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


ATHENA International