Inspired by Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg’s book “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead” and its global organization Lean In, a group of women in China have set up “Lean in Beijing” to helps Chinese women pursue their dreams and ambitions.
The Lean In organization encourages women to form “circles” of six to 10 other women for shared growth and support. Currently, there are around 8,000 circles of women helping each other “lean in” around the world. Founded in June 2013, Lean In Beijing focuses on encouraging women to work together in China to achieve their goals though community, education and exchange.
Lean In Beijing holds monthly meetings and discussions where women share their stories and experiences related to workplace and life. One of the themes was “women in journalism,” which drew both young professionals and university students aspiring to enter the field.
The Beijing-based organization also makes use of the international Lean In library of free online lectures on topics such as leadership and communication, while at the same time they seek to develop a library of localized, bilingual learning materials tailored to the specific challenges in China.
The group grown from more than 70 Chinese and foreign women at their first meeting in August to more than 120 women within a few months. They also share stories via social media. Their circle named “think tank” now has over 1,000 WeChat followers.
Last year, Lean In Beijing carried out a survey to determine the most pressing career, family and personal issues facing Chinese women. According to the survey, a challenge facing a lot of young Chinese women is the social and family pressure to get married young. Despite the fast economic progress in the modern world, traditional values that hold women should put family first before career are still quite strong. Women are not encouraged to pursue her own career and life goals. An overwhelming 91 percent of respondents had never heard of any organization dedicated to women’s professional development, which clearly validates Sheryl Sandberg’s belief that women lack support in this area.
Lean In Beijing member Charlotte Han was quoted during an interview with newspaper South China Morning Post:
Chinese girls are educated to be gentle, quiet and passive, to find a stable job and a suitable man, get married and settle down. Ambition isn’t considered a good thing for women. After reading the book, I want to take a proactive attitude to pursuing what I want and engage in meaningful and challenging work that helps me to learn and grow.
Another issue that a majority of women in China face is that they do not receive equal opportunities for advancement and pay in most cases as their male colleagues. In 2010, urban Chinese women earned 67 percent of what their male peers earned, and rural women earned 56 percent, according to a survey by the government-led All China Women’s Federation.
During a visit to China in 2013, Sandberg met several Lean In Beijing members on September 12. She wrote a statement on her Facebook page about the “unique” situation for women in China:
The fact that women could be seen as too educated to be desirable for marriage in a country with 24 million unmarried men shows that cultural norms about the balance of success within couples run deep.
When asked about the hope for women with Lean In Beijing, the co-founder Maggie Zhang said during an interview:
I hope our activities encourage more people to want to be themselves, unafraid of society‘s judgment, to find out what they really like, and to chase their dreams and goals, even after they become a mother or wife.