Women in leadership—networking, mentoring and the Zonta connection

On the surface, the Zonta International fellowships, scholarships and awards do the obvious: give funds to women to help them pursue their goals of entering and continuing on to success in typically male-dominated fields. But there are deeper impacts and long-term effects of these awards that make them, and their recipients, truly remarkable. These programs inspire the recipients to meet and develop networks with other women and girls in and beyond their career fields, empowering them and inspiring them to become leaders in their communities.

Three past recipients who now sit on Zonta fellowship, scholarship and award committees have shared their thoughts on how this connection to Zonta has changed their lives beyond the initial award, encouraging leadership and continued mentorship.

Leading in Zonta

Ella Sciamma O'Brien (left in photo) was awarded the Zonta Amelia Earhart (AE) Fellowship in 2005 and 2006 while pursuing her Ph.D. in plasma physics and electrical engineering at the University of Texas at Austin and working on an electric propulsion system for the crewed missions to Mars. The AE Fellowship allowed her to travel and attend scientific conferences.

But the greatest impact the Fellowship had on her was the connections it enabled her to make with the women of the Zonta Club of Austin. After her award ceremony, which took place during a conference in Louisiana, the Zonta Club of Austin invited Ella to come to their monthly meetings and eventually invited her to become a member of the club.

"Meeting with these women that were different ages, at different times in their careers, and with different backgrounds, was a wonderful change from the male-dominated field I was in," Ella said. "It allowed me to be connected not only through my studies, and create different friendships than those I had at the University."

Ella later relocated to California and was contacted by Sharon Langenbeck in 2015. Ella was happy to reconnect with Zonta and was honored to be asked to be the District 9 AE Fellowship Committee chair. Within her role, she has stayed in contact with AE fellows, organized award ceremonies, hosted fundraisers and has created connections similar to the ones she had with the Zonta Club of Austin.

Jane M. Klausman Women in Business scholar Johanna Lampinen (center in photo) has had a similar journey with Zonta. After being awarded the JMK scholarship in 2002, she was invited to become a Zontian in 2008. Through Zonta, she has connected and gotten to know so many women who have impressive careers that she feels she will never be short of role models.  

"A few years ago, I had the honor and pleasure to participate in a mentoring program organized by District 20," Johanna said. "All the advice, support and inspiration that I received from my mentor, also a Zontian, has been invaluable for my career, particularly for board work."

Johanna currently uses these skills within her role on the International JMK committee.

Katharina Miller (right in photo) feels that winning the Young Women in Public Affairs Award had a huge impact on her life, which continues to this day as she maintains her membership and connection to the award through the YWPA committee. Having won a district-level award in 1998, Katharina then met Gertrud Scheiger, the Zonta Club of Stuttgart club officer responsible for the YWPA Award, and formed what Katharina calls a "magic relationship" through mentorship.

"It was very empowering to be surrounded by all these wonderful professionals and that’s when my next goal was set: I wanted to become an excellent professional and eligible for Zonta membership," Katharina said.

In 2011, this wish came true and she became a member of the Zonta Club of Madrid km0. With leadership development support from a fellow member, Katharina became club president and a committee chairman. Since then, life has evolved and in 2018, Katharina was welcomed into the Zonta e-Club of Bavaria.

"I myself am German-born, however, I am based in Madrid, Spain now and this membership with the German e-club allows me to maintain my connections with German Zontians," Katharina said. "The e-club fits perfectly into my very full agenda with my own business and family (I am mother of three very young sons, 10, 7 and 5 years old)."

Since July 2020, Katharina has been a member of the International Young Women in Public Affairs Award Committee, which is an enormous honor and pleasure for her.

Leading in the workplace

Because Ella, Johanna and Katharina represent different career fields where women are not equally represented, they have the opportunity to view women in the workplace from an even more unique perspective. We asked them to share advice for women looking to move into leadership roles within their organization.

Each one has a similar message: Work with your team and trust yourself.

"I would strongly recommend every woman to take over leadership responsibilities and that they should not be afraid of failure; yes, I would even dare to say that every woman should embrace failure!" Katharina said. "Thanks to Zonta, I have been learning that at least for me carefully listening, empathy and excellent communication within any group that I have been leading are some of the most important key and success factors."

Johanna advises to ask a magical question that helps a leader in almost any situation: What would you suggest yourself? "The leader must not and does not need to have all the answers. That's why there is the whole organization around her," she said.

Ella also feels communication is key. "Knowledge is essential to make strategic decisions on how a team will form and grow, and who to delegate tasks to ensure the success of the team," Ella said. "Communication skills are essential for leadership: to listen to team members and make sure they know they are heard, to involve them in decisions and to advocate for your team."

Ella also emphasized confronting a major issue that most women feel when stepping into leadership.

"I would be aware of the impostor syndrome that is always creeping up in the corner when we are trying to reach new heights, doing something we've never done, or something that people might not have thought we wanted to do, and I would not let it discourage me…Stay confident in your decision and your choices," she said. "I think having a support system is important. Have a mentor or a friend that you can brainstorm with, bounce ideas off of, and vent to when needed will help. Not all days are easy when you're in a leadership position."


23 October 2020