Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘Sheryl Sandberg


I have been meaning to share this for some time now, and International Women’s Day was the perfect nudge for me to just get to it!

In a nutshell, we have started a Design Leadership Lean In Circle at Uscreates back in September of last year. What is a Lean In Circle you ask?

“Lean In Circles are small groups who meet regularly to learn and grow together, and they’re changing lives. Women are asking for more, stepping outside their comfort zones, and leaning in.”

The movement was started by Facebook COO, Sheryl Sandberg following the success of her book Lean In, which challenges and encourages women to lead in their careers, and men to support them to do that.

A few of us at Uscreates have read the book, got angry about the gender gap numbers, got inspired by some of the stories shared, felt motivated by some of the advice, and disagreed with some of the other advice.

I know that Sheryl, her book, and the movement have received their fair share of criticism – probably most notably here. But debating the strengths and shortcoming of the book and the movement is not quite the topic of this blog – although I do quite enjoy these sorts of debates.

The reality is that it’s the 21st century, the gender gap in (design) leadership is still there, and we all need to do something about this, and as a design business, we certainly do too.

For example last year Uscreates, alongside the Point People and the RSA, brought together women pioneers in service design to tell their story of how they essentially created a service design industry from scratch.


Industry: 70% of design students are female but only 40% of professional designers are female


Pay: 47 years after the Equal Pay Act, women are still 18% behind men on pay


Leadership: Only 23% of board seats in the UK are held by women.


Design leadership: In design businesses, only 3% of board seats are held by women.


Design leadership: Only 11% of design business leaders are female.

The success of Sandberg’s book inspired her to start a movement called  ‘Lean In Circles’.

These circles are essentially small groups of people, predominantly women, that meet regularly to learn and grow together with the help of free education materials, expert advice, discussion guides, and more. They are designed to help women ask for more in their careers, step out of their comfort zone and of course ‘lean in’.

Therefore, a Design Leadership Lean In Circle gives us a simple, no fuss way to apply our energies and passions to get stuff done. But because we understand systems at Uscreates, we know that the stuff that needs to get done needs to happen at the level of:

  • The individual (motivation, efficacy, resilience, capability building)
  • The design business – a culture and internal policies that encourage and enable women to achieve full potential
  • The design industry – collaborating to address joint challenges, making joint commitments and taking joint action
  • Policy – fully assessing the impact of every policy – whether intended or not – on gender equality in leadership

So as we got together at Uscreates to shape what we wanted to do, why we wanted to do it, and who we needed to involve, our thinking evolved into Lean In Ripple Circles for Design Leadership to address the dimensions of the challenge at different levels of the system: the Inner Circle, the Outer Circle, and the Open Circle.

Here’s a quick sketch of our early thinking. We know these are ambitions ideas, and we’re not quite there yet, but here is where we are up to, what we plan on doing next, and what we dream of doing one day.

image: sketch Lean In Circle for Design Leadership
Uscreates’ sketching out Lean In Circle for Design Leadership

What we are doing now; the Design Leadership Inner Circle

This circle is for us – all the people of Uscreates, internalising the revolution.

The gender gap is less of an issue here. We are a predominantly women-led business, and happen to have mostly women in our great team.

We (across the gender spectrum) want to support ourselves and one another to achieve our fullest potential. A few of us have been meeting once a month over lunch, to share our individual goals and support one another to get that one step closer to achieving them.

Different team members have different goals such as: doing a TED talk, being more confident in meetings, balancing work with work, balancing work with life, getting better at saying ‘yes’, taking a career shift.

It’s been wonderful coming together and leveraging the assets of the circle to offer one another tips, link each other up with things to look at or people to meet to help us all get to where we hope to be.

What we will be doing next; the Design Leadership Outer Circle

This circle is for us – all the people of Uscreates – and our friends.

Friends who have similar goals to some members of our team so we can work together to get there. Or friends who have achieved these goals in the past, we want to learn about your journeys, what the challenges were and what kept you going.

