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Beri Ridgeway, MD, is Cleveland Clinic’s first woman Chief of Staff and is the former Chair of the Women’s Health Institute. She practices clinically in Female Pelvic Medicine and Reconstructive Surgery and has authored over 70 peer-reviewed articles and 10 book chapters. In this episode, we discuss Beri’s thoughts on skills needed to be a good leader, imposter syndrome, and work-life integration as she balances her new role as Chief of Staff with a husband and 3 school-age boys at home.

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Beri Ridgeway, MD

Podcast Transcript

Cara King:

Hi, my name is Dr. Cara King and my cohost Dr. Mary Rensel and I want to welcome you to the Women's Professional Staff Association (WPSA) podcast called Inspirations and Insights from Cleveland Clinic Women Docs. In this podcast, we'll share conversations with women doctors from all career stages and practices, exploring the highlights and challenges of being a woman in medicine. We hope these thought provoking stories inspire you and provide insight into the unique challenges and accomplishments of remarkable women docs.

Cara King:

Welcome back to Inspirations and Insights from Cleveland Clinic Women Docs. This is your host, Dr. Cara King, and we hope everyone is having a fantastic week. We are incredibly honored to have Dr. Beri Ridgeway on our show today. Beri is the very first female chief of staff at the Cleveland Clinic. She transitioned to this position back in January (2021), and we were all incredibly proud of her tremendous accomplishments. We hope you enjoy our interview today, where we discuss how Beri has honed her leadership skills, the systemic issues attributing to imposter syndrome and her work-life integration as she leads a busy house of three boys at home.

Cara King:

I am incredibly honored to welcome Dr. Beri Bridgeway to our WPSA podcast today. She is our brand new chief of staff starting in January. So welcome Beri. We are so honored to have you.

Beri Ridgeway:

Thank you, Cara. I'm so excited to be here. I appreciate the opportunity.

Cara King:

So when I started here, one and a half years ago, you were actually my chair of the Women's Health Institute. You actually hired me. Do you remember this?

Beri Ridgeway:

Of course, I remember this. Yes, you were one of our key hires, and I knew along with Roseanne Kho, who we worked with, that you would be the superstar you are. Surgically, of course. I did not anticipate this expanding podcast career. Of course, I remember it. And it was a joy and I love being chair and, and your chair for that matter.

Cara King:

I know I loved having you right down the hallway from you, and we definitely miss you, but we are all so incredibly proud of your new transition. So you've transitioned a few times since I started a year and a half ago. And like I said, most recently you have moved up to Chief of Staff, which is so well-deserved and truly an amazing accomplishment. And I can speak firsthand at how incredible your leadership skills are. So, so well deserved. Congratulations.

Beri Ridgeway:

Oh gosh. Thank you. It's hard to think of it in that way. It's an incredible opportunity and I really excited to, to be here, to have this position, have a seat at the table and bring everyone that I have worked with, and really all of our staff along with me.

Cara King:

Finally, really, truly representing women's health, right? Like you said, a seat at the table to really shed a lens into what women are going through in the healthcare system.

Beri Ridgeway:

Absolutely. And it really is one of my “whys” for taking this position because as I have shared with many over the years that women's health is my passion. And most people who do go into OBGYN, it's certainly not for the glamorous lifestyle. It's not for the working hours, that's for sure. It's really for a passion for women and women's health. And that was my “why” really, in medicine and in leading Women's Health Institute, a really, almost expanded that so that I could care for department of people who would be doing that. And in this role, I'm not forgetting women's health or women for that matter. It's really about optimizing work and life and health for women so that they can live to their fullest potential.

Cara King:

And we are going to circle back to that and I love how you really have optimized the integration of all these things. And you've been so creative and not only for our patients, but also for the staff here and how to optimize our schedules and optimize our clinical duties to really integrate our home in life and a really synergistic way. You have spearheaded that for sure.

Beri Ridgeway:

No, thank you. It's something that I really enjoy. I, first of all, love challenges. I'm someone who likes puzzles and when people bring a question or a request, I always think of, how can I make this happen? And there's always an intersection where a plan will mostly work for most people, right? Or, I always say, I try to make most people mostly happy. You're never going to be a hundred percent. But it was actually, part of this came from, believe it or not, this article that I read on the internet about parenting.

