In a moving tribute to female empowerment and camaraderie, feminist writer and Girls star Lena Dunham took to Lenny to praise the woman who succeeded in helping her change her life: Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg. Sandberg taught us all to Lean In; to be united as women and celebrate each other’s accomplishments, rather than compete with one another. She also urged us to stand up and fight for the respect, positions, and salaries we deserve and this had a profound effect on Dunham’s life. At 26, she felt “frozen with fear of offending people whose opinions I trusted and anger at being harassed by fucksticks. And I wasn’t sure how I could continue to persist as a public voice when the voice in my head was so addled.” That is until she met Sandberg. She encouraged Dunham to ask herself the tough questions, to “seize my newfound power, to stop thinking of myself as indebted to everyone who had ever smiled at me and to start thinking of myself as an asset.”
Following the tragic death of her husband, the Facebook COO’s go-to slogan took a different meaning; she realised it was much more than a solo endeavour, instead a group one — that you’re only really able to lean in because of the women who surround and support you.
Dunham sat down with Sandberg to discuss this, as well as the launch of her latest campaign Together Women Can – or #LeanInTogether — which features celebrity endorsers such as Emma Watson, Kerry Washington, and Selena Gomez discussing the women who inspired them on their paths to success and we’ve rounded up the six most inspiring moments from the interview. Read the words; memorise them and keep them close when you need an extra kick of motivation:
When they spoke the conflicting feelings of both wanting to be liked and being taken seriously as a boss:
Do you ever find yourself afraid to be disliked? That’s huge for me — the sense that even as the boss, I want everyone to like me no matter what,” Dunham said. Sandberg told her it was possible to be the woman in charge and feel conflicting moments of terror and self-doubt, while wanting to make those around her feel good.
“You can be the boss and still be terrified, still have the desire to make everyone comfortable. And it’s a strange divide. You’re in charge but still beholden to other people. I do still struggle with my self-confidence, whereas my male colleagues’ self-confidence never seems shaken by people disagreeing with them. And I do always want to be liked, even when I know it is not possible for everyone to agree with me all of the time and I need to make hard decisions.”
Our goal is to help women lean in to their ambitions — and we don’t get there alone. In order to be more confident and feel stronger, [women] look to their female peers for support.
When Sandberg spoke of her new reality as a single mother:
“I’m a very lucky single mother, and I’ve spoken out about this. Many single mothers struggle to make ends meet. Being a single parent is hard and means looking for support in other places. I’m walking and working because of people like you [Dunham], my friends, holding me up. I have a Lean In Circle of my childhood friends who have helped me get through this difficult point in my life.
And on wanting to end the ‘there isn’t room for both of us’ mentality among working women:
“There is some historical truth to this pattern. When women first entered the workforce, there really was only going to be one woman allowed to sit at the table. But that is not the case today. But when two men disagree at work, it’s a disagreement. When two women disagree, it’s greatly exaggerated. It’s a catfight. We expect more kindness from women, and we judge them more harshly. We have to correct for the biases women face. You shouldn’t feel obligated to support a woman because she is a woman, but because you believe in her ideas and capabilities. It’s the right thing to do, and it creates a work environment that is better for everyone.”
Why we should be supporting each other’s ideas:
“Women don’t get credit for their own ideas. Often they have the experience of a man sharing the same idea later at a meeting and being told it’s genius. Help other women get credit by saying, ‘I loved when Lena said that five minutes ago, and I’m glad you brought it up again,’” Sandberg said. “It’s a great move that helps everyone. The woman who helps looks communal and fosters goodwill, and the woman with the great idea gets credit.”
When we help each other, it’s a self-reinforcing positive cycle. When we support each other, we grow. And once you get to critical mass, it’s much better for all of us.
This touching quote from Dunham’s introduction…
“I could write a novella about how much I love watching her put her kids to sleep, completely present and totally in tune. It was only fitting that she forced me to celebrate my 30th birthday in style, insisting milestones must be treated as such, that celebrating yourself is a right, not a privilege.”
…and this befitting ending
Lena Dunham Leaned In so hard she fell over.
Read the full Lenny Letter HERE