Guide to Columbus women's leadership groups

Laura Newpoff
Barb Smoot, WELD

From a new spinoff of Dress for Success that’s working to grow its membership from the ground up to the local chapter of a national organization that has been around for more than 20 years and has hundreds of members, there’s something for every professional woman in Central Ohio when it comes to leadership groups.

Columbus CEO recently asked the leaders of five of those groups for their thoughts on challenges women face as they work to develop leadership skills and build networks. The five groups are part of a growing ecosystem in Central Ohio for women leaders. A year ago, an annual symposium called Thrive Columbus launched as a resource on the organizations with missions serving women in the region. It held its second annual event Feb. 27. You can learn more and see who went here.

Here’s a guide to five local women’s organizations—by no means a complete directory to groups in the region—with their format, membership costs and meeting schedules, among other details.

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National Coalition of 100 Black Women, Central Ohio chapter

Description: The coalition advocates for black women and girls to address disparities in the areas of health, education and economic empowerment to impact systems and policies. Its agenda includes addressing health disparities around maternal health, diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and breast cancer and access to quality, affordable health care; creating access to quality education and reducing student loan debt; and advocating for pay equity, reducing the wealth gap and creating economic sustainability for women. 

President: Linda Kanney

Central Ohio members: 48

Cost: Sponsorship or scholarship-based

Meetings: Monthly September through June

Where: Columbus Urban League, 788 Mount Vernon Ave., Columbus

Founded/founder: 2011/Linda Kanney, chartering president, Betty Howton, Carr’Mel White, Cynthia Sands and Laverne Fisher

Membership contact: Linda Kanney at lindakanney@sbcglobal.net


Q&A with Linda Kanney, president, Coalition of 100 Black Women

What is the greatest challenge you overcame on your way to becoming a leader? My greatest challenge that I continue to work on is not feeling the confidence that others have in me. Studies show that men overestimate their abilities and their performance, while women underestimate both. That would be me. My nonprofit career has always been in a female-oriented environment, which can be positive and negative. Women can be supportive of each other while comparing ourselves to other women and feeling that we just aren’t good enough. I have become more confident and courageous as I grow, and aging is a great teacher. 

What are some of the challenges faced by women in positions of leadership? A lack of confidence and self-doubt; being seen, heard, valued and respected; not being good enough, especially for women of color; lack of mentors who look like us; held to higher standards; and one woman may impact the next woman of color, either by allowing only one woman of color at a time or by expecting that “one” to represent all women and/or all women of color.

2. National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO)

Description: NAWBO Columbus is focused on empowering all women business owners to overcome challenges, realize their true potential and make their mark on the world.

President: Betty Collins

Central Ohio members: 250 businesses

Cost: $360 for annual premier membership

Meetings: Monthly meetings are held the first Thursday of every month. Additional programming varies throughout the year.

Where: Monthly luncheons are held at the Boat House, 679 W. Spring St.

Founded/founder: 1997/Marcia Swigart Hoyt

Membership contact: Arien Lawless at arien@nawbocbus.org

Website: nawbocbus.org

Q&A with Betty Collins, president, NAWBO Columbus

What is the greatest challenge you overcame on your way to becoming a leader? My biggest challenge was, and is, myself. I did not see myself as a leader and at times lacked confidence. Fortunately, others around me saw my potential and leadership abilities and continually challenged me. As women, we lead in business, at home and in our community. It is overwhelming and very difficult to balance. We overcommit what we need to do now and the next year, but underestimate what we can become in 10 years. Leading is nothing more than influence, and at times you just do it without the title. I am really glad I had the right people around me and it is why I lead today.

What are some of the challenges faced by women in positions of leadership? My career goes back to the 1980s where the overwhelming majority of accountants were men. Today, over 50 percent of my field is women; however, only 20 percent are in senior manager or ownership roles. The commitment to leadership in my industry is really difficult and made more challenging for women with their desire and commitment to their homes and community. As an owner, the conversation, perspective and direction of the company changes as more women step into leadership roles. The challenge is getting women who want to pursue leadership. Demands, confidence and lack of role models or mentors overshadow the pursuit. Unfortunately, the opportunities for women still aren’t as great as they are for men. Through organizations like NAWBO, which is working to level the playing field for women, they have more opportunities to overcome and pursue leadership, own businesses and really make their mark on the world.

3. Women for Economic and Leadership Development (WELD)

Description: Women for Economic and Leadership Development advances women’s leadership to strengthen the economic prosperity of the communities it serves. It provides women with tools to enhance their individual economic status, and builds programs, events and a community to support female leadership development and business growth. WELD is a national nonprofit organization based in Columbus.

President and CEO: Barb Smoot

Central Ohio members: 700-plus

Cost: Student, $29; individual, $125; business; $149; corporate, $1,500

Meetings: Leadership series and member-only events, eight times a year; executive women’s series, four times a year; government boards and commission skills certification program, two to three times a year; corporate board training, once a year; webinars, 12 to 15 times a year. Signature events include the WELD Keynote in March; the Otterbein University Leadership Conference in June; and the Women WELDing the Way Calendar Reception in November.

