Creating a Workplace Culture in Which Women Can Advance

By Judith Prince, Professor Emerita, University of South Carolina

The ATHENA Organizational Leadership Award presented by the Greenville Chamber of Commerce in Greenville, South Carolina recognizes a Chamber investor who uses best practices to support and develop women leaders within their organization. These best practices are based on research about programs or initiatives for creating a culture in which women can achieve their full leadership potential.


Best practices which are used in selecting the ATHENA Organizational Leadership Award recipient for the Greenville Chamber of Commerce include the following:


  • To increase the number of women in leadership roles in the organization, goals are set and progress toward those goals is regularly monitored.


  • Data on advancing women employees is shared throughout the organization.


  • Senior leaders, including the CEO, demonstrate a commitment toward including women in senior leadership roles and cultivating women to assume those roles in the future.


  • Senior women leaders serve as role models for women employees in the organization.


  • Mentoring is provided for women within the organization.


  • Women employees have opportunities to develop and implement career plans for advancement within the organization.


  • Programs such as flexible hours, child care, etc. are available to help women balance families and careers.


  • The organization has a diverse governing board.


  • The organization supports and develops women leaders in the Greenville community.


To inform organizations about these best practices, a program “Creating a Workplace Culture in Which Women Can Advance” was offered by the Greenville Chamber’s Women at Work Committee. The program featured a presentation by Krista Bourne, south central market president at Verizon Wireless, who also moderated a panel of representatives from past recipients of the Chamber’s ATHENA Organizational Leadership Award. Past recipients include Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart Law Firm; Wyche P.A.; and Greenville Health System.


Krista Bourne used her own career pathway from the mailroom to market president at Verizon to emphasize how women can make their work in an organization count. Women advance if they are working for an organization that is a good fit for their passions. Researching the company’s mission and values is essential to finding your fit. If women are “at the table” in an organization, they must make their voices and differences count using the “competitive advantage” that they bring to the workplace. Women need to fight distractions and focus on what they can control within the organization. Krista feels that women should make performance evaluations a two-way dialogue to capture real feedback. Building a network of influencers and experts can help women identify sponsors. Krista says, “Mentors talk with you; sponsors talk for you.”


The panel of representatives from recipients of the ATHENA Organizational Award identified best practices that they use in their organizations to create a culture in which women can advance. Life responsibilities do not have to be barriers at work. If flexible schedules are needed, panelists agreed that these should be offered. One panelist challenged the idea among his peers at his workplace that you must work full-time to be offered a leadership position. Requiring that all hiring recommendations include women has resulted in a more diverse pool of applicants for organizations. All panel members agreed on the importance of the CEO’s commitment to being sure that gender diversity goals are embraced throughout the organization. Being intentional in creating a work environment in which woman can advance is critical.


A video of the program “Creating a Workplace Culture in Which Women Can Advance” is available at


Please….Give me back my hope.

The story below was written by a participant of the ATHENA Leading from Within program, an ATHENA program designed to empower women who are incarcerated to be powerful leaders and reduce the rate of recidivism in the prison system. To learn more about this program watch the PBS highlight here.  

You may wonder at the title of this presentation? I’m sure you are curious. ….


But let me ask you a question? How many times, honestly, have you thought about the people in prison? I’m not talking about the Jodie Arias’, sensationalized on television. I’m talking about women and children. Yes, I said children. These little ones are in prison right now, because of substance abuse issues.


I used to be just like many of you. I was raised by both my biological parents, in a very correct Southern Baptist household. My dad was a real estate broker, and taught Sunday school. My mother was a stay at home mom, who baked cupcakes for my classmates when it was my birthday. I had two little brothers and a dog named Nibby.


Life had promise.


In eighth grade, I was even voted most likely to succeed. I married a fellow I’d met in Sunday school when I was 9 years old. We had 2 children, owned a martial arts supply store, and I had enrolled in night school. I was studying Real Estate. I wanted to follow in my father’s footsteps.


Sounds good, right?


Fast forward 20 years……..I’m being kicked awake. My face is stuck to the concrete floor from drool. It’s freezing cold, and it smells like urine. Women are screaming. Some are crying. They’re fighting over the collect telephones, cussing out their boyfriend’s, their pimp’s and their lawyers.

It hits me slowly….that I’m back in the infamous Maricopa county jail. Actually, it hits me about the same time as the withdrawals. And the panic….My first thought…..NO DOPE! My second thought…..No DOPE.


I didn’t think about the charges, or my children. I didn’t think about my dog, or if I should get a good lawyer. The only phone number I knew by heart was my drug dealers. Actually….. The only single thought that kept screaming through my head was, OH MY GOD NO DOPE!


