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Martha Mayhood Mertz, founder of ATHENA International

Here’s what happened in 1982.  The Dow Jones surged to an all time high of 1,065.  Grace Kelly died and so did Thelonius Monk.  That was the year an Irish intruder broke into Buckingham Palace and spent 10 minutes chatting with the Queen.  

It was also the year the ATHENA Award was created.  The ATHENA  conversation about leadership was not to be about transactional leadership, which James MacGregor Burns describes as “one person takes the initiative in making contact with others for an exchange of valued things”, but transformational leadership – when one or more persons engage with others in such a way that leaders and followers raise each other to higher levels of motivation and morality.  J. Rost, author of Leadership for the 21st Century concludes by defining leadership as “an influential relationship among leaders and followers who intend real change that reflects their mutual purposes.”  Our goals were just that.  We wanted to redefine leadership as a woman would practice it with a new set of values.  To move away from the traditional command and control, to foster inclusivity, outreach, understanding, with another goal – to enhance credibility for women as leaders.  

In 1982 in the US times were changing.  There was a revolution of sorts, an unprecedented flow of women into professional paths.  We thought that getting to a balance of voices in leadership would be possible.  That’s what we advocated, then – and now.

At the current rate it will take +/- 3 centuries before women are as likely as men to become top managers in major corporations or to achieve a balanced representation in government.

The constraints we faced in 1982 were hampered by traditional gender stereotypes (ossified attitudes) with inadequate access to mentors and support networks, and inflexible workplace structures.  

We have come a long way.  We know our strengths now and can teach them to younger women and men.  In fact, we must.  What used to be a message of persuasion in now urgent.  And not just for here, not just for us, but for women and men and children everywhere.  

“Show me where to stand and I will move the earth.”  Archimedes

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