March 10th, 2023

The future of leadership is diverse, and at Athena Alliance, we’re leading the charge to make it a reality.

We’re committed to ensuring the insights offered at the top levels of leadership reflect the experiences of society as a whole. That only happens when diverse voices are heard at the table – in the C-suite, in the boardroom, as founders, and as investors.

The vision for Athena has always been to create a world where the top of business leadership mimics the demographics of society as a whole. We started in 2016 as a non-profit focused on women, with a singular mission to ensure women occupy 50% of corporate board seats. Our thinking at the time was that systemic change has to start at the top.

Visions should stand the test of time, but missions must evolve. Things change and new discoveries are made, your understanding of what stands in the way or what will accelerate progress evolves. We discovered that if we focused more broadly on advancing women not only to the boardroom but to the C-suite, we would not only access more opportunities, we would create them. And, very importantly, we would unlock opportunities for diverse women, most of whom get stuck well below the ranks of the c-suite.

The insights and experiences of people of color, members of the LGBTQIA+ community, and other underrepresented groups have continuously proven