Leaning In at the WXN Breakfast Circle

Last week, members and guests of the Women’s Executive Network (WXN) in Ottawa met over breakfast at the Rideau Club to talk Leaning In. We gathered to hear a discussion from three impressive women, Debbie Carreau, CEO & Founder of Inspired HR, Tracie Crook, COO of McCarthy Tétrault, (both Lean In circle champions), and Leanne James Sundquist, SVP, Human Capital Development & Administration at the WXN, who was moderator for the conversation.

WXN Lean InThe room was packed at the Rideau Club with women executives as well as up & comers from the Ottawa corporate and government scenes. As we tucked into our breakfast of scrambled eggs with a side serving of fruit and yogurt, Debbie took just a moment to explain Lean In to those in the room who had not read the book (though by the raisings of hands, everyone had at least heard of the concept): “It’s a book, it’s a foundation. It’s also a community to help women lean into their ambitions.”

When Leanne asked Debbie and Tracie what issues currently exist in the workplace that inhibit women from rising up the professional ladder, Tracie gave us three points to consider:

1) Mentoring: Not enough women in leadership to mentor those who are up & coming.

2) Sponsorship: Do women have the right sponsors both internally and/or externally to their profession?  (If you want to go over the difference between mentoring and sponsorship, check out how Clare Beckton explained the concept in a previous Sister Leadership post.)

3) Opportunity: Women having the same opportunities as men.

As described during the breakfast, Lean In circles are opportunities for women to find those needed connections and points of support. The idea is for a group of women to meet up and go over their successes, challenges etc. What ends up developing within that circle is a sort of corporate board of knowledge. Together, the women mentor one another.

And then there’s changing the conversation around women leadership. Have you heard of the Ban Bossy campaign which was created by the Lean In group? Debbie explained the reasoning behind the idea (if you don’t know about this, Lean In recently launched a campaign to ban the word bossy) by  asking the room how many women have been called bossy in their life. Many hands shot up across the room, including my own.  “It’s not the abolition of bossy, but creating a conscious knowledge of our bias,” explained Debbie about this campaign. They don’t want to wipe the word clean from the dictionary, they want us to become aware that we stop girls’ ambitious streaks when we mark them with that label and ask them to quiet down.

But what about real world examples of “leaning in” or “leaning out”? I really enjoyed Tracie’s description of her own Lean In experience. Tracie described a time when she was working within a financial institution, giving a strong contribution towards its success and rising upward. When the CEO of the institution resigned, the group began looking outside of the company to recruit a new CEO. She was essentially furious to have been overlooked. In that moment, she “leaned out” as she describes and decided to leave the company. Thankfully, her mentor gave her a fresh perspective and suggested she go back to the company and tell them she wanted to apply for the position, which is exactly what she did – she “leaned in” and spoke up for her chance. She got that job as CEO.

“Leaning in doesn’t mean working harder. It’s taking a look at yourself before blaming others,” added Debbie.

Following this discussion came a really interesting part of the morning. Each table became its own Lean In group. Ladies were asked to write on a slip of paper what their greatest professional challenge was at that moment. We all wrote our concerns, and passed them to the table monitor. What followed was an interesting conversation around being a woman in the workplace, but not just that – being seen in the workplace, and balancing life and business as well as being ambitious. And most fascinating, we all seemed to have common experiences around the issues raised, like: how do we have the confidence to become leaders; what about work life balance; where do we find role models; and what about biases like age in the workplace?

So, that was cool. What seems clear to me, having attended, is that women – and maybe men too – want a certain connection. Through the WXN, I’m  leading a Wisdom Peer Mentoring Group ( next session starts on May 8 in Ottawa), which is a facilitated peer group to bring those very concerns to and, then, bounce ideas back and forth. It’s empowering to know you aren’t alone, and that we can not only strategize together, but also create change.

That’s a lot of what we’re doing here on Sister Leadership, too.

Were you at the WXN event? What did you think of it? Are you part of a Lean In circle, or peer support circle, what do you think about it? And what about Banning Bossy – what’s your take?

We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Till next week!


Camille Boivin is founder of Sister Leadership, certified in EQi 2.0 and EQ360, a master practitioner of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), has been coaching high-level women and men for over six years, and is now opening her expertise to those emerging in business. Camille pulls her blog topics from her unique coaching approach that combines her training as a EQi 2.0 and EQ360 certified facilitator with the dig-deeper tools of NLP.

Get in touch here if you’d like to talk with Cam about group or one-on-one coaching, and EQ assessments. With the miracle of Skype and telephones – distance is no issue!


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