Beri Ridgeway:

My oldest is now 12, when he was probably two or three, and it was just a commentary about, instead of saying, why, say, why not? And when they say like, "Oh, I want to do this" instead of like, "Oh, no." Or, "Why?" Say, "Oh, why not?" And really when you change the perspective of that, it changes how you think about things. And it opens possibilities instead of being really deficit based thinking. And so when people often come and they say, I want to do this, I now have trained myself to say, "why not?" And try to find a way to make it work. And often, even for the other people who you'll have to make an ask for, there's a bright spot in there that it ends up being a win-win

Cara King:

That is really, really powerful. And I haven't really thought about that twist in your lens before about the "why not”, but that makes complete sense, right? In that if you empower the person who's coming to you with an ask to somehow make it work and have the support from their superior to make it work, that makes everybody happy. It's a complete win-win. So that's a really important shift that you acknowledged. That's awesome.

Beri Ridgeway:

And we're so spoiled here, really at Cleveland Clinic in medicine. We're with a group of people who at baseline almost uniformly are extremely hardworking, are wanting to do the right thing and really, why not? Right? Most people aren't really trying to skirt the system or take the easy road. And so really I see my job in leadership and as a chair and now, as Chief of Staff is to say like, "Oh, that that is a great idea. Why not? Let's, let's see how we can make it work out." And occasionally working together, all parties all realize like, "Ooh, either not now, or let's alter this a little bit, or here's the bright spot that we can start with." And people who are really motivated they'll make it work. And even if you have to start out small for proof of concept, you do that. And the investment and the risk is tiny if you're starting out small, but the engagement is huge. And the chance of actually succeeding and growing is, is gigantic.

Cara King:

So I want to dive into your actual leadership skills because being a leader is actually really difficult. And I think we all can see that we've had some really amazing leaders in most of our careers and some leaders that have been maybe not as amazing. And we learned probably from all of them. And I once heard that you can only be a leader if people want to follow you. And that has resonated with me. So I'm just curious, how have you developed and honed your leadership skills? What have you done over the course of your career with resources you've used or maybe professional development courses that you've taken? How have you honed your skills? Because they're phenomenal.

Beri Ridgeway:

You're too kind. I don't think they are, to be honest. And I'm not just saying that. It's something that I think about a lot and I struggle with all the time. I think the very first step and the part that has been instrumental for me is making sure that I know myself. That's not easy and we all through the course of living and growing up and having our own families develop habits and ways and ways of thinking specifically. And so I've done a fair amount of work on just understanding myself and understanding why I think about the things, the way that I think about them, why I react. And I actually did a fair amount of it. My third maternity leave. I said, "I'm never going to have time to go and speak to like a coach or a counselor or a therapist like in this kind of level."

Beri Ridgeway:

And so I actually spent some time, I still had a nanny from having the other two kids. And I thought, I'm going to work on myself also during this time. And so I think that has been an enormous thing for me is that I do understand myself. And as part of the specific work I did then was about having empathy for myself, which I don't think I ever had or an area where I continually struggle, trying to always be perfect and do the right thing and in having empathy for myself, it actually has increased my capacity for empathy, for others. And that I think was a pivotal moment for me beyond that I've done a few smaller leadership courses. It's interesting because I haven't actually done many. But when I have done a few, it had been a set time which really allowed some thinking space instead of go, go, go, go, pop in for this leadership course.

Beri Ridgeway:

It was a couple of days where I could really disconnect, do some testing, like strength, finders, values, other things, and really be disconnected enough where I could think about those results and then how it applied to what I was doing, where my career is going. And then the third thing I'll say is parenting.

Cara King:

Yes.

Beri Ridgeway:

I know this is not a maybe a popular thing, but I say that I've learned significant leadership skills in parenting, and you don't have to be a parent to develop those skills, there's lots of ways to do it. But having three kids, managing a household, having a spouse who, at the time, worked out of the home, managing a nanny, managing everything that goes along with that, you really have to learn leadership skills. And I've a joke that, I'm going to give a talk and it's like all ever learned about leadership, I learned like through parenting, but it's true. It's all about people management and that's not to imply that adults are childish. It's that it's the same type of relationship and working and coaching and bringing a group together. A lot of the same skills.

Cara King:

I hadn't really thought about how parenting is actually a true form of leadership. I also have three kids and I can absolutely see that overlap. Like every day I come home and my house isn't on fire, my three kids are alive and I am winning as a leader at home.

