Martha Mertz developed her vision for ATHENA International in 1982 while serving on the Board of Directors of the Lansing Michigan Regional Chamber of Commerce. As the only woman on the Board, she quickly recognized that the Chamber’s boardroom did not reflect the reality of the business community. The more Mertz observed, the more she became convinced: If women’s strengths and contributions as leaders were publicly acknowledged, they could no longer be dismissed. In 1982 in Lansing, Michigan, Mertz spearheaded a new leadership award program: The ATHENA Leadership Award, named for the strong, enlightened goddess. The award would go to individuals who excelled in their professions, gave back to their communities and helped raise up other leaders, especially women.

What Mertz conceived is now a global movement. Since the program’s inception, more than 7,000 awards have been presented in over 500 communities in eight countries.


Ann Playter
Chief Operating Officer

Emily Harris
Program & Communication Manager

Jessica Jones
Administrative & Project Manager


ATHENA Leadership Model

The ATHENA Leadership Model, developed through a grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, identifies eight distinct attributes that are reflective of women’s contributions to leadership: living authentically, learning constantly, advocating fiercely, acting courageously, fostering collaboration, building relationships, giving back and celebrating. These personal traits that are more intuitive to women, and combined with the strongest aspects of traditional leadership - taking risks, assertiveness, hard work - prepare women to be successful leaders in the 21st century.

We know the value of emerging and transformative styles of leadership that are closely tied to the intuitive strengths that women bring to leadership. The ATHENA Leadership Model captures these principles for use in contemporary settings, while acknowledging that they have been handed down from women across the world and over generations. In short, the ATHENA Leadership Model meets the needs of emerging leaders and speaks convincingly to women leaders who will head the organizations of the future.

Under the ATHENA Leadership Model, distinctive awards, education and mentoring programs have been created to honor and foster women in leadership:

  • The ATHENA Leadership Award, to honor leaders
  • Becoming ATHENA, for emerging, evolving and established leaders
  • Women's Leadership Day, an event for local connections
  • ATHENAPowerLink® Program, for business mentoring
  • Women Really Mean Business Podcast, for education
  • Affiliate Program, for continued leadership development
  • ATHENA in Tech, for the support of women in the technology sector *coming soon

ATHENA International Founding Lifetime Members

Debra Adams Simmons, James F Anderton IV, Megan Agyeman, Bonnie Benkula, Crystal Swann Blackdeer, Jane Blain Gilbertson, Kathi Bond, Tina Boone, Christine Bd-flex m-0 n, Dr. Katherine Y Bd-flex m-0 n, Joan Bump, Marian Carrington, Carla Carstens, Eloise Childers, Sam Childers , Mark Coe, Andrea Conner, Marie Covington, Yolanda Crittenden, KL Daly, Jan Davies McDermott, Angela Dash, Cathy Harris, Jocelyn Davey-Hawreluik, MaryLee Davis, Debra Dellaposta, Jackie D'Escoto, Dwain Deville, Dianne Dinkel, Lee Anne Doyle, Barbara Dzur, Tori Farmer, Kay Feagles, Janet Fry-Cappy, Linda Furgason, Paula Giovacchini, Bridget Glavaz, Margaret Goatcher, Janet Green, Patricia Hallberg, Terri Hedges, Adrianne Henderson, Barb Hodel, Janine Janosky, Mary Ann Jones, Ph.D., Sarah Jennings, Todd Popham, Sheri Jones, Marti Morfitt, Marlene Kowalski-Braun, Mary Katherine Krause, Judith Lancaster, George Lemon, Kathryn Lima, Mary MacLaren, Jan Maddox, Karalin G. (Alsdurf) McKain, Martha Mertz, Michelle Mertz, Kathryn Michael, Carla Michelotti, Aimee Mills, Barbara Moore King, Colleen Moore Mezler, Margaret Mullen, Lynn Myers, Joanne Osmond, Heather Paquette, Lisa Pierce, Patricia Pierce, Ann Playter, Norma Rist, Ellen Ruddock, Sandi Saksena, Mari Kay Scott, Robin Shabazz, Ilene Shapiro, Billye Proctor Shaw, Rita Shisler, Patricia Shultz, Deirdre Joy Smith, Chuck Spadafora, Gabriella Spadafora, Giavanna Spadafora, Linda Spadafora, Mia-Ann Spadafora, Linda Stevenson, Naomi Stutzman, Paulette Synegal Law, LoLita Toney, Candace Wagner, Donna Waltz-Jaskolski, Cheryl Ward, Yvonne Wood, Gladys Wright Knox, Laurie Zuckerman, Pamela Kiltau, Genie Kutchins, Florine Mark

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