Women hold just 4% of Fortune 500 CEO positions and 20% of seats in the Senate. They graduate from college at a higher rate than men, yet they are paid less than their male counterparts as soon as they enter the job market. Their opinions are published less frequently than men’s, and they are markedly less quoted in the media — even when it comes to so-called “women’s issues.” According to the Women’s Media Center, statistics such as these suggest that it won’t be until 2085 that women level out the playing field with men.
“[I]t’s simply not enough for a woman to put her self-doubt aside, grab hold of ambition and aim for the top,” asserts economist Sylvia Ann Hewlett. Contrary to Sheryl Sandberg’s mantra currently dominating the femisphere, institutional inequities mean that women, Hewlett argues, can’t just “lean in” to succeed in the workforce — they “need someone to lean in with [them].”
Helping women “lean in together” is the very mission of one Washington, D.C., organization. The Women’s Information Network (WIN), a non-profit networking group, is the go-to resource for young progressive women navigating the DC job market. The organization was founded in 1989 when a group of young Democratic women returned to D.C. after working on the Dukakis campaign to find that despite their impressive resumes, their male counterparts were landing the best jobs in town. In response, they sought insight and advice from other women who were already established in the D.C. workforce. The result was WIN, a volunteer-run group that connects young progressive women in D.C. with each other as well as with women who have already climbed the ranks of the workforce.
“D.C. is a hard place to get to know and find your way around,” said Karen Mulhauser, a founding member of WIN. WIN offers young D.C. women a supportive network amid D.C.’s hyper-competitive job market, one that counters the “old boy’s club” of the political sphere. I joined WIN four years ago when I graduated from college and moved to D.C. In a city of nearly 6 million people, WIN led me straight to the epicenter of women’s progressive activism in my community, connecting me with peers who could lend me advice, connect me with professional development resources and meet me for job chats over coffee. WIN members share volunteer opportunities and employment openings, offer tips on job interviews and how to ask for a raise and pass along invitations to lectures and conferences. They swap resume advice, organize networking happy hours and help plan fundraisers for women candidates. They don’t just “lean in.” They help each other lean in together.
Groups like also WIN provide effective outlets for women’s organizing amid gender inequality. The benefits of women banding together against gender discrimination is well-documented, from the women’s movement of the 1970s to the plethora of recent successful campaigns against street harassment, the lack of women’s representation in politics, the trivialization of rape and the glorification of violence against women. And while WIN’s programming is often specific to D.C., its structure and mission can be applied to any city. The group has inspired two sister organizations: WIN NYC, which launched in Manhattan in 2011 and Good 'ol Girls, which began in San Francisco in 2004.
"If you have knowledge, let others light their candles in it,” wrote Renaissance literary critic and feminist activist, Margaret Fuller. Yes, women should “lean in.” But it’s even better if, in doing so, they lean in to help light the candles of those women beside them.