How does something like this happen? How does a nice girl like me…. end up in a place like this?


I was raped.


Of course I wasn’t perfect. My marriage had gone sour and I was seeing a man. He was nice to me. He told me I was beautiful. I thought he was wonderful.


Until he wasn’t!


I can’t explain the control he had over me. I don’t know why I did the things he forced me to do? He was a monster, but I couldn’t see it. I was afraid for my children, so I sent them to live with family, instead of packing my bags and running like hell.


And that’s how I found myself in the wrong place, with a man I didn’t know. He slipped me a “Mickey.” When I regained consciousness, it didn’t take long for me to figure out what happened. It wasn’t good.


I called somebody I knew. I asked them to bring me some pain pills and a change of clothes.


They brought heroin instead.


I was desperate. I just wanted it to go away. …….to be honest, I just wanted to go away.

!0 seconds later, and I kid you not, it was only 10 seconds…….I got my wish. I went away. Let me say that again. I went away.


I wasn’t in pain, because I wasn’t there. I wasn’t afraid, because I wasn’t there.


That man - he wasn’t just a rapist, he was a thief and a murderer; he stole my hope, and he took my life….for twenty years!


Then somebody just like you, gave it back to me. I don’t tell you my story so you’ll feel sorry for me.

As a matter of fact, telling my story rates right up there with public speaking or being buried alive. It’s not what I would’ve chosen for myself if I had been given an option.


But I wasn’t.


Looking through the eyes of hope, I saw other women in prison. They’d been robbed as well.

Like I had been, they just waited for the day that gate, covered in razor-wire, would open so they could get out.....and use again.


When you have no hope, you don’t think about what could be. It just is.

When you have no hope, you don’t think about what used to be. You just are.




In 2012, thirty-seven inmates died in Arizona Prisons, nineteen of them from suicide. This is 60% higher than the national average. These deaths were needless and could have been prevented…..


But they had no hope.


This doesn’t include the children that take their own lives. I overheard someone say that juvenile facilities are where they put “the bad kids.” It made me so mad; I just wanted to scream at them…….There is no such thing as bad kids - just babies, who have had their hope taken away. Stole by a neighbor, or a friend of the family…..or in the case of 12 year old “Jessica,“ by her mother.


At three years old, “Jessica’s” mother, the prostitute and heroin addict, decided to pimp her daughter out to her john, so she could have the money to buy her dope. Little ‘Jessica’ didn’t put up much of a fight. When she was six she was harder to control. So her mom gave her, her first taste of heroin.

By the time she was 12, her body and her mind had been through more in her young life than any of us will go through in several lifetimes.


The police found her on a street corner trying to turn a trick. She was in possession of $10.00 worth of heroin….


She is now a resident of Mingus Mountain Academy till she’s 18. Then they’ll put her back on the street, with a G.E.D. and a couple of certificates. What they will forget to give her before she leaves….is hope………..With no family, no connections, and nobody who gives a damn if she lives or dies, how long do you think it will take her to end up a resident of Perryville Prison?


Or the morgue?


I met “Jessica,” when I was invited to speak at Mingus, 2 weeks after I was released from prison.

I knew I’d connected with the girls - we had a lot in common. But as I looked out over the crowd, a chubby little redhead, with coke bottle glasses was crouched in the corner. She wasn’t listening. That’s because she wasn’t there. I knew that look, she had no hope. After the program, I made a beeline for “Jessica.” I had to catch her before she left. I had to know her story….She told me while the tears ran down her face. She wouldn’t look me in the eye. She was ashamed. While I held her, I told her; “you are so beautiful. I believe in you.” I promised I’d come back. I’m sure she’d heard that one before.


On my next visit, I was surprised by the reception I got. The girls had made bets that I wouldn’t be back. You see, about 75 % of them are heroin addicts. …...They know the score. They know the chances of me staying out of prison are very slim. Most of us don’t make it for more than a few months.


They stared at me in wonder. …… could see the wheels turning. They were thinking, if she can do it…...maybe, just maybe, there’s a microscopic chance that I can too.


What I realized at that moment was that I had just given them a tiny little piece of hope.


Her story is not unique. You’d be surprised. There are 40,000 inmates in AZ prisons, each and every one, a beautiful soul, without any hope, thrown away in the landfill of the hopelessly lost.


And we forget about them.


Once they are in “the system” it is a revolving door….a never ending cycle…because they have no hope.


Does this information make you uncomfortable?


You might say to yourself: that’s a shame; we should do something to help those children. But those children become the women who are incarcerated in Perryville Prison.


Hope is so easy to give…...and it’s free!


