Quite possibly the most unsettling thing about the Lean In is co-opting the term "circle." Why am I so triggered? Because there has been a long standing sector of the women's movement that believes circle leadership could very well be the very key to solving most of the world's problems. And the numbers who believe this are exponentially growing. This despite a concerted effort on the part of some enterprising people and companies like Ms. Sandberg and Google to try to brand this word, which many, many women in the global circle movement consider a serious and unfortunate turn of events. Circle is fast becoming a homogenized buzz word. In contexts such as Lean In, it has been stripped of all its rich and relevant meaning and context. This in contrast to my colleagues in the global women's movement who have used circle principles in peace-building efforts at the United Nations and to help empower oppressed women in third world countries for over 28 years. Yes, we take circle leadership very, very seriously. And this is because in a world rife with war, injustice, and acrimony, circles offer one of the few real and practical alternatives.
Circles go back to ancient times. Our best teachers of circle technology are the many indigenous tribes who have never abandoned circle leadership for the top-down hierarchical model. Egalitarian circles are the first and purest form of democracy. They ensure outcomes that are best for all, not those which arise from individual self-interest or win:lose intentions. Lean In’s interpretation of a circle is watered down and distorted. It is not possible to pick and choose elements of circle principles and to mix and match them with top-down hierarchical methods. For example, contrary to Lean In’s approach, there is no place in a true circle for the sole expert from outside who lectures to the group. This is the absolute antithesis of a circle. In a circle all are leaders, and all share wisdom and experience. The core learning comes from women sharing their insights and experiences to arrive at a higher order of collective wisdom. No doubt, Lean In will respond by saying this is their intention, for women to share stories and learn from one another. But I must ask who among us will feel comfortable sharing our most intimate, confidential stories in venues where corporate interests are pulling the strings behind the scenes? It seems to me that Lean In Circles are in the end not any different from old style workplace training and development, just with a few bells and whistles borrowed from the circle movement thrown in to make them seem new and woman-friendly. But at its core it is just more of the top-down, service-to-self, act-like-a-man to succeed-like-a-man prescription that devalues what is uniquely brilliant about a woman's natural or preferred way of doing, seeing, and relating. Do we really want to pass on to our daughters and nieces the “never enough” triggers we women have had to bear in the “do it all” world? Do we really want to send the signal that they aren’t doing enough or are not successful enough unless they rise to the top of the corporate ladder? And where is corporate responsibility for damaging the environment and exploiting people the world over, most particularly women? Is there a Lean In curriculum for this?
I do not join others in attacking Ms. Sandberg's personal choices, deservingness of success or right to speak her views on feminism or anything else. To me, these personal attacks are divisive without serving a constructive purpose. My aim is to call attention to a worthy and timely issue. Ms. Sandberg’s is asserting that she is a" or "the" rising leader of the women's movement. Her platform, connections and wealth are being leveraged to create what is supposedly a “women’s circle movement" but which has very thinly veiled profit-based undertones (adding users and advertising dollars to Facebook). In a recent NY Times article about Sandberg, columnist Maureen Dowd said, “she doesn’t understand the difference between a social movement and a social network marketing campaign…She says she’s using marketing for the purpose of social idealism. But she’s actually using social idealism for the purpose of marketing.” It seems to me the corporation is the last place women will look for the new leadership of the women’s movement. I fear Lean In is an expression of the old patriarchal establishment who hold skewed, arrogant and myopic views of feminine leadership which ultimately serve corporate ends. Sadly, Lean In’s first curriculum module tells women how to sit and how to speak to be taken more seriously. It's the old story all over again, imposing definition on women rather than listening for what they’ve been vehemently asking for and offering by way of solutions. How is this "new" or even "feminist"? Where are the feminine qualities such as compassion, deep listening, and flexibility in this plan? Where is the concern for our planet and for the less fortunate? Lean In seems to miss the point. Where is the courage to challenge the definition of success as being principally corporate or moneyed? Who says the only kind of power that can change the world is power in the work place? No, Ms. Sandberg’s vision for the women's movement is not nearly wide enough or inclusive enough for me. Call it what it is, a corporate-driven workplace development plan for women, but it is disingenuous to refer to it as a new global woman’s movement.