Beri Ridgeway:

You're a hundred percent winning. No, it's absolutely true. And you know, it's funny because sometimes you, now I see this from being in my situation in job right now, is they'll say, "Oh, this CV or this person, it may seem a little scarce here or between 2009 and 2014, it kind of seemed like she wasn't doing very much." And I think to myself, I guarantee she had a few children and she was doing everything and gaining a lot of perspective and a lot of leadership skills and strengths in that. But it's just not appreciated in the same way because of how we look at CVs and value energy or value skills and tasks and achievements

Cara King:

That is so powerful. And I also really loved how you made a comment about having self empathy. You know, I think a lot about the self-talk that we have on ourselves. And oftentimes the things that I'm thinking about myself or telling myself, I would never say to anybody else, right? So why do we allow ourselves to speak to ourselves like that, right? You make a really good point.

Beri Ridgeway:

All the time. And I was really an extreme case of that. And as you were trying to manage three children, a surgical career, a family, a husband, a partner, et cetera, throw a dog in the mix. I'm sure there's a lot of mistakes and there's a lot of things that don't go as planned and it's very easy to be self-critical. And I really sort of got to the point with the work that I did of saying was just realizing, Oh, you know what? I did my best. It wasn't perfect, but I did my best. And as you say, it's a win because nothing is on fire, everyone's alive, and at the end of the day, it's all good.

Cara King:

I love it. Now, going back to skills of leaders, do you think the skills and strengths required, or even desired for female leaders differ at all from male leaders? You think those attributes vary?

Beri Ridgeway:

So it's a really interesting question. And I don't think the skills and the attributes vary, meaning that what makes a good leader should be and is really the same. I think that men and women are judged very differently and that's the part that is different and that can be particularly challenging in my mind. Right? Because when you think of a leader, you think I want someone who is going to put the group first. I want someone who's going to be fair, is going to listen, is going to be transparent, is going to explain the why and make the best decision for the group, and then bring the group along. When you see individuals in action, though, the way their leadership is perceived can be quite different and is likely unfair in most of the cases.

Cara King:

So interesting. So characteristics are similar, but when females versus males exemplify those same characteristics, they're perceived differently.

Beri Ridgeway:

Oh, absolutely. And also just who kind of puts themselves into leadership and I've read this several times, but I'm going to not quote it exactly right, but, and this is big stereotypes, of course, when men see a job description, if they check off a couple of the things they say, "Oh, I can do this job." Whereas women typically will say, "I have to have met every single criteria before I'll even consider applying." And so that shrinks sort of our group that goes into there. And I think that that is a challenge I would like to remove or a barrier I'd like to remove so that we get people in understanding that a lot of this is on the job learning. I don't want to share a secret here, but I do not know how to be chief of staff, I'm just doing it.

Cara King:

Oh my gosh, you are so ridiculous, so humble.

Beri Ridgeway:

Every day I'm just coming in and figuring out what I need, how to do this. Right? And so I would, I share that just to encourage others in that you have the skillsets to do these jobs, even if you haven't done this specific things that you think are required of that job.

Cara King:

So I want to dive into this. I want to dive in really deep and I want to bring up an article that you posted on your Twitter feed recently about imposter syndrome. And it was such an interesting discussion that was generated. And you actually posted about how imposter syndrome may actually be the most ultimate form of gas lighting, which rocked my mind. Tell me more about that.

Beri Ridgeway:

So it was interesting. I've always, of course, heard of imposter syndrome. I've suffered from it myself. And I read the article and they don't use the term gas lighting in there. And it's an article in Harvard Business Review. And it talks about like why this is and et cetera. As I read it, I thought like, wow, in a system where there are microaggressions or aggressions, and the victim of those aggressions feels like they can't do it, they've been told all along they can't, they start feeling that. And now we're coming out and saying, Oh, and by the way, now you have a syndrome, you have a problem that you need to take leadership courses and you need to try to fix, like there's something wrong with you-

Cara King:

Exactly.

Beri Ridgeway:

...And about how you think of yourself, it just really struck me like, Oh my gosh. And of course in my mind, I also have... I think there's a lot of stigma around the word “syndrome” in medicine in general. And so I think I'm particularly sensitive to that. And so I just thought, wow, this is really creating a never-win situation for women to some degree, but underrepresented minorities, for sure. Where the system is not welcoming, there's intentional or unintentional event after event, and then we say, Oh, and like, you feel like you can't do it, what's wrong with you?