This will take the shape of an informal get together around a breakfast or perhaps some after work drinks. We’ll lay out our goals to discuss, challenge and inspire one another, and open the right doors to take that next step.

If you’re interested or have achieved any of the goals we shared up there in the Inner Circle, we’d love to hear from you. Please get in touch ( and we’ll let you know when the first Outer Circle is taking place!

What we dream of doing; the Design Leadership Open Circle

This circle is for everyone in the design industry, externalising the revolution. We want to shake and disrupt. We’ll start this with hacks every now and then, bringing together systemic players – movements, designers and design leaders, employers, educators, recruiters, and policy makers.

Each hack will focus on a systemic challenge – closing the pay gap, supporting men to be able to lean into their families, equal parental leave pay, supporting women to find good mentors, and so on.

There are so many wonderful people and movements doing so much already in this space, and we have SO much respect for them: Kerning the GapAda’s ListHidden Women of Design, and #upfront to name only a few.

We have spoken to some of them who were excited by this, and we want to speak to more. We want to make this happen as a force – not as Uscreates. So do get in touch ( if you want to help make this a reality!

Stay tuned. We will share learning and progress as we embark on this exciting and purpose-driven journey.

This blog was written by Dr. Joanna Choukeir


Dr Joanna Choukeir Design Director

As Design Director at Uscreates, Joanna’s role is to develop design talent and embed people-centred design across health and wellbeing campaigns, products, services, systems and policies. Joanna is a renowned researcher, speaker and lecturer on social design with 13 years’ experience gained in the UK and internationally across multiple sectors.

She has worked with clients such as Nesta, NHS England, Policy Lab, local authorities, clinical commissioning groups and charities, to help them achieve transformational and sustainable change through design.

Joanna has also completed a PhD in design for social integration at the University of the Arts London.


 ‘Men still run the world – and it’s not going that well’

Where are all the women leaders? According to the latest data from UN Women, only 22% of all national parliamentarians are female. (That’s a huge number in modern States)

Only 11 women serve as head of state, and 10 serve as head of government. (Only Merkel has power in her position)

To all the people who still think that “women have it all”!

Noor Al-Hajri shared this link

Away from the political world, the numbers are just as bad – or even worse.

Although women account for almost half of the college-educated workforce in the US, they hold only 19% of board seats, and are only 4.6% of CEOs.”

(I posit that the educated married women have far more power to lead their family and husband than any political position)

In the US, women make up almost half of the college-educated workforce, but hold only 19% of board seats.

Away from the political world, the numbers are just as bad – or even worse. Although women account for almost half of the college-educated workforce in the US, they hold only 19% of board seats, and are only 4.6% of CEOs.

Sheryl Sandberg – Facebook’s COO and a rare example of a woman leader in the male-dominated world of technology – thinks it’s time that changed. “Men still run the world – and I’m not sure it’s going that well,” she told participants at a session on the future of work in Davos. And until we rectify that, everyone will suffer: “It means we’re not using the full talent of the population.”

Recline, don’t ‘Lean In’

And (Why I hate Sheryl Sandberg)

February 25, 2014

I had an epiphany the other day. I was in the middle of marking up a memo on U.S. drone policy while simultaneously ordering a custom-decorated cake for my daughter’s sixth grade musical cast party and planning my remarks for a roundtable on women in national security.Suddenly, it hit me: I hate Sheryl Sandberg.It’s not because she’s so rich, or because she’s the COO of Facebook, or because she has gleaming, meticulously coiffed hair.

True, Facebook is the Internet equivalent of Shiva, Destroyer of Worlds, and my own hair will never approach the glossy perfection of Sheryl Sandberg’s.

I have nothing against rich people, who sometimes fund my projects or buy me lunch at fancy restaurants. Rich people, I love you!

It’s also nothing personal. I’m sure Sheryl Sandberg is a delightful person, and I’d love her, too, if I knew her and she bought me lunch at a fancy restaurant.

