The Power of Peer Support: Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In” Hits Campuses

“I’m too young, too inexperienced,” Stephanie Mecham thought. “There’s no way I’d get the job.”

The 19-year-old had seen a posting for an internship that was exactly what she wanted to do—a legislative correspondent role in government. It was a perfect match for her skills, and her goals. And yet for some reason she convinced herself not to apply. (“Why waste the time only to get rejected?” she thought.)

The next week, Mecham sat down with members of her Lean In Circle, a group of students she meets with regularly to talk about school and life. The subject this week was stepping outside their comfort zones. One by one, the women shared stories of overcoming their fears and owning their abilities.

Mecham went home that night and applied for the job. She got it.

Women everywhere face unique challenges because of biases we all hold—biases that tell us women should be nurturers, not leaders, modest, not confident. LeanIn.Org, the women’s nonprofit founded by Sheryl Sandberg, is working to break down those biases. They believe the path forward begins with Lean In Circles.

Lean In Circles—small groups that meet regularly to learn and grow together—are as unique as the people who start them. At the University of Tennessee, a graduate student runs a Circle called “Systers” for female computer science students. A Circle of Asian-American men at Harvard meets to discuss the biases they face because of their race. At the American University of Iraq, a group runs pop-up events for female entrepreneurs. As different as they come, Circles all share one thing in common: the power of peer support.

Today there are more than 20,000 Circles in 73 countries—and on 350 college campuses. Like Stephanie, 75% of members attribute a positive outcome in their life to their Circle, and 83% say they’re more likely to take on a new opportunity or challenge.

“We believe that the world would be better with more women sitting at the tables where decisions are made—and we believe today’s students are the generation that can make this happen,” says Rachel Thomas, the president of LeanIn.Org.

On September 18, Sheryl Sandberg and the LeanIn.Org team will host a Livestream discussion ( for students who are interested in learning more about Lean In Circles. Sheryl will share career advice, and Circle members will share their personal experiences from last year on campus.

Students face unique challenges as they head out into the world: what career path they want to take, who their life partner will be, what type of leader they want to become. LeanIn.Org believes Circles can help provide the support and skills to prepare for a successful transition into the workplace.

“Think of Circles as part peer learning and part peer support group,” says Thomas. “At, we offer everything students need to run a successful Circle—including expert videos and discussion guides on how to communicate with confidence, accept feedback, and work effectively on teams,” says Thomas.

“Students everywhere can make a difference,” Thomas continues. “With each student that steps outside her comfort zone, takes the lead or speaks up, we will.”

Tune in for the LeanIn.Org Livestream on Sept18 at 7:30pm ET/ 4:30pm PT. Log on at or start or find a Circle on your campus at