March 30, 2022

Women’s Leadership Perspectives

Hear outstanding women leaders’ perspectives on the changing role of women in the workplace, how they deal with stress, and much more. We’ll talk with veteran leaders and those newer to leadership – all women making history.


All of us want to be good leaders. Successful. Even inspiring. But what exactly is it that makes a good leader? Are there qualities, strategies, roadmaps that we can follow in our own leadership evolution?

Women’s Leadership Perspectives
March 30, 2022

“It’s a journey, and we learn every day, and we’re going to make mistakes every day. And if we don’t continue to have conversations and talk about how to make the world better, we’re not going to get there. All of us have to have some humility, we have a ton to learn all the time.”

We provided the platform for four outstanding women to share their leadership insights during our most recent Community Conversation. Judy Braus, Executive Director, North American Association for Environmental Education; De’Andrea Matthews, Inaugural Director of Diversity and Community Engagement, Detroit Zoo; Bonnie Mendoza, COO/CFO, Phoenix Zoo; and Gianna Ross, Ambassador Program Coordinator, Philadelphia Zoo were joined by an audience of about 60.

We opened our own March Madness session with our observations on two women in the news recently: Sedona Prince and Reshma Saujani. A University of Oregon basketball player, Sedona noticed that last year’s Madness was lacking something—women’s teams had never been allowed to use the March Madness brand, training facilities for women were inadequate, referees were paid less, and overall media coverage was less for women. The video she created about this disparity went viral with 13 million views in just a few days, generating a lawsuit and causing the behemoth NCAA organization to remedy things in time for 2022 March Madness. Talk about a woman making history!

We also highlighted Reshama Saujani, politician, civil servant, author, CEO, and mom, whose recent book PayUp: The Future of Women and Work (and Why It’s Different Than You Think offers great lessons not just for working moms but for all of us in the workplace. She talks about gender inequity in pay and caregiving and what we can all do about it.

We then turned to our panel for their insights on leadership in the zoo, aquarium, and environmental education field—some themes will be familiar, others maybe not. Here’s what we heard.

Mentoring “I tend to be a little bit more introverted, and it was only when I was pushed to have coffee conversations, lunch appointments, and things like that that I took advantage of the informal mentoring that’s helped me grow professionally.”

Having a mentor and/or being a mentor is important; it’s important to build mentorship into your organization—work with your board, executive team, or HR. Your HR team can also be a resource to you individually—providing coaching or helping you find a mentor. Mentorships may be formal (AZA ELDP) or informal, when you seek out someone you admire, or a board member or colleague offers you support. A sponsor can be valuable too—a sponsor, unlike a mentor, is often in a position to use their influence on your behalf to help you get a seat at the table.

Being a Woman of Color “I was able to volunteer with the Florence Crittenton organization because they were looking to broaden their board; they wanted a Hispanic person on the board because so many of their constituents are Hispanic young women.”

Our panel talked about opportunities and challenges presented by being a WOC; about the struggle of “tokenism” on one side and selecting people whose race or gender is important to be represented. Their advice was to talk about it—admit discomfort and be sure you’re not just “ticking off a box,” but valuing what an individual can bring. When people speak, assume best intentions, but pay attention to impact—in other words, think before you speak about the language you use.

Changing Roles of Women in the Workplace “I am seeing some wonderful changes—and we still have a long way to go. Things are getting better; women are advocating for themselves more.”

We can help women be better advocates through mentoring and coaching; men are trained by society to advocate—for positions or money—and we can help our female colleagues do the same. People seem more receptive to women and people of color in the workplace. While women are making some progress, the pandemic has taken a toll: women are twice as likely to be caretakers as men, and about one-third of working mothers are considering leaving their jobs.

Opportunities “So I do challenge myself every day to always kind of push in there and get wedged into where I can fit and get some words in. There’s always going to be different challenges, it’s just figuring out the best ways for me to literally squeeze in—anywhere I fit, I’m gonna sit.”

Sometimes, even with the best skills, degrees, and experience, our race, gender, age, and appearance can close the door on opportunity. One of our panelists noted that as a small woman of color, with great experience, she still had to “push her way in” and demonstrate that she “fit.” We also heard about the value of volunteering. The opportunities presented by volunteering or interning—whether starting as a volunteer or intern early in your work life or serving on a nonprofit board—the experience and connections you’ll gain can be valuable throughout your career.

Finding Joy
We wrapped up the session on a positive note, highlighting the importance of joy as inspiration.

De’Andrea: Knowing that I’ve made a difference in someone’s life—seeing the light bulb go on, actually being a witness to the change in thought, or the progression, the growth. And then very selfishly, my own professional development.

Bonnie: Seeing the Zoo’s success, enduring through Covid and coming out so much stronger; we’re going to be a long-standing beacon for the community of Phoenix.

Gianna: Working with the animals, training them, and talking about them with people makes me thrilled every single day. On a more leadership level—knowing that my coworkers, my peers, know that I’m trying my best to make sure that we’re going in the right direction,

Judy: I’m so lucky to get up and do mission-driven work every day and work with such an amazing group of people. And as De’Andrea said, seeing something work, seeing how education can change people’s lives, and seeing that the work we’re all doing is moving society forward.

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