Where: Various locations, including standard event venues and meeting venues of corporate members and sponsors

Founded/founders: 2003/about 60 women and men from Central Ohio

Membership contact: Mindy Koenig at mkoenig@weldoh.org

Website: weldusa.org

Q&A with Barb Smoot, president and CEO, WELD

What is the greatest challenge you overcame on your way to becoming a leader? As I approached the executive ranks, quite often I was the only woman or woman of color around the table or in the room during my days in financial services. It was isolating at times and came with certain additional pressures. I was fortunate to have outstanding sponsors and male advocates who were invaluable to my career advancement. I paid it forward by reaching back to sponsor and mentor others in the organization—women and men of all ethnicities—to help their journeys be easier than what mine was and to help them get a seat at the table. I also co-founded a group called Sisters R Us, which provided peer-to-peer mentoring and support for African American women in corporate America.

What are some of the challenges faced by women in positions of leadership? Half the battle seems to be just getting there. Women are graduating from college at higher rates than men. Women at the emerging professional level are a force to be reckoned with. Yet research shows that getting the first promotion into management is a broken rung for women. 

Women seem to face greater challenges obtaining line responsibilities to run a profit-and-loss center or other experiences that can help them land CEO roles and director positions on for-profit boards. Addressing caregiver challenges for both women and men in ways that do not derail careers is an area that is still very much a struggle.

4. Femergy

Description: Life skills training, career exploration, college readiness, wellness management and direct mentorship opportunities for girls and women. “Empower Hour” meetups and Enrichment Institute for Women workshops.

Founders: Christina Vera-Reid and Maylin Sambois

Central Ohio members: 200-plus

Cost: Empower Hour meetings and workshops are free or donation-based. The Enrichment Institute for Women workshops cost $500 for a year. Scholarships are available.

Meetings: Empower Hour meets quarterly. The Enrichment Institute for Women meets twice a month October through May.

Where: Various locations for Empower Hour. The Enrichment Institute for Women meets at Otterbein University, 27 S. Grove St., Westerville

Membership contact: Maylin Sambois at maylin@femergy.org

Website: femergy.org

Q&A with Christina Vera-Reid, co-founder and programming director, Femergy

What is the greatest challenge you overcame on your way to becoming a leader? Leadership is such a gift and responsibility—one that I take very seriously. In the beginning of my career, I struggled with whether I had what it took to effectively lead. My biggest challenge was my mindset. Every day I have to be intentional about maintaining a growth mindset and accept that change and organizational cohesion doesn’t happen overnight. When you’re so passionate about a particular cause like pay equity for women, for example, in my mind I don’t understand why this can’t just be fixed and that’s it. That can cause any leader/team member to easily get frustrated or feel like what they are doing is not enough. As a leader you have to filter through the facts, understand your organizational capacity and find a happy medium with the sometimes painful and unpleasant process.  

What are some of the challenges faced by women in positions of leadership? Women are 50.8 percent of the U.S. population and yet we only represent 5 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs. Women will represent only 24 percent of members of Congress. Women of color represent less than 9 percent of members of Congress. Our biggest challenge is a lack of diversity and lack of female representation. This challenge needs to be an agenda item for every corporation, every political party and the private and public sectors. We need to start more development and grooming opportunities for girls while they still are in middle and high school, so early on girls know the importance and the necessary steps to be in leadership positions. I would also encourage corporations to create internal mentoring programs for women, pairing them up with male allies or female executives to learn, grow and advance.

5. YES! Columbus

Description: YES! Columbus (Young Executives for Success) is an affiliate of Dress for Success Columbus. A philanthropic group of professional women, YES! Columbus members are looking to make powerful connections with other female professionals for the purposes of bolstering their careers and supporting other women as they do the same. In existence for over 10 years, the YES! Columbus organization provides professional development events and volunteer opportunities for their community of over 2,500 professional women. In early 2020, YES! founded an official membership platform as a way to more formally support the women in their community and provide resources to those looking to advance professionally.

Central Ohio members: 25

Cost: $45

Meetings: Six free member meetups per year, with an additional six to 10 events members can attend at discounted costs

Where: Various

Founded/founder: 2020/The YES! Columbus board of directors, including President Erin Hackett and Membership Development Chairs Diandra Showe and LaRae Keppen

Membership contact: Diandra Showe at yes@dfscmh.org

Website: yes.dfscmh.org

Q&A with Erin Hackett, executive board president, YES! Columbus

What is the greatest challenge you overcame on your way to becoming a leader? I think leadership presents new challenges to overcome every day, and I doubt any length of experience will change that. Self-doubt is something I personally struggled with in the beginning. I believe very strongly that a leader is someone who puts other people first, but when you’re making decisions for a group you’re always going to have a minority of people who are either left out or unhappy. This can be so challenging and cause you to second-guess yourself, but it’s important to remember to trust your gut. Confidence building is a huge part of the path to leadership.

What are some of the challenges faced by women in positions of leadership? I do think women have to work harder, be smarter and do better to receive the trust and confidence that men do as leaders. But I’ve never been taken aback by this. I’ve always just wanted to work to solve it. A big part of the reason that YES! exists (and why we created a membership) is so that women have a network to support them. Women need advocates and they need to be advocating for each other, period. The more we can lift each other up, the more we will all succeed.

Laura Newpoff is a freelance writer for Columbus CEO.