Being a Girl Boss Means Empowering Other Women
By Tamar Hela
Once upon a time, there was an amazing woman who fell in love with China, even though she was from Italy. And China loved her back, providing incredible opportunities, where she had the space to discover a lot about herself and be empowered. Because of this empowerment, she gave back to other women in China and started a community that is steadily growing today . . .
I’d like to introduce you, dear readers, to Roberta Basso, founder of one of the Lean In Circles in Shanghai, China. She truly embodies women empowerment, which is what this Global Girl Boss series is all about, and here’s her story:
Originally from Italy, Roberta first came to China in 2007 to study Chinese in Tianjin. Today, she’s been in Shanghai for about four years, and was in Beijing before that, which is a city that’s part of her heart. And the city where she landed her first job after graduating as a project manager for a software company.
But after a time, Roberta felt she needed to go back to Europe and get some western working experience, as China and Europe were very different at that time. So, she took an opportunity with the Bank of China and was stationed in Rome. But as much as she loved and still loves Rome, Roberta experienced reverse culture shock and had a difficult time being back there.
She decided to stay and finish the job, however, until she got a new job with a company in renewable energy. Through that job, she was able to travel often and even lived in San Francisco for a while, and, as she says: “Had the time of my life.”
After that job, Roberta finally went back to the city she loves so much: Beijing. But during her second affair with the city, Beijing was changing a lot and becoming different than what she had been used to. As well, the pollution had just started becoming really unbearable. So Roberta and her partner made the move to Shanghai to get a change of scenery.
There, she started an MBA program and a new job that was still relevant to her field of expertise. Roberta has always been in some type of marketing, working with B2B companies, mostly on the strategy side of things. And she says that the new job was a good fit.
As she was getting settled into Shanghai, Roberta read the book Lean In, by Sheryl Sandberg and Nell Scovell, and thought, “This really makes sense.” It really resonated with her, especially being someone who has worked in corporations all her life. So she attended one meeting of a Lean In Circle in Shanghai to check it out, but it was different from what she had been expecting.
So, she asked herself a great question:
“Why don’t I start one?”
Roberta has always been about women’s empowerment and supporting women, so that’s exactly what she did!
Lean In’s website has a place where you can register your community Circle and download some basic materials. Then, the rest is up to the group leader and members as to what each meeting is about. In the beginning of the Circle, there were just three and now there’s about one hundred in the community Roberta has created.
“Women empowerment is my ‘thing’ and I want to take part in the process of empowering women, but I want to be empowered as well.”
Roberta says it’s been the most amazing experience—the most amazing thing she’s been part of so far—for herself and for the impact it’s had on the women involved. The philosophy and practice of this Lean In Circle and others like it is that women have a unique voice and are allowed and encouraged to bring that to the table.
To Roberta, the way she sees it is that it’s a community where women come and they have different skills or ideas, and then they share and train the others. It’s a safe environment and is not just about networking, but an actual place where women can talk about their strengths and weaknesses and be able to ask questions and get something out of each session. It’s a safe place for women, and someday for men to join in on the movement.
In the beginning, it was tough to grow the community. But it was fun for Roberta to tailor the workshops while it was so small. Now it’s growing more and is at a point where she has to decide between quality and quantity. It’s a struggle, as she wants to be able to provide access to this community to lots of women, but also wants to make sure that every meeting is of high value for attendees.
How can she overcome this challenge? Roberta explains: “The thing about Shanghai is that there are so many amazing communities that are different with their own characteristics.” So perhaps it could be expanded by partnering with like-minded groups in the future.
Lean In has its own platform and website, therefore Roberta encourages community members to subscribe and stay up to date with Lean In news. Also, community members connect via WeChat (China’s number one texting—and then some—app) in groups and can extract a QR code to register for workshops. There are actually about twenty different Circles like this in Shanghai, and Roberta’s is one of the Circles recommended by Lean In because of its consistency. So now, she wants to start implementing more help and structure to keep this Circle going.
In the actual meetings and workshops, insights are shared, as well as the material about the topic. After that, there are articles shared in group chats related to the specific topic to keep the conversation ongoing. This Lean In Circle has been around and active for about 1 year and 5 months now, and Roberta attributes its success to the community members who keep investing in the movement.
At the very core of women’s empowerment, Roberta touched on self-care and what that actually means. Because it certainly isn’t about making sure your nails are done and dinner’s on the table by 6pm. She used the example of women being such givers, naturally. Women give so much effort, she explained, but not a lot of people are talking about it.
For example, giving birth to a child is natural, but it’s also a huge effort and completely changes everything for a woman. She asks: why is no one talking about this? Why is there still this cultural expectation that women still should be everything, even after bringing forth a tiny human they and their partners are now responsible for? And it’s not just about this circumstance; it’s about every circumstance that women face. It’s about what Lean In Circles stand for: women being empowered to know it’s okay to not be perfect—what even is perfect, really?—and learning how to ask for what they need in and out of the home.
As Roberta says: “If you don’t know how to ask for what you need, then you won’t ask. You will probably think: this is the way it has to be.” She wants women to know that this doesn’t have to be the case.
For example, one of the workshops her Lean In Circle had was about being your own superhero. Feeling the power of turning things around, especially those things that aren’t working for you, when you show up for yourself. When you ask for what you need because you deserve to have it. It’s not about being perfect; it’s about showing up for yourself first and being your own superhero. Roberta really believes that: “We need to change the way we look at ourselves.”
So what’s next for this girl boss? Well, for starters, some of Roberta’s goals this year include taking it easier and giving herself more space to reflect on what she really wants. As for the Lean In Circle community, it’s to have more structure and hopefully work with others who can take the lead in certain areas to create more of an impact for the women in Shanghai.
And speaking of community, Roberta’s top advice for Girl Bosses and anyone else, for that matter? Maintain your friendships. She says that your friendships are so important and that you should always take the time for them. It’s what’s grown her and also kept her grounded, especially while living abroad.
If you’ve got some great friends and a women’s network that could use some type of direction and deeper community, why not start your own Lean In Circle where you live? It’s easy to do, and the organization provides some free materials to help you get going. Find out more about Lean In by going to: leanin.org
Next time, we’ll get all the dirt on a young Girl Boss who didn’t have a great working abroad experience, and what she did to change it . . . to literally save her own life.
Images Courtesy of Lean In & Tamar Hela
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About Tamar Hela:
Tamar Hela is a California girl but currently lives in Shanghai, China, planning world domination one day at a time. She’s the Queen of How-To for Sticky Steps, a digital education company that teaches young professionals essential skills for the workplace. Her latest project is HELAhealth, where she aspires to connect travelers and expats to natural and alternative health options in Asia. And as if that’s not enough, she also moonlights as a freelance editor and writer (with 40 edited novels under her belt and 3 published works of her own), loves traveling and reading, and runs natural health and creative workshops in Shanghai. Find her at www.tamarhela.com.