How to Promote Yourself with Powerful Peer Support

Shatter the Glass Ceiling Together with Lean In Circles

I sat across the table from the man who would determine my future. It was now or never.

My palms sweaty and my heart racing, I began to list all my achievements from the past three years. Finally, the words, burning on my tongue since the moment I walked in the room, slipped out and formed the sentence, “I’d like a promotion.”

It’s no secret that women aren’t promoted as effortlessly as their male counterparts. A study by LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Co. reveals that women are underrepresented at every level of companies. And this disparity widens at the vice president and C-Suite levels.

Many women in the study agreed that sponsorship from senior level staff was extremely important when determining promotions in their organizations.

In my own experience, I find this to be true. Having allies on my senior leadership team provided me with opportunities that many women in my organization did not have.

In fact, sponsorship in my organization helped me land a high-profile position at a competing organization, where I was fortunate enough to have a seat at the Executive table.

But sponsorship isn’t guaranteed. And neither is our right to equal representation in leadership.

So what can we do when the odds are stacked against us? Stand together.

Lean In Circles

Lean In Circles are small groups of professional women who meet monthly to encourage and support each other in an atmosphere of confidentiality and trust.

The goal of the program is for all women to have the confidence and know-how to achieve their goals. This starts with an active and supportive community that encourages open sharing of stories and experiences intended to inspire, teach and connect us as women.

My Lean In Circle started with a group of eight women from my organization. We read the book together then met monthly to share our experiences as women struggling in a male-dominated field.

Circles are as unique as the individuals who start them, but they all share a common bond: the power of peer support. Women are asking for more and stepping outside their comfort zones, and women and men are talking openly about gender issues for the first time.

While I can’t guarantee you’ll achieve your wildest dream, I can promise that joining a Circle will give you the support and confidence to go for it—more than 80% members say they’re more likely to take on a new challenge or opportunity because of their Circle. That’s pretty powerful.

How do I start?

Follow these five steps to get the most out of your Lean In Circle:

1. Invite like-minded women (and even men!) to join your circle

Reading the book is not a prerequisite to joining. Think of a list of women in your organization or community who would engage in open dialogue and sharing. Think of women who have a story to tell. You can even share your own story to encourage people to join.

2. Choose a topic

LeanIn.Org has everything you need to run a successful Circle meeting. The website is jam-packed with educational resources, including videos and articles you can use to kick off the discussion at your meetings.

I also recommend allowing time at the beginning of each meeting for everyone to share something positive about their week, and time at the end of each meeting for someone to share a story or experience related to the chosen topic.

3. Choose a location

A Circle can be a monthly roundtable at your home, a brown-bag lunch series at work, or even a virtual meet-up with people from around the world. The important thing is that you get together regularly—and that everyone participates.

4. Set ground rules

Remind your members that Circles are a place for encouragement and confidentiality. You want to lift each other up and help each other achieve your goals. The goal is to create a peer support network that every member feels comfortable in.

There is a lot of research and science behind the power of peer support. By actively participating in a Lean In Circle, we could expect to see greater self-efficacy (or believing in ourselves), higher self-esteem, and ultimately, a better quality of life.

5. Celebrate successes

Take time at each meeting to share milestones and success stories with the group. This is a powerful way to maintain momentum and encourage others to take a chance.

Here are some of the successes my Circle celebrated:

  • 3 women asked for a promotion
  • 2 women asked for a raise
  • 3 women interviewed for new positions
  • 1 woman got more equality at home
  • 1 woman was recruited for a new position in a different organization
  • 2 women were given more responsibility in their current roles

I'm not saying that we all need to be CEOs and sit at the executive table. The message is challenging women to decide when to lean in and when to lean back – at work and at home.

One Action

At every Lean In Circle meeting, each member is challenged with One Action. Actions don’t always have to be as dramatic as asking your boss for a raise. Actions are intended to get you one step closer to where you want to go.

Here are some examples of actions your members can take:

  • ask your spouse to pick up the kids twice a week so you can go to the gym
  • make a list of your accomplishments from the last year
  • sign up for a public speaking course

The best way to achieve our goals is to take small, consistent actions. This is amplified by the power of peer support we receive in our Lean In Circle.

The Takeaway

Lean In Circles are powerful networks of like-minded women who come together around a common goal: greater equality. Every meeting ends with each woman making a commitment to herself to take action.

I’m challenging you to do the same.

Perhaps you will start your own Lean In Circle, perhaps you will take on a new volunteer role.

Maybe you’re ready to take the next step and ask for the raise or promotion that you deserve, or maybe you will exercise the power of assertive body language.

Maybe you’d just like your husband to help with the dishes every now and then.

It’s not only possible to have all of this – this power, these dreams – it is necessary.

It is necessary for women to sit at the table and have our voices heard.

It is necessary for women to have equal representation on leadership teams and boards of directors and government.

It is necessary to be paid equally for equal work.

As Sheryl Sandberg said, “the world needs you to change it.” It’s up to us to make it happen.

What small, consistent action will you take to change our world?