All you have to do is tell someone that you believe in them. Find out what makes them smile. What is their favorite color? Do they have talents that have never been developed? Do they like to sing, skate, dance, swim, or draw?


Inspire a dream: ask them this question: if you could do anything you wanted, and you knew you couldn’t fail, what would that be? And what would that LOOK like?


Help them see a future. Make them believe it’s possible. Tell them your story. It only takes a moment to make someone feel special.


Let me tell you about mail call in prison….

There are 390 women in a dorm. It looks like an airplane hanger from the outside; inside it’s broken into three sections. Each section has 130 women sharing the same space. Usually, everybody is doing their own thing; reading, writing, studying, sleeping. That’s just the way things ARE until around 3:30 in the afternoon. You can FEEL the tension building!


When the white US Postal Service bag is brought in, EVERYBODY rushes to the bay station where the Officer is sorting the mail.


MOST of the women don’t get mail. But they go anyway, only to slink back to their living space hoping nobody saw them make a fool out of themselves…. again.


The disappointment is tangible.


If you get mail, you live from one mail call to the next. That’s what keeps you going, knowing that somebody is thinking about you. That someone cares. If you don’t get mail, you grit your teeth and wait till the day you can get out and use again.


At least your drug dealer will be happy to see you.


When I was in prison, I was hoodwinked into going to a six week leadership program. I didn’t want to go, but that was the turning point in my life. The Gina’s Team volunteers REALLY cared about me, about us. They believed in me until I was able to believe in myself. They wrote to me. For the first time in two years I was getting mail! They made me feel special.


Little by little….they gave me back my hope.


But there are too many inmates without hope and not enough people willing to write to a woman in prison.


So I ask you again, when was the last time you thought about a woman or child in prison? It only takes a few minutes of your time.


Contact, and we’ll assign you a pen-pal. There is nothing to buy, no contract to sign. You can write to more than one person if you have the time.


Everybody plays a part in saving a soul. Don’t wait till you have more free time because that one woman you could have connected to... may become the next statistic.


Help me change the way the outside world views Prisoners.


But more importantly, help me change the way prisoners see themselves.


Find YOUR “Jessica”


Because, what she’s really saying is, “Please...give me my hope back!”


Thank you,



From the Outside in.

Conducting Greatness: The Poetry of Leadership & Teamwork in Motion by Sharon E. Reed

This evening I attended my son’s school band concert, part of a school-wide ‘night of the arts’.  There was a drama group, displays of visual art, a symphonic orchestra, and the beginning, intermediate and advanced concert bands.  My son plays the tuba, new to the instrument after having given up the trumpet earlier in the year, in part, his dad and I secretly believe, to be closer to his friends, or perhaps even a girl he likes (though he swears it’s not true).

The school itself, like many of the band’s performers, is relatively new, too.  Two years old, to be exact.  I mention this because the school and the band are in the process of building their traditions, starting from the ground up, though with clearly defined values and a powerful vision for greatness.  It is a special school on many levels, hearts and minds united in service to create a globally aware and civic-minded community of leaders and learners.

Our school’s band director and her students are no exception.  Tonight as I watched them perform, I couldn’t help but see through a different kind of lens…not just the lens of a proud mother, but a lens which enabled me to see something more at play.  Something deeper.  Something richer.  Something that resonated deep within.

One conductor, thirty something kids.  Different instruments, different sounds, different capabilities, different tempos, different personalities.  And yet despite these differences, the conductor was able to differentiate between and respond to them all.  It was situational leadership 101 in action.  As she prepared them to start, she knew, for example, that one was slightly out of tune, while another needed focus.  She knew who needed encouragement, and who could be counted on to carry their own part.  She understood that each performer had an equally important role in bringing this music to life; in creating the collective beauty of each individual note.  Without them, there would be no music, simply black and white notes on a page.

A few quick adjustments made, the concert began as she smiled at her students, exuding a deep joy from within.  She was, without question, leading from her heart-centered place, as I have always seen her do.  With a seemingly effortless wave of her baton, she conducted these disparate parts to greatness.  One crescendo here, a little more staccato there.  It was all coming together beautifully.  As I watched her, I could feel the momentum building.  My eyes shifted away from her and to the students.  Under her steady influence, they were focused, deliberate, intentional, and joyful.  They knew their own part, yet had an audible vision of the whole.  Practice prepared them for performance and it was clear they respected their leader.  In that moment, I marveled in wonder.  Not just at my son’s or others’ performance; not just of the melodious sounds of the band in concert, but at the poetry of leadership and teamwork in motion.

