11/02/2016 10:31 GMT | Updated 11/02/2017 05:12 GMT

Women in Business: Tonya Winders, President and CEO, Allergy & Asthma Network

Tonya Winders, MBA is currently the President and Chief Executive Officer of Allergy & Asthma Network, the leading patient advocacy organization dedicated to ending the needless death and suffering due to asthma, allergies and related conditions. Tonya has over 16 years experience in leadership roles within the allergy and asthma industry. From sales and marketing leadership to managed markets access, she has worked tirelessly to ensure patients have access to effective diagnostic and treatment tools. Tonya has worked closely with the leadership of the ACAAI & AAAAI to address challenges currently facing the integrity of allergy and asthma care throughout the US while spreading awareness and preparedness messages to patients and caregivers. Personally, Tonya is the mother of five children, four of whom have asthma and/or allergies, ranging in age from 9-15 years old. She enjoys spending time with her husband of 18 years Brian Winders and coaching cheerleading.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?

I have always been prone to take on leadership roles...in high school I was the Vice President of 1300 students; in college, I was selected to participate in the Disney College Program as a freshman; at 23 years old, I led my first marketing team and quickly learned how little I truly knew about being a great leader. Over the last twenty years, I have realized that leadership is more about serving others and helping them reach their potential rather than focusing on my own agenda.

How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at Allergy & Asthma Network?

I spent the previous 16 years of my career in the for profit sector of allergy & asthma---pharmaceuticals, device and diagnostics. This allowed me to better understand the disease states and the views of multiple stakeholders in a truly patient-centered, collaborative care team. I uniquely marry my professional and personal journeys to build bridges in our advocacy community.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Allergy & Asthma Network?

The Network staff organized and executed our 30th Anniversary Celebration---a series of four-days of events dedicated to our core mission areas of outreach, education, advocacy and research. Over 300 people participated in the events and our team really stepped out of their comfort zone to host the week. I love seeing a passionate team stretch beyond the limits of what they thought was ever possible!

Our challenges are similar to many nonprofits---how do we continue to engage, educate and empower our members in the age of information overload and limited financial resources? We tackle these challenges every day by staying focused on our mission and building partnerships to leverage complimentary strengths throughout the community we serve.

What advice can you offer to women who are seeking a career in your industry?

Some of the best advice I ever received was to know yourself and always be true to who God made you to be. I am better at recognizing my strengths and focusing on those areas. I would also advise others to find your passion and follow it fully---then you rarely feel like work is work!

How do you maintain a work/life balance?

Honestly, most days I feel totally inadequate to give others advice on maintaining work/life balance. As a wife, daughter, sister, friend and the mother of five children, I often struggle with trying to be all things to all people. What I have learned is to prayerfully ask God to show you the things to say "yes" to and the things to say "no, thank you" to. Then the key is to walk it out in obedience.

Another key for me is to always set aside one day each week for worship and rest. This day helps to restore my spirit and focus my efforts for the remaining six days each week. I also take two longer vacations each year (one mid-year & one at year-end). I use this time to reflect and set personal and professional goals for the next six months. This helps me to live purposefully!

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?

Unfortunately I still hear many women who are insecure in themselves and their ability to succeed in the workplace. Self-confidence is key to reaching your goals and, as we all know, success breeds success. Start by writing down your goals and spending a few moments each day reviewing them. Before long, you will begin to behave more consistently with those goals. Take time to celebrate your accomplishments but then it is time to stretch toward the next goal.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?

I am so blessed by amazing mentors throughout my life. From the godly family heritage of my grandmothers, mother and mother-in-law to a few special teachers along the way. From youth pastors and Sunday School teachers to professional mentors like my current coach Leigh Shields. All of these people have encouraged and challenged me throughout the journey to continue to grow and look for new ways to expand my influence.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?

When I consider all of the world's female leaders a few unsuspecting people come to my mind. One, Ruth Graham, wife of famed evangelist Dr. Billy Graham, was a woman who served her husband and her family as unto the Lord. It must have been exceptionally lonely and difficult at times, but her commitment to God and unfailing wit and wisdom always prevailed.

Another instrumental female leadership example in my life is Oprah Winfrey. She overcame significant childhood tragedy to triumph in life and business. She has incredible intuition and has always given to help to others. Her communication skills and passion for personal growth are two traits I attempt to emulate.