In fact, she and I probably have some friends in common; we were college classmates, though I don’t remember if we ever met.

“Did we know Sheryl Sandberg?” I asked my friend Suzanne, who was also in my college class.

She gave me a funny look. “Well, I knew her. Don’t you know if you knew her?”

“I can’t remember.”

If you knew her, you would remember,” said Suzanne. “She was one of those people you would definitely remember. I used to go to an aerobics class she taught.”

That explained it.

Some college students, like my friend Suzanne, take aerobics classes.

Some college students, like Sheryl Sandberg, teach aerobics classes.

Other college students, like myself, lie around the dorm reading novels.

Sheryl Sandberg was already busy leaning in. I was busy leaning back on my sofa, with a good book and a nice cup of cocoa.

This, of course, is also why I hate her.

Sheryl, have you ever stopped to consider that all this “leaning in” is ruining life for the rest of us?

Long ago, before Sandberg’s book “Lean In” convinced me to change my ways, I had a life. I had friends, family, children.

I had hobbies. I had a job, too, of course, but I also took occasional vacations, knocked off work at a sensible hour and got eight hours of sleep each night.

Then I read “Lean In” and realized that I was self-sabotaging slacker.

I resolved to do better. I started stepping up at work: “I’ll handle both those complex and urgent projects,” I informed my colleagues, with just the right mix of confidence, assertiveness and non-threatening feminine charm.

“With a little creative, outside-the-box thinking, I can take care of both by tomorrow!”

I stopped turning down invitations to speak at conferences in inconveniently far-off places. I accepted every media request. I promised to write articles and reports and books.

I leaned in to the other spheres of my life, too: I became a room parent at the children’s school, hosted the class potluck and the mother-daughter book club, and decided that my children would go to school each day with organic, homemade lunches packed in eco-friendly containers.

Just as Sandberg promised, the rewards of leaning in quickly became evident. My confident, assertive yet non-threatening feminine charm helped me rapidly expand both my business and social networks.

When I dropped the kids off at school, other mommies gazed upon me with approval.

Older colleagues took me aside to tell me I was an up-and-comer and offer me plum assignments.

Younger colleagues asked me to mentor them and join their Lean In Circles.

Speaking engagements flowed my way, and rich people asked if they could buy me lunch.

With my confident yet charmingly self-deprecating smile, I accepted all offers and invitations.

Soon, the rewards of leaning in doubled.

Then they quadrupled. Then they began to increase exponentially.

I leaned in some more. I ate protein bars and made important telephone calls during my morning commute.

I stopped reading novels so I could write more articles and memos and make more handicrafts to contribute to the school auction.

I put in extra hours at work. When I came home, I did radio interviews over Skype from my living room while supervising the children’s math homework.

And I realized that I hated Sheryl Sandberg.

Because, of course, I was miserable.

I never saw my friends, because I was too busy building my network.

I was too tired to do any creative, outside-the-box thinking. I was boxed in.

I wondered if foreign-policy punditry was just too much for me.

I wondered if I should move to Santa Fe and open a small gallery specializing in handicrafts made from recycled tires.

I wondered if my husband and kids would want to go with me.

But then — after my I-hate-Sheryl epiphany — I came to a bold new conclusion.

Ladies, if we want to rule the world — or even just gain an equitable share of leadership positions — we need to stop leaning in. It’s killing us.

We need to fight for our right to lean back and put our feet up.

Here’s the thing: We’ve created a world in which ubiquity is valued above all.

If you’re not at your desk every night until nine, your commitment to the job is questioned. If you’re not checking email 24/7, you’re not a reliable colleague.

But in a world in which leaning in at work has come to mean doing more work, more often, for longer hours, women will disproportionately drop out or be eased out.

Why? Because unlike most men, women — particularly women with children — are still expected to work that “second shift” at home.

Men today do more housework and childcare than men in their fathers’ generation, but women today still do far more housework and childcare than men.

