The ongoing success of women in leadership empowerment network Lean In is not only deserving of being celebrated, but it is a remarkable surge in its membership and achievements in Northern Ireland.
Set up here just four years ago by entrepreneur Nuala Murphy of Moment Health Lean In locally now has more than 2,000 members across the country with 30 of its trademark ‘circles’ across multiple industry sectors.
With its global mission to empower all women to achieve their ambitions the foundation of its growth in Northern Ireland started in a…coffee shop.
Nuala explained that the spark came from the book ‘Lean In: Women Work and the Will To Lead’ by Sheryl Sandberg.
“I read the book in 2013 it was then in 2014 when navigating starting a family I realised I didn’t know anyone in my peer group doing the same,” she said, adding: “At the back of the book it suggested to start your own circle of peers I did just that. I reached out to some folks to join and Lean In Belfast was born.”
Since its humble beginnings over coffee it has inspired many women, as it did for Nuala.
“It inspired me to launch my own business Moment Health that is focused on bringing early intervention to women’s mental health illness.
“We launched our first product The Moment Hath app available in Apple and Android for new and expectant parents to safeguard and keep on top of their mental health at this time.
And, as Nuala explains the benefits are evidence based.
“It has given women a voice to join forces to support each other. 85% of circle members the world over are experienced career advancement, pay rises, increased confidence, inspiration and support to start new businesses and many other advantages.”
With its aim to be a supportive community focused on building more equal workplaces, communities and society at large it provides a big dose of inspiration and access to networks and opportunities typically difficult for women to access as well as an opportunity to learn and share our challenges, find peers, supporters, and exchange of ideas.
“Across the board we see lack of women in senior positions be it private or public sector,” said Nuala.
“The biggest challenges are access to mentors, access to networks and opportunities to progress. We also need male allies in this journey.
“In order to truly affect change we call on our male ally to roll up those sleeves and Lean In with us.”
Another devotee of Sheryl Sandberg’s book is Dorcas Crawford, Senior Partner in Edwards & Co Solicitors, who met Nuala on Twitter and quickly it was a meeting of minds.
And, it has evidently been a benefit.
“The incredible, unconditional support of other women has been invaluable in decision-making, running my business, feeling there are others who are juggling in the same way as me,” she said.
Dorcas believes every woman needs to become involved: “You don’t know what you’re missing! I only wish there had been a movement like this when I started my career 30 years ago”.
The Belfast based legal expert launched the SME Twitter initiative #Belfasthour to link up and promote businesses free of charge and the conflict management service ‘The Better Way’.
In addition to Dorcas’ own involvement in Lean In Belfast it has become a family affair.
“My daughter Niamh has been involved in forming a Circle this year and I couldn’t wish for a better support system for her as she begins her career.”
Another devotee is Women In Finance circle leader Cathy Brennan who believes in its power: “The support & empowerment you get is life changing, if you proceed and be bold!”
Her involvement came when she was considering a change in career path. Instead she developed
“I started a new job in November last year having spent nearly 17 years with the same company,” Cathy said.
“I was considering a new career in IT having worked 20 years in financial services.
“After a discussion with Claire Nixon from Women in Tech who is a recruiter, she said retraining in another sector should only be considered if I didn’t enjoy my sector.
“I then decided to set up women in finance Lean In circle to support women in financial services. I wanted to encourage more women to join the sector.
“We have 45 plus members in our circle from a range of finance roles.”
Orla McKeating attended her first Lean In event three years ago and hasn’t looked back.
“My business had been running for three years and was going ‘great’ but I realised I really needed a better support network.
“I had joined a few other business events and I didn’t find they were for me but I had read Lean In on maternity leave and was drawn to the inclusive and growth vibes it presented. “
From that one meeting I managed to meet women who have become great friends, mentors and a part of my ‘tribe’. My self-confidence has come back, I am more motivated than ever and I know I have the support when I need it. I have since joined a number of different circles and I’ve developed new skills through speakers and events and also expanded my friendship group and regularly meet fellow Lean In-ers for coffee dates, other seminars and even play dates.”
Orla strongly believes women need to get involved in Lean In.
“I would highly recommend joining this group. These are networks that genuinely want you to achieve your goals, celebrate your successes and share your challenges.
“I found the Lean In Network a safe place for meeting people who were in my position, entrepreneurs, mothers, employees, leaders who all had the same goal and wanted to succeed in a positive way.“
Circle leader, fashion and features journalist Niamh Crawford Walker is passionate about Lean In.
“I started the Future Female Leaders circle with Jean Barrett-Quinn after being a part of the Lean In organisation for a year,” she said. “Inspired by the support I witnessed among other women within Lean In, we wanted to reach out to women at earlier stages of their career (mostly between 18-25 years old) and offer that same support, providing them with the tools necessary to build confidence and progress in their career aspirations. Within our circle we hope to build a safe space for young women to address issues associated with navigating career goals from an early stage.”
Backed by Barclays, Lean In has been growing and developing across the country steadily in recent years.
Rachel Thomas, Co-Founder & President of The Sheryl Sandberg & David Goldberg Family Foundation (LeanIn.Org, and OptionB.org) said of Lean In: “Companies have an important role to play in reaching gender equality, and we will benefit when they succeed.
“A fairer, more inclusive workplace is good for all employees, and more diverse companies produce better results. Advancing women is not just the right thing to do; it’s the smart thing to do.
For more information log onto www.leaninbelfast.com
Distributed by Excalibur Press on behalf of Lean In Belfast