Along this journey called life, we all have an opportunity to be leaders, learners, and teammates; to work collectively together to achieve a greater good; to be a model for influencing positive change.  As you reflect on this story, consider the following questions:  what role(s) do you play in your own life?  Are you a conductor of greatness, harnessing the collective talent of many, or do you see yourself as a performer, playing your part on the larger stage that is life?  Are your choices aligned with your core strengths and values?  Are they part of a larger vision?  Who is the conductor in your own life?

Women Leaders Help the World to Thrive

Shared from Sevenly's GoodFeed.

Martha Mertz, founder of ATHENA International, understood the challenges and opportunities of women in leadership.

“Women Lead.  We may not always get credit for it, or paid for it, or thanked for it – but in more ways and places at any other time in human history, women lead,” she said in her important book called Becoming ATHENA: Eight Principles of Enlightened Leadership.

“Women today are CEOs and college presidents, generals and bishops, media moguls and opinion leader” It’s time to recognize and savor this new truth: we are seeing the emergence of a distinctive, transforming style of leadership, on that was conceived and created by women.” 

Mertz concludes by noting an important observation.  “The point is no longer just that women lead.  What’s important is how women lead – and how everyone, gender aside, can use what women know about leadership to thrive in the twenty-first century.”

ATHENA International recognizes that women can achieve a worldwide balance of leadership only if women leaders are recognized, cultivated, and encouraged. The organization has created programs designed to accomplish those objectives, community by community, and country by country.

In 1982, Mertz created the first ATHENA Leadership Award after realizing that no woman in her community was considered to be a leader.  Martha was a visionary who believed that every community had women leaders behind the scenes.  The purpose of the ATHENA® Leadership Award was to publicly acknowledge the strengths and contributions of women as leaders within their local community. That program sparked a movement.

Since that first award in 1982, ATHENA® International has successfully expanded its award and mentoring programs to recognize successful women in business and the community in support of its mission of supporting, developing and honoring women leaders.  ATHENA® Awards have been given to over 8,100 individuals in 500 communities and 8 countries.   

Through development programs, ATHENA® International continues to cultivate the next generation of leaders though a framework of mentoring, modeling and experiential learning. Our global vision build a community of women supporting women to amplify our vision of balanced leadership worldwide.

- Andrea Conner, President of ATHENA International

Sevenly is proud to highlight and celebrate their work in collaboration with other women artisans through it’s WOMEN’S ACHIEVEMENT Collection.  Shop here, and help “Break Some Glass” (ceilings!) with us.



Tips on Leading from Wonder Woman

Written by guest contributor, Laura Liswood. Liswood is the Secretary General of the Council of Women World Leaders in Washington, D.C. Liswood received the Global ATHENA Leadership Award in 1998.

She apologizes only once in the entire movie and that is when she accidentally uses her super power of crossing her arms and knocks her aunt Captain Antiope (played by the powerful, graceful Robin Wright, the best warrior on Themysciras). Wonder Woman has a sponsor and mentor in Captain Antiope and a role model of a battle scarred, majestic and fearless leader to emulate.

How does Wonder Woman, (Gal Gadot) learn to be a leader? Like all leaders do. Practice, feedback, trial, practice, feedback, and more difficult trials are the building blocks of her leadership foundation. She gets hurt, her pride is wounded and she is exhorted to dig deeper and become more confident. She is told she is better than that and she has the potential to become great. Wonder Woman, even as a young girl knows what she wants to has a passion and determination to achieve and she goes about learning the skills needed to succeed.

As the movie proceeds she shows no sign of stereotype threat. (Stereotype threat describes the experience of “being at risk of confirming, as self-characteristic, a negative stereotype of one’s group” his social-psychological phenomenon has been shown to significantly decrease the performance of persons who belong to negatively stereotyped groups). She has never been taught, heard, watched a TV show, been objectified or been trolled on social media where the message was that women are inferior to men or cannot perform as well as men. Her world is not divided into gendered roles; her world is divided into roles needed by the society she lives in.

She is a full equal human being and her life has been equally full of strong determined clear spoken women, who are senators, decision makers and a queen (her mother) who rules with wisdom and concern. She doesn’t spend her life obsessed by the need to look beautiful for the other or to sublimate herself to attract a man. (Later we find that she knows that men are needed for procreation but not necessarily for pleasure). She does fall in love with a man but on her terms.

On the battlefield when she confronts those who are trying to eliminate her being, Wonder woman literally and figuratively deflects bullets being shot at her. She can withstand the fuselage as many women leaders learn early on to deflect the critics, skeptics, the name calling, categorizing, over scrutiny that come their way when they seek or accept power and its roles. In fact, she holds her power in plain sight when she slips the magic sword into the back of her dress; it is ignored by the men in the room.