Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer at Facebook, and her "Lean In" message about women in the workforce have gained national recognition and started a national conversation in the past few years. At 6 p.m. Thursday, a panel of five business leaders and University of Richmond faculty members will join Nancy Bagranoff, dean of the E. Claiborne Robins School of Business, to discuss Sandberg's message.

Bagranoff came up with the idea for the event, titled "Women, Leadership, and Leaning In," after watching Sandberg's TED Talk and reading her book, "Lean In: Women, Work, and The Will to Lead," which was published earlier this year.

Sandberg gave her TED Talk, titled "Why we have too few women leaders," in December 2010. It has since been viewed on almost 3 million times. In it, she described how women unintentionally hold themselves back in their careers and encouraged young women to lean in, pursuing their careers by "sitting at the table," seeking challenges and taking risks.

In her book, Sandberg "digs deeper into these issues, combining personal anecdotes, hard data and compelling research to cut through the layers of ambiguity and bias surrounding the lives and choices of working women," according to Amazon's description of "Lean In."

"I thought it would be a good subject for our students to think about," Bagranoff wrote in an email to The Collegian. "It is my hope that all students who graduate with a major in the Robins School will be sure to lean in and speak up."

Shelley Burns, director of career programs in the business school, said that in organizing the panel, she and Bagranoff had wanted to represent the three groups Sandberg wrote about in her book as playing a role in women's leaning in: women, men and organizations.

According to the event information on Richmond's website, the panelists will include Bill Bishop, Crystal Hoyt, Katie Gilstrap, Leslie Griles and Gail Letts.

Bishop is a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers, one of the "Big Four" accounting firms, which "have traditionally done a great job of really empowering women and having women's groups," Burns said.

Hoyt is a leadership and psychology professor, as well as the coordinator of the Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies program at Richmond.

"We thought she would be a great fit," Burns said of Hoyt, "because she could bring a different element that you haven't heard much. We really like that we can bring in a social psychologist who's done research on gender and leadership."

"The final three women are women who have successfully leaned in," Burns said of Gilstrap, CEO and co-founder of Lift Caregiving and a faculty member in the business school; Griles, director of outreach partnerships at The Mom Complex and The Martin Agency; and Letts, chief lending officer, Richmond region president and executive vice president for C&F Bank.

Bagranoff wrote that she agreed with Sandberg's basic premise, and although she did not know the other panelists' views yet, she expects "there will be some debate."

Burns said, "They are all excited about having the conversation and sometimes having differences of opinion is not a bad thing. We wanted different perspectives."

Thursday, Bagranoff will briefly introduce the panelists, who will spend five minutes each talking about the book and the elements that resonated most with them, Burns said. Then, Bagranoff will ask the panelists a series of questions about the book. There will be time for questions from the audience at the end, and there is also a reception following the panel when audience members can talk further with each other or with the panelists, Burns said.

"This topic should be informative for everyone, and apparently it resonated, because we had to close registration last week at 300," Bagranoff wrote. Burns said those registered were a mix of students, people from the corporate community and alumni.

Thursday's panel will take place at 6 p.m. in Ukrop Auditorium in the business school.

Contact reporter Maggie Burch at