by Carrie Bornstein

I never thought I was making a statement.

And yet, as I watched Makers: Women Who Make America on PBS a few weeks ago, I was blown away. If you didn’t see it, Makers tells the story of women “asserting their rights to a full and fair share of political power, economic opportunity, and personal autonomy” from the 1950’s on. Watching examples of outright discrimination – the “women need not apply” statements that took place not so long before I was born – I couldn’t believe my eyes and ears. At first I felt silly for not knowing just how real this was in such recent history. And quickly, I felt tremendous gratitude that I have been able to live my life so blissfully ignorant.

I realized something about the amazing women I have met in the past few years, the ones who make a point to tell me they are inspired by Mayyim Hayyim’s work as an organization founded and run in large part by women. I understood that while I am fortunate enough to take it for granted, these women paved the way and made it possible.

Today Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, hits the shelves. I recently watched her 2010 TED Talk where this Facebook COO first outlined her vision for women who want to stay in the workforce, particularly in light of having children. She advises a three-point plan:

  1. Sit at the Table: no one ever moved ahead in their career by sitting on the sidelines
  2. Make Your Partner a Real Partner: share home responsibilities 50/50
  3. Don’t Leave Before You Leave: assume you will succeed in your career, and keep moving forward until you have that baby

With all the criticism Sheryl Sandberg has received leading up to her publication, I admit there’s a part of me that feels like I’m supposed to jump on this bandwagon, blaming men, the government, or employers.

But I have to say I find her outlook validating. Subconsciously, this roadmap has been my own. What previously just seemed like taking one step at a time doing what felt right, now makes me realize I am a part of something larger.

Being in a leadership position while eight months pregnant (Really? When did that happen?), I recall what I now connect as a string of questions in recent months, even years, (most often from women, incidentally) asking incredulously, “How are you going to do that?”

I never know whether “that” means having children, or having three of them, or continuing to work, or being an executive director, or working full-time, or going back to work after twelve weeks, or living hours away from family, or any combination of these….

Regardless, my answer is always the same. “I have no idea.”

And then I quickly follow with, “But my mother did it… and Aliza Kline did it… and Sheri Gurock did it… and Jessica Hirsh Weiss did it… and Rachel Kohl Finegold did it… and…”

And my partner is a real partner, sharing home responsibilities 50/50 – or more like at least 60/40 – let’s be honest. (Sweeping the floors isn’t exactly my thing.) And Mayyim Hayyim supports this work-home flexibility, having just signed on to the Better Work / Better Life Campaign created by Advancing Women Professionals and the Jewish Community, adopting policies that support work/life fit and organizational effectiveness. (We’re number 65 to sign on in their effort to get 100 Jewish organizations on board.)

And I realize that because all these women – the Makers, the Mayyim Hayyim founders and sustainers, Sheryl Sandberg, my own mother, mentors, and friends – did it before me, it makes no difference that I don’t know how I’m doing it. What matters is that I believe that I can (OK – fine, Mom. Maybe you were right.) and that by figuring out a way to make it work, I am allowing other women to believe they can do it too, if they so choose.

Lean In encourages women to gather to have these conversations, share stories, and support one another. In our virtual Lean In circle here on this blog, please share your thoughts (women and men). Agree, disagree, share your experiences. I’m eager to hear what you think.

Carrie Bornstein is Mayyim Hayyim’s Executive Director. Follow her on twitter @carolinering.