Leaning In: Two Women Share How They're Opening Doors For Women On Campus

Below, you'll find personal narratives from Caroline Jureller and Leigh-Ann Williams, respectively. Both women are Campus Leaders as part of Lean In Circle's on-campus program, which works to empower women at the collegiate level to feel capable, successful and supported as they journey beyond the classroom and into the workforce.

Their stories are ones of hope and success, and detail just how important organizations like Lean In Circles can be to a woman, both professionally and personally.

They've shared their stories with Elite Daily as part of the Lean In Circles kickoff in colleges this week.

We’ve all seen the facts; women are still underpaid, we are not called on as often as men in college classes, and we are underrepresented in leadership roles. There is no reason women and men should not be given the same opportunities.

Members of Lean In Circles bring a modern voice to issues society has too often ignored. We are bringing feminism back into the game. Currently, I’m the co-president of Lean In at American University.

We started our Chapter last December, when a friend approached me with the idea. We got started as soon as we could and soon had about eight Circles started and over 50 women involved!

This year, we’re revamping our Circles in order to make them better than ever. My Circle empowers women to empower themselves.

Our members go for cool internships and ambitious jobs, ask why not, and lean into things that would have originally made us uncomfortable because they seemed too hard. My Circle has taught me that these things are actually within reach and that if I don’t go for them, someone else will.

I have made so many changes, both big and small, because of Lean In. Before hearing about the organization and reading the book, I used to ask myself why I should do things.

Why apply for that job? I’ll never get it anyway. Why try out for that organization? I probably won’t get in or I won’t like it. I was counting myself out before even considering that I could have something to offer, and I was being so negative.

Now I ask myself, why not? Why not apply for that job? I’m qualified, I’m experienced; there’s a good chance I’ll get it. Why not go out for that club? It would probably be fun, and the people are probably cool. I now have so much more faith in myself and believe in myself so much more than I used to, and it shows.

I’m more positive, more optimistic and generally happier. Believing in yourself is the first step to success, and Lean In helped me do just that.’

The best advice I could give for young women entering college is to be open to everything. Because of my attitude, which was largely shaped by Lean In, so many opportunities have come my way that I originally would not have even considered. I’ve had internships, joined Greek life, helped start a club, and so much more, and it’s all been because I’ve said: “Why not?”

Remember to work hard, have fun and do not be afraid to lean in -- you never know what might happen.

Whether you’re a freshman starting first semester or a senior in your last, school can feel like a cutthroat place. Instead of feeling competitive with one another, women on campus should encourage each other.

Lean In Circles is my way of doing that. My Circle allows me to, as the book says, “sit at the table.” For me, that means letting my abilities — not my inhibitions or insecurities — shape who I am.

Since adolescence, I’ve found myself afraid. I didn’t live my life to its full potential because I was always focused on the negative things people might say about me, or how they would judge me before getting to know me. I would shy away from events and the chance to make a difference because I focused on what people might think instead of the difference I could make.

But then, this summer, I decided to lean in. I had never campaigned for anything nor have I ever considered myself the people’s choice. But I knew I wanted a national position in my sorority, and that meant running for office.

I threw myself into it. I had been terrified of public speaking, but I got on stage in front of 2,600 women to tell them why I could help move the sorority forward. I put myself out there and interacted with new people. This is something I never would have done before.

The experience was life-changing. I was greeted by so many people who said I had inspired them and who believed in me. I realized I was my biggest critic and I shouldn’t let the fear of negativity keep me from doing anything.

People came up to me, high-fiving me and quoting my campaign slogan, “Let Leigh-Ann lead!”  When I was elected, I realized that letting myself lead -- and recognizing myself as a leader -- had been the first step.

Lean In gave me a group of supportive women who encouraged me and helped me get over my fears of being judged. I now live with a “Go for it!” attitude and the experience has been awesome. If I could tell girls entering college anything, it would be to embrace who you are and to forget the rest.

Young women too often conform to the way we think we should be. This only leads to regrets and missed opportunities. Starting Circles is my way of helping women on campus reach for every opportunity and embrace who they are. I did it, and they can too.

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