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#63: Woman On A Mission: Martha Mertz, Founder of ATHENA International

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In 1981, Martha Mertz joined the Board of Directors of Lansing Regional Chamber only to discover that she was the only woman on the board, which wasn’t too surprising for that time. What was surprising was that a year later, when she brought forward the names of two women she admired as candidates for the board, her male colleagues dismissed the idea out of hand.

“Martha,” she was told, “these women aren’t leaders.”

It wasn’t that she picked two lemons. Not by a long shot. One of the two women became the chief of staff at a regional hospital in the state. The other, Debbie Stabenow, is currently the senior U.S. senator from Michigan.

The problem, Martha says in her interview with Cindy on today’s podcast, wasn’t just that the men on that Chamber board didn’t see women as having the qualifications or capabilities to take on leadership roles; women often didn’t see themselves in those roles.

To change that, Martha founded the ATHENA Leadership Awards in 1982 to honor women leaders in her community. It was an idea that resonated and the program quickly grew (with an assist from General Motors Oldsmobile division). 

More than 7,000 exemplary leaders in over 500 communities have received the award in the United States, Bermuda, Canada, China, Greece, India, Russia, the United Arab Emirates, and the United Kingdom. By honoring exceptional leaders, the program seeks to inspire others to achieve excellence in their professional and personal lives.

Join Cindy for this powerful interview about perseverance, inclusion and the eight strengths and core principles women bring to leadership - and how it differs from the hierarchical model.

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