Lets “Lean In Together” for Higher Education
Sheryl Sandberg partnered with the NBA and WNBA last week to launch a social awareness campaign called “Lean In Together,” a movement pushing for men to do their part in supporting women’s equality in the workplace and at home. The initiative comes after the release of her best-selling book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. Like many, I have been fascinated by the conversations that this initiative has started. More so, after reading her book I have been thinking about what it means to me and to the work that we do here at The Campaign for College Opportunity.
Back in 2004 before “lean in” was a national phenomenon, I experienced my own moment of courage. The Campaign for College Opportunity was just being launched and hiring its first Executive Director. Up until then I had advised local policymakers and managed organizational partnerships, worked on political campaigns, supervised a small team, and worked simultaneously with city bureaucrats and community activists. I did not have experience running a nonprofit, raising millions of dollars, or influencing state policy – three key areas undoubtedly important for this role. According to Lean In, one Hewlett-Packard internal report said that women only apply for open jobs if they think they meet 100% of the criteria listed. Men apply if they think they meet 60% of the requirements. While I did not meet 100% or maybe even 60% of the criteria for the job I wanted, I did have an enormous passion for the mission of the Campaign, and I was confident that I was smart enough, resourceful enough and hard-working enough to be successful if they hired me. So I sent my resume in and on a bright and early spring morning I walked into an interview with the Campaign’s co-founders, Steve Weiner and David Wolf. When Steve first saw me, he later shared that he turned to David and said, “Well this interview is going to be short.” His first impression was that I was too young to have the experience they were looking for.
The interview was not short, in fact after another two intensive rounds I was one of three finalists for the job, but I didn’t get it. The Board wisely selected someone with more experience than me, Abdi Soltani. Abdi was interested enough in meeting me and soon after he offered me the position of Associate Director which I was happy to accept. The rest is history. I was lucky to learn and grow under Abdi’s leadership and four years later upon his departure, the Board did offer me the opportunity to become Executive Director. Abdi “leaned in together” to help grow and mentor me as a leader. Steve, David and the rest of the Board, including the amazing Bill Hauck (former President of the California Business Roundtable), also made sure to challenge and mentor me. They allowed me the opportunity to aim high and embrace the risk and challenges that came with this position. I found in them partners and mentors – men who first and foremost cared about my growth and success as a professional and how that would translate into success for our mission as an organization. They leaned in for me as we all leaned together for California students pursing their college dreams.
I didn’t know I was “learning in” as Sheryl Sandberg called it until I read her book. Today I can proudly say that the challenges and risks that I take, my moments of leaning in, have been difficult and scary, taking me out of my comfort zone as a professional, as a mother, and as a leader. But in each of those instances, the payoff has been worth it. It’s allowed me to continue to ask myself, “If you weren’t afraid, what would you do?” and block out the many skeptical voices (sometimes reasonable ones) that say what we are trying to do is impossible.
But like Sheryl, I believe that we will all benefit by living in a more equal society where your gender, race, or income level doesn’t determine whether you go to college and graduate with a degree so that you can earn a decent living and have a profession you love. Where your talent is truly valued and the promise of the American Dream can still be a reality.
The Campaign for College Opportunity is solely focused on advancing college access and success in California by influencing state budget and policy solutions. It’s a huge undertaking that needs your support. Whether you are a student, a parent, a business leader, community activists or just another like-minded Californian who sees this as a chance to improve equality and strengthen our state.
Let’s #LeanInTogether for Higher Education. You can join by:
About the Author:Michele Siqueiros is the President of the Campaign for College Opportunity.
To read her complete bio, click here. Follow her on Twitter @MSCollegeOpp