Beri Ridgeway:

I've been to a number of leadership courses where they talk about here are the traits that you need to do--You need to speak with a deeper voice. You need to not be emotional. You need to not put exclamations on your emails, which by the way, if you know me, I put a billion exclamation marks in my emails. You need to not do this, you need to act like a man. I've asked before, even in these courses, but to get back to the same, why, if all the research shows that a more diverse workplace is better, is healthier and serves, whether it's the client or the patient better, why don't we embrace those diverse qualities instead of trying to make the workforce more homogeneous? Even if it's a woman or a URM (underrepresented minority), but say you need to speak and act in this way. And so it sort of coalesced all of those things.

Cara King:

You're giving me goosebumps, just hearing this. And what really resonates with me and from that article is as said that confidence does not equal competence, right? So many males will walk in very confident, just like you said about women have to feel like they have to check all the boxes, but men will walk in very confident and that doesn't equal more competent than maybe somebody else who applies for that position. And it was interesting in that article, I had also stated that the same system that rewards male leaders for confidence, it also punishes women for lacking confidence. And overall feeling unsure or question something shouldn't make us an imposter, right? It's like so disconnected.

Beri Ridgeway:

It's so disconnected. And the reward for confidence, I think we have seen failures over and over and over. I'm hoping that in reading that and other literature that's out there, that people can really embrace the thought of developing women from leaders from an early age, right? This is important. And figuring out who your most likely bets or sure bets are people who'd be interested in this kind of leadership and then developing them from a young age. It's hard because, and we all fall prey to this, so there's emphasis not against men or male leaders, but because of just how we grow up and how we live, you love to support people who look and think like you. That's just a fact.

Beri Ridgeway:

And if you say, Oh, no, I don't do that, that's part of the problem. Like you have to really recognize that and say, Oh gosh, like, like I got to fix this, and I got to intentionally find others who have interests in leadership development, whether it's for academics or researcher or managing others and develop them with that in mind from an early age. Because if we just wait for people, women, URMs (underrepresented minorities) to have high leadership positions and then find people who look like them, this is going to be decades and decades away. And in the meantime, our caregivers, our physicians, and most importantly, our patients will suffer.

Cara King:

I mean, I think you nailed it. If you can't see it, you can't be it. And so I think it is so important for all of us to see you Beri, in your Chief of Staff position. I can't even tell you how just excited and rejuvenated I am to see you there and hear you on our morning, everyone, 5 billion enterprise wide meetings, hearing you speak. It gives us a hope for the future that that times are changing.

Beri Ridgeway:

Well, I appreciate that. And that is also the vision of Dr. (Tom) Mihaljevic (Cleveland Clinic CEO) right? I wouldn't be in this position without him, without his thoughts and his dedication to women in our professional staff and our other caregivers. Right? Because if this is something that, if it weren't for him supporting me in this, then a chance of me having this job would be zero. And I, and I recognize that. And I think that that's important and I'll do my very best right. I'm going to make a ton of mistakes along the way. But as long as I, again, empathy for myself, I will try my best. And I'm excited. And I just feel so fortunate and really in working with our docs, it really is amazing, amazing opportunity to work with some of the best and the brightest in the entire world.

Cara King:

Oh, you have an entire tribe of people behind you supporting you. And we all so value how transparent you are and how humble you are and you have all of our support, Beri.

Beri Ridgeway:

Well, I appreciate it so much. And I still continue to practice and I still am in WHI (Women’s Health Institute) as a surgeon and as a physician. So I will be seeing you there as well.

Cara King:

That's right. All of the Uro-Gyn (Urology-Gynecology) issues come over to Crile (building). That's right. So I just want to end our conversation. I want to bring in your three boys and you talk about being a mom and a parent and a wife. And I hear a lot about work-life balance and I don't know why balance strikes me kind of funny. I think it's because I love to work and I work a lot and I really enjoy being here. And so I actually liked the word integration a little bit better. Work-life integration. Can you talk a little bit about how you've managed to integrate all the things that you have on your plate?

