“My whole world has changed, but my workplace’s expectations haven’t. I am paying twice as much for childcare and caring for my children’s mental health needs on top of my normal job. This has been going on for a year, but expectations for my performance in the workplace haven’t changed.”.
“I was watching an old home movie of my son’s baptism with my seven-year-old when he turned to me in horror, saying, ‘OMG, you let that person (the minister) kiss me?”
“Is it a bad sign if my two-year-old automatically points to the desk by the door every time we go out asking ‘mask?'”
The COVID-19 pandemic has placed enormous stresses on women in the workplace and maybe jeopardizing the future of women in leadership. 11.5 million women were lost from the workplace between February and May 2020 and another 865,000 left between August and September, four times the number of men during that same period.
According to Medscape, burnout is on the rise for women physicians. More than half of all women physicians report being burned out (51 percent compared with a steady rate of 36 percent of men). You can see from the quotes above, COVID-19 amplified the pre-existing condition of burnout.
Burnout and leaky pipelines have been on the rise for decades. An analysis by McKinzie & Company concludes: “If organizations don’t make the needed changes … far fewer women will be on track to be future leaders.”
Burnout is, at least in part, attributed to a decrease in connection. Belonging and collaborative relationships are basic human needs. In primitive times, belonging to a group increased our chances of survival. The advent of 15-minute patient appointment times and mind-numbing click-throughs in electronic medical records were already distancing physicians from patients. The COVID-19 pandemic also took away casual coffee gatherings and hallway conversations.
Our brains are intensely social. People with strong social supports live longer and healthier lives. We live in a world with an unending thirst for connection.
This year, in the midst of COVID-19, the women in our specialty area created a mastermind group. We arranged to meet just one time. The connection we experienced was so restorative; we agreed to meet for another five months. This past month we committed to meeting indefinitely. If you are also thirsting for the connections that inspire, challenge and support you, this piece shares evidence and resources for starting your own mastermind group.
Mastermind groups, also known as learning communities, circles of trust and communities of practice, dating back to ancient times. The term “mastermind group” was coined by Napoleon Hill in 1925 for a behavior that he found common among successful professionals including Henry Ford, Theodore Roosevelt, John D. Rockefeller, and Charles Schwab.
Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Harvey Firestone, and John Burroughs would take camping trips together in a group they called the “Vagabonds” so that they could learn from each other. Hill describes mastermind groups as “The coordination of knowledge and effort of two or more people, who work toward a definite purpose, in the spirit of harmony.” Harvard Business Review author Etienne Wegner calls this a community of practice who “share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.”
The prestigious Executive Leadership for Academic Medicine (ELAM) program, recognized for training national leaders in academic medicine, has utilized learning communities for over three decades. These communities are so valued by participants that many continue for years.
Numerous websites and readings describe how to start a mastermind group. Here are the basic ingredients:
The group: Between 5-12 peers who share a commitment to the domain (e.g., women’s leadership, career stage, clinical specialty, book club, etc.), value learning from each other, and are committed to engaging in joint activities and mutual support.
The process: Determine frequency, time, modality, ground rules etc. One of the most important things to do early is to create a safe space; agree that any confidential disclosures will stay in the group. Virtual meetings can help optimize timing around family and professional obligations.
General format — 5-step meeting process:
1. Pre-meeting probe. We circulate a probe ahead of the meeting so individuals can bring contributions & reflections (e.g., time management hacks, book/ conference learnings, 30-day challenge, stay interviews, etc.)
2. Check-ins and updates.
3. Topic of the day
4. Wrap up and plan for next session
5. Capture – sending a few bullet points after the meeting can allow others who missed to join the discussion and add resources
Our mastermind group brought eleven of us together and initiated and deepened our healing bonds. We share in each other’s victories and struggles, we help each other, and most importantly, we know we are not alone. That positive energy is contagious.
In just six short months, we were able to celebrate when two women in our group have already ascended to their dream leadership positions. People have commented that things seem to be more transparent. We are more likely to talk about professional issues when we observe them and to problem-solve together.
We do simple acts of kindness that make a huge difference — being genuinely excited to see one another, coming early to allow someone to go home, amplifying messages, or publicly praising someone’s professional actions so that person knows they are valued. As doctors, we are good at caring for our patients when they are most vulnerable. The mastermind group allows us to focus that skill on each other and to reap the benefits of both giving and accepting care.
According to General Martin Dempsey, “The most important responsibility of leaders, no matter how busy they are and how many priorities demand their attention, is to make their people feel like they belong.” As physicians and scientists, we can apply the evidence from neuroscience and business and intentionally create this sense of belonging. Mastermind groups can be an important step in that direction.
Jeanne-Marie Guise is an obstetrician-gynecologist.
Image credit: Shutterstock.com