Elevate*Authentic*Self*Emerge: EASE Women’s Connection Circles

Posted on March 30, 2018

Chris Meehan is currently completing her MBA at Marlboro College Graduate and Professional Studies. For her Capstone, Chris developed an approach to women's leadership circles, based on feedback from her peers. In this post, Chris offers insights into her project and talks about where she'll be taking it next.


Circle of Hands


Over the years, I have faced significant challenges in trying to balance the demands of work and home while being vulnerable enough to reach out for support. As a professional woman, mother, partner, daughter, student, friend, community member (to mention a few), there are many demands on my time and I have high expectations of myself. For my entire 27-year career, I have been in positions that have been at the management or executive level, yet I continue to struggle personally with the concept of networking. It is hard to find the time, but it has also been a challenge for me socially to network, to reach out for help and be vulnerable.  


I am not alone; this is also true of other professional women and emerging leaders. Networking is especially important for women. Emerging leaders, particularly professional women who may be struggling with cultivating a sense of ease and balance in their lives, are faced with the competing priorities of work and home. It is challenging for women in these circumstances to find the social support, connection and networking opportunities needed to thrive, succeed and make an impact.    

My Capstone sought to address this issue of lack of connection, ease and opportunity for women to network by creating a prototype, an initial group and a process by which networking and support circles for professional women and emerging leaders could be created, madeaccessible, and sustained.

In creating this circle and process, my hope was that I would be pushed toward the growing edge of my own leadership journey in order for me to be able to pivot to what is next for me. All of my experiences, learning and courses over the past three plus years have culminated in this project that is utilizing the personal leadership development that is so crucial to the Marlboro experience. It has also brought together many of the skills learned around prototyping/piloting, facilitation and participatory leadership.

The EASE Women’s Connection Circle creation process has involved:

  • Planning

  • Research

  • Focus group

  • Data gathering: pre-survey

  • Iterating

  • Workshop/circle prototype

  • Evaluation

  • Iterating

  • Launching the first official EASE women’s connection circle

  • Two additional circles will have occurred

  • Data gathering: post-survey

  • Overall evaluation

The ultimate outcome of this project was that a core group of women in Central Vermont (including myself) will be better off as a result of this project. There have been 15 women that have participated in the focus group, the workshop/circle prototype and/or the first official circle. I conducted a pre-survey to determine a baseline for this group of women. Key data points were:


  • Women in my community/social network know what I feel, think or am experiencing:

    • 46.2% said rarely; 38.5% said some of the time

  • I talk to close friends or colleagues about challenges in my life:

    • 7.7% said rarely; 53.8% said some of the time

  • I would like a close relationship with more women:

    • 92.3% said true

  • I feel I have a good work/life balance:

    • 15.4% said rarely; 69.2% said some of the time


Here are some great quotes from the second circle which illustrate the positive impact circle is having:


“I left the last one so inspired and in awe of you SG for putting yourself out there; it was a great experience being on the other end of that process.


“The last time that I came to the group I didn’t think that I had time or that I really needed it, but subconsciously I know that this is what I need. I need other women that are on different points on this path - gaining perspective from others who are going through this is something I need.”


“I really got so much out of last time and I didn’t realize it until much later. Just having that strength from our last circle really brought a lot to me in that moment. There are these different ways of looking at things and how we handle situations and the challenges we face and knowing that we’re not facing them alone and that there are other ways and people to lean on.”


“It was literally the best 15 minutes of my life because it turns out that these issues are universal; everyone has dealt with it. To hear what other women had to say, so many things have clicked that have stuck with me and shaped how I’m looking at that challenge in my life.”


As this Women’s Connection Circle (and possibly others like it), moves forward, there is much to consider. Among the activities in which the initial group of circle women were interested, structured networking for women, seminars/workshops re. a special interest or topic, and expert sessions or speakers were of interest to all. Gatherings around food and and unstructured networking were also of interest to some. Creating group principles and agreements, promoting shared leadership, deciding upon future activities, and thinking more about issues facing working women are all important.


I also plan to create, promote and share a how-to guide for other women to be able to start circles of their own. Because connection circles are much more impactful with only 8-12 women, it will be necessary for other women to start additional circles if they are interested in joining. One of the hopes of the women’s connection circle that I started was that all the circles that are eventually created will be connected together in some way.


Chris Meehan is in the MBA program concentrating on Mission Driven Organizations; she will be graduating in May 2018. She is a partner, mother, daughter, friend, runner, advocate...Professionally, Chris has been the Chief Community Impact Officer for the Vermont Foodbank for the last ten years. To connect with Chris, please email cmeehan@gradschool.marlboro.edu.


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Chris Meehan, Chief Community Impact Officer for the Vermont Foodbank and current Marlboro MBA student