Empowerment and equality: My leadership trip to San Francisco – by Emma Cockerham

Earlier this year, a simple ‘’yes’’ turned into an amazing experience for me. It was one of those moments when you think, “ah, it will never happen,” like buying a lottery ticket.

In April, I got invited by the Chair of Lean In Leeds to represent Leeds at the Lean In Network Leaders Program (NLP) Conference 2023 in San Francisco.

Lean In was established by Sheryl Sandberg, ex COO of Facebook and Meta. Lean In’s mission is to “help women achieve their ambitions and work to create an equal world”. There are currently over 80,000 Lean In circles worldwide. With over 1,200 members, Lean In Leeds was founded by Zandra Moore. Claire Ackers now chairs, supported by six Board members, including myself.

The prospect of meeting an international group was initially a little daunting. Upon my arrival, my fears quickly disappeared. Yes, these leaders were driven and strong, but they were also compassionate, inclusive and genuine. This reinforced a principle I live by – it’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice.

The conference was inspiring. There were 83 leaders from 29 countries in one room, spanning six continents, all united in a common cause: equality for all. The focus of the NLP Conference was on leaders sharing their experiences and stories to help others navigate challenges within their networks.

During the conference, Lean In Girls was launched – a program designed “to help girls see themselves as leaders in a world that often tells them they’re not.” We are looking forward to promoting this initiative regionally and educating the younger generation in workplace biases.

If each of us lends a hand down the ladder, helping one, two, or even more individuals, then I believe we are fulfilling Lean In’s original vision.

A memorable session required us to form small groups to recount instances in our lives when we had faced adversity and how we had overcome it. The narratives I heard were humbling, reinforcing the strength of everyone there.

This reaffirmed that vulnerability, authenticity and courage are all good leadership skills which would not likely feature in a more traditional view of “the boss”.

Concluding the session, we expressed our sentiments towards those who had shared their experiences. The overriding feeling was one of “respect” – surely a word most people would associate with a good leader.

Hearing other leaders convey their journeys only reinforced my gratitude. Globally, biases, whether conscious or subconscious, lead to unjust and unfounded decisions.

I am fortunate at Reward. I share the privilege of “sitting at the table” with peers selected not because of gender, ethnicity or beliefs, but due to their expertise and shared business objectives.