Back in the early 80’s, ATHENA International’s founder, Martha Mertz was asked to serve on the Board of Directors of the Lansing Michigan Regional Chamber of Commerce. After finding herself to be the only business woman serving on the Board and discovering that her Chamber had only once honored a woman, Martha quickly recognized that the Chamber’s boardroom did not reflect the reality of the community. Martha worked with her Chamber to recognize the leadership of outstanding professional and business women in the community and advocated to provide opportunities for them to move into leadership positions. The first ATHENA Award was presented in 1982—and the ATHENA spirit was born.
Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free
We hold these truths to be self evident that all women are created equal
I have a dream
Martha’s initial action, based on a concept seeking to achieve a balance in the faces and voices of leadership, gave rise to ATHENA International. Think about Rosa Parks, who from the authenticity of her core, refused once again, to go to the back of the bus. Consider Mother Theresa who expressed her leadership by the touch of her hand, by the healing of her voice, by the power of her presence—always giving hope. These are but two examples, albeit great examples, of women’s ways of leading that have changed the world.” (Excerpt from Martha’s opening remarks at the 2005 International ATHENA Leadership Conference in Chicago.)
Martha’s small, seemingly insignificant action was based upon a concept seeking to achieve a balance in the faces and voices of leadership, which gave rise to ATHENA International.
What is honored in a country will be cultivated there
This concept led to the idea of acknowledging and honoring those quiet leaders, mostly women, whose efforts were adding immensely to the fabric of their communities while they remained unacknowledged and not visible as leaders. The ATHENA Award® was created to raise up one outstanding role model each year in a community to put a familiar face and voice to the idea of leader. After 2½ decades of fierce advocacy on behalf of women leaders, ATHENA celebrates a global reach as this message resonates around the world.