Zonta Club of Adelaide Inc launches young women's leadership program

The Zonta Club of Adelaide Inc, Australia, recognized that women face significant barriers to achieving leadership positions relative to their male counterparts. Despite increasing opportunities, women remain significantly underrepresented in senior leadership roles. The club continues to support scholarships for female high school students but wanted to explore how they could assist in providing leadership training. The club launched its Young Women's Leadership Program in 2018 and continues to this day.

In 2018, the club discussed with Mitcham Girls and Adelaide High Schools to develop a leadership program for 20 young female students aged 15-17. The aim was to provide a course to learn about different leadership styles, develop leadership skills and enhance opportunities to gain leadership roles in the future. In 2018 and 2019, the course was run in conjunction with the YWCA; in 2022 and 2023, the club partnered with the Leadership Institute to facilitate the course, and 20 female students from both schools completed the course each year. The criteria for participants are:

  • Preferably aged 15-16 years.
  • Female, diverse cultural background.
  • Lacking confidence to apply for school leadership positions despite ability.

In 2020 and 2021, COVID-19 prevented the club from holding the course, so they engaged the University of South Australian psychology students undertaking intern placements who researched leadership course best practice models and how to incorporate community practice projects into a course to provide opportunities to utilize the new skills acquired. The program comprises two days of training from the Leadership Institute supported by club members, followed by project work over eight weeks, undertaken in small groups, each with a Zonta member as a mentor. The club fundraises throughout the year to provide funding for the program. Some examples of the Community Projects undertaken are:

  • Women leaders are not always apparent in the community. In this project, students research current and past women leaders and explore how to share the information with the school community.
  • Technology is used as a means of control in relationships. Participants researched how social media can be misused to control others. Consulting with a domestic violence service assisted in gathering information, and the participants looked at how the information obtained could be used to protect others from abuse.
  • Menstruation is a taboo topic in many societies, resulting in young women not receiving an education or receiving information and support. The participants researched how some organizations provide aid and what could be done in their school community.

The club holds a graduation ceremony, during which the groups present their projects and report on how the project has impacted the community or school. Each participant is awarded a certificate of participation. The ceremony is attended by the club, school staff, participants' families, community stakeholders from the council and state politicians whose portfolios are education or status of women-based.

Graduates reported increased confidence and willingness to take on leadership positions, and some have since undertaken leadership roles in their schools.

Comments from parents include, "Thank you for giving our daughter this opportunity. It wasn't until we attended the graduation ceremony that we realized how significant her Zonta journey was".

The program won the Education Category Award and Overall Best Project at the Premier's Awards of the Service Clubs Association of South Australia in 2023.