Beri Ridgeway:

I think it's a great question. I would never use the word balance, that's for sure. It's said all the time, but find your passion and it won't be work. And I think I've definitely done that. And so I really love to work and it's almost embarrassing when people say to me, what are your past times? What did you like to do in your free time? And I think I have no idea. And I don't frankly, care to find out, sometimes. No, I'm just kidding. It's also a good example for my kids. Like I have found what I am passionate about, and I hope they find something that they're as passionate about. I value time with them beyond anything. I have been afforded a little bit more flexibility in having a leadership role where overall I'm working more, but I have a little more flexibility than I previously had.

Beri Ridgeway:

And so I do value that I try to get home every night to have some time with them, even if it means doing a little bit work after that. And it's been interesting in the pandemic because I always thought that they had... If they could've come complain about one thing, it was my hours, but actually it was the traveling.

Cara King:

Oh, wow.

Beri Ridgeway:

It has shocked me in that, and because with COVID, I haven't traveled at all. That was what bothered them.

Cara King:

So interesting.

Beri Ridgeway:

Though I've missed traveling, I haven't missed it as much as I thought I would, to be honest. And so I'm going to attempt to, to travel less and be there at night with them. So they're 12, 10 and seven. They often eat earlier than when I get home, but I get home and they, because there are three boys, they have a second dinner.

Cara King:

Another gallon of milk.

Beri Ridgeway:

Yes. Another gallon of milk. And we'll hang out or play UNO, that's a big game right now in our house. Or sometimes they'll do work and I'll sit and do work next to them. And they don't mind that I'm working at home and doing those things. They just kind of, I think, physically want me there. So this to me has been a really important lesson of really understanding and how to meet their needs while still meeting my own. And then I also ask myself all the time, in five years, or in 10 years, am I going to look back and regret this? Am I going to say, why did I work so much? And I asked myself that probably at least once a month, I don't think that I will, because this drives me. It's my purpose. And that's important. Yesterday, I had to work from home because we don't have any childcare right now during the pandemic, and my husband had a test he had to take, and I almost lost my mind.

Cara King:

I can't do this full time.

Beri Ridgeway:

Oh my gosh, by five o'clock. I was like, this is so hard. This is so hard. And we did have fun, and they had fun, but I think that for those listening for you as well, it's important to ask yourself those questions and remember those answers because I think it is easy, looking back right now to when my kids were like, really little to say, Oh, when they were like four, two and a newborn, should I have concentrated more time there or gone part-time. And for me personally, the answer was no. For others, the answer will be yes. And then you should do it. And we will create ways for you to come back in as leaders as part time or after a hiatus of doing only clinical work and develop those pathways. That's really important because as you... Especially being at home, as I said, you certainly develop a ton of leadership skills.

Cara King:

What an interesting perspective. So what I'm hearing is, number one, really being true to yourself and checking in with yourself and that the needs of your professional life and your family life are going to shift as your kids grow, as your roles change at work. And so just having that constant check-in to make sure that you're feeling that everything's integrating well. So that's number one. And when I'm hearing number two, is that really following your passion is going to make you better in all facets. Meaning, if you, same with me, if you told me I had to stay home five days a week, God bless my husband. I would not be a very good mother, or very good at any other areas. So when you're doing what you love, you're better in all aspects of your life.

Beri Ridgeway:

Absolutely. You know yourself, you're authentic to yourself, you have a purpose, you're happy. And in feeling that way, I can be a better mother and a better wife.

Cara King:

Yeah. And a better Chief of Staff

Beri Ridgeway:

And hopefully a better Chief of Staff.

Cara King:

Oh my goodness, Beri. I think that's all we have time for today. You are just so wise beyond your years. I always learn something from you every single time we chat. So thank you so much for spending time with us this afternoon.

Beri Ridgeway:

Well, I appreciate it. And I appreciate you and thank you so much.

Cara King:

Thank you for listening today. Join us again, as we draw inspirations and insights from women doctors past, present and future. You can follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram at WPSA1, that's at W-P-S-A and the number one. This podcast is supported by Cleveland Clinics Women's Professional Staff Association, as part of the Cleveland Clinic centennial celebration.

Inspirations and Insights from Cleveland Clinic Women Docs
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Inspirations and Insights from Cleveland Clinic Women Docs

In celebration of Cleveland Clinic’s centennial, hosts Dr. Cara King and Dr. Mary Rensel share conversations with women doctors at Cleveland Clinic, exploring the highlights and challenges of being a woman in medicine.
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