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The Schmooze

5 Inspiring Moments From Lena Dunham’s Interview With Sheryl Sandberg

In a touching tribute to female empowerment and camaraderie, Lena Dunham shared a personal anecdote of the late-night frozen yogurt and conversation she shared with Sheryl Sandberg, curled up on the couch of the woman who had become the global face of the wage equality Lean In movement.

Prefacing the interview with Sandberg for her “Lenny Letter” newsletter, Dunham wrote that before she met the Facebook COO at 26, she felt “frozen with fear of offending people whose opinions I trusted and anger at being harassed by fucksticks. And I wasn’t sure how I could continue to persist as a public voice when the voice in my head was so addled.”

Great conversation with @lenadunham today at Facebook. Make sure you read her new book #notthatkindofgirl

A photo posted by Sheryl Sandberg (@sherylsandberg) on

Taking Dunham under her accomplished wing, Sandberg inspired the young writer and actress to ask herself the tough questions, to “seize my newfound power, to stop thinking of myself as indebted to everyone who had ever smiled at me and to start thinking of myself as an asset.”

Sandberg’s latest initiative, Together Women Can, hopes to band women together to uplift and celebrate each other’s accomplishments.

Sandberg even offered her own supportive message to Dunham on social media:

Here are some of our favorite inspiring moments in the interview. Read the full interview on “Lenny Letter.”

1) When the two addressed the conflicting feelings of both wanting to be liked and being taken seriously as a boss.

Dunham: Do you ever find yourself afraid to be disliked? That’s huge for me — the sense that even as the boss, I want everyone to like me no matter what.

Sandberg: You can be the boss and still be terrified, still have the desire to make everyone comfortable. And it’s a strange divide. You’re in charge but still beholden to other people. I do still struggle with my self-confidence, whereas my male colleagues’ self-confidence never seems shaken by people disagreeing with them. And I do always want to be liked, even when I know it is not possible for everyone to agree with me all of the time and I need to make hard decisions.

2) When we learned Sandberg started the initiative while mourning her husband’s tragic death a year ago.

Dunham: I thought it was amazing you were launching this campaign as you are in a new phase of your life, without Dave [Sandberg’s husband, who passed away in May 2015]. And you’ve spoken out about the often-harsh realities for single mothers. What does it mean to be a woman without the support of a partner?

Sandberg: I’m a very lucky single mother, and I’ve spoken out about this. Many single mothers struggle to make ends meet. Being a single parent is hard and means looking for support in other places. I’m walking and working because of people like you, my friends, holding me up. I have a Lean In Circle of my childhood friends who have helped me get through this difficult point in my life.

I’m excited about this campaign because we need to recognize and acknowledge how much women support each other. Kerry Washington talks about the impact Shonda Rhimes has had on her career. You have spoken out about the supportive creative partnership you have with Jenni. Me and [Facebook vice president] Lori Goler have been together at Facebook for eight years. When you look at successful women, they have other women who have supported them, and they’ve gotten to where they are because of those women.

3) When we learned that Sandberg comes from a whole line of fierce women.

Dunham: Who taught you that? Who let you know it was OK to reach out to other women and ask for support, rather than hide behind false confidence and a sense of needing to be the perfect professional?

Sandberg: My grandmother. She grew up poor and her parents divorced, which was unheard of during that time. She ended up graduating from Berkeley and was the first generation to go to college. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in her 30s and starting raising money for breast-cancer screenings for other women. She literally drove around selling watches out of her car to raise money. When my grandfather’s business was about to go under, she took over the business and saved it. My mom was another strong mentor, role model, and inspiration. Arianna has been a tremendous source of strength and support to me.

4) When they discussed why women are often so harsh on other women.

Dunham: Have you encountered the “There isn’t room for both of us” mentality in women? I feel, especially in Hollywood, we’re often told subliminally that there isn’t going to be room for more than a few women at the table. How do you combat that type of thinking?

Sandberg: We expect more kindness from women, and we judge them more harshly. Early in my career there was a senior woman I was excited to work with, and I thought she would be helpful. When she wasn’t, I was devastated. I expected greater kindness because she was a woman. There are plenty of men who haven’t been helpful in my career and I wasn’t devastated as a result.

We have to correct for the biases women face. You shouldn’t feel obligated to support a woman because she is a woman, but because you believe in her ideas and capabilities. It’s the right thing to do, and it creates a work environment that is better for everyone.

5) This touching quote from Dunham’s introduction…

I could write a novella about how much I love watching her put her kids to sleep, completely present and totally in tune. It was only fitting that she forced me to celebrate my 30th birthday in style, insisting milestones must be treated as such, that celebrating yourself is a right, not a privilege.

…and this befitting ending.

Lena Dunham Leaned In so hard she fell over.


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