And just as work has expanded to require employees’ round-the-clock attention, being a good mom has also started requiring ubiquity.

Things were different in my own childhood, but today, parenting has become a full-time job: it requires attendance at an unending stream of school meetings, class performances and soccer games, along with the procurement of tutors, classes and enrichment activities, the arranging of play dates, the making of organic lunches and the supervising of labor-intensive homework projects.

It’s hard enough managing one 24/7 job. No one can survive two of them.

And as long as women are the ones doing more of the housework and childcare, women will be disproportionately hurt when both workplace expectations and parenting expectations require ubiquity.

They’ll continue to do what too many talented women already do: Just as they’re on the verge of achieving workplace leadership positions, they’ll start dropping out.

The general American tendency to think that “more time at work” equals “better work” is exacerbated by the All Crisis All the Time culture of foreign policy.

Global crisis never sleeps, and neither do the overworked staffers at the Pentagon, the State Department or the White House. (They create the crisis to keep busy and leaning in to their bosses)

It’s little wonder that many of the gifted young female staffers who enter these workplaces hit a wall at some point, and come to the painful realization that work and family obligations aren’t always things you can simply “balance.”

Often, these weights become too heavy. They can crush you.

And this isn’t just about women. Men — and our society more broadly — also suffer when both work and parenting are intensive, round-the-clock activities.

Back in the day, Henry Ford didn’t advocate the eight-hour day for his auto assembly line workers because he was a nice guy. He advocated the eight-hour day because research demonstrated that worker productivity cratered after more than eight hours.

As Brigid Schulte documents in her forthcoming book, “Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time,” humans can only take so much for so long.

When a workplace is full of employees who always lean in and never lean back, it’s full of employees who are exhausted, brittle and incapable of showing much creativity or making good decisions. (The culture of ever youth: You can take it)

Sometimes, overwork gets downright dangerous. We have tough legislation mandating adequate rest periods for truck drivers and airline pilots — not because we think they need their beauty sleep, but because when overtired drivers and pilots make mistakes, people can die. When did we come to believe that crucial national security decisions are best made by people too tired to think straight?

If we truly want gender equality, we need to challenge the assumption that more is always better, and the assumption that men don’t suffer as much as women when they’re exhausted and have no time for family or fun. And we need to challenge those assumptions wherever we find them, both in the workplace and in the family.

Whether it’s one more meeting, one more memo, one more conference, one more play date, one more soccer game or one more flute lesson for the kids, sometimes we need to say, “Enough!”

In 1929, Virginia Woolf issued a cri de coeur: How can women become poets and writers, she asked in her now-classic essay, “A Room of One’s Own,” when they have no money, no independence, no privacy and no space? “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction,” declared Woolf.

Other forms of creativity are no different. If we want to do more than just go through the motions, both love and work require a protected space in which creativity can flourish.

Today, most women can make money on their own and acquire rooms of their own — but they still get too little psychic space and too little time for the kind of unstructured, creative thinking so critical to any kind of success.

Perhaps the modern equivalent of Woolf’s “room of her own” is the right to stop “leaning in” all the time.

There is, after all, much to be said for leaning out — for long lunches, afternoon naps, good books and some nice, slow hours in the La-Z-Boy.

Sandberg can keep right on leaning in if it makes her happy, but here’s my new feminist manifesto — call it a Manifestus for the Rest of Us.

We need to fight for our right to lean out, and we need to do it together, girls.

If we’re going to fight the culture of workplace ubiquity, and the parallel and equally-pernicious culture of intensive parenting, we need to do it together — and we need to bring our husbands and boyfriends and male colleagues along, too.

They need to lean out in solidarity, for their own sake as well as ours.

Women of the world, recline!
– – –
Brooks is a law professor at Georgetown University and a fellow at the New America Foundation. She served as a counselor to the U.S. undersecretary of defense for policy from 2009 to 2011 and previously served as a State Department senior adviser. A longer version of this post appeared previously in Foreign Policy.




September 2020

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