepreneurs





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