ATHENA® International History
Supporting, Honoring and Developing Women Leaders
"What is honored in a country will be cultivated there" - Plato
Founded in 1982 by Martha Mayhood Mertz, ATHENA International is a non-profit organization that seeks to support, develop and honor women leaders. The program inspires women to reach their full potential and strives to create balance in leadership worldwide.
Mertz developed her vision for ATHENA International 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 more than thirty-five years ago is now a global movement. Since the program’s inception, more than 7,000 awards have been presented in over 500 communities in 8 countries.
In a recent ATHENA International Leadership Conference, Martha noted: "Think about Rosa Parks, who from the authenticity of her core, refused once again, to go to the back of the bus. Consider Mother Theresa who expressed her leadership by the touch of her hand, by the healing of her voice, by the power of her presence—always giving hope. These are but two examples, albeit great examples, of women’s ways of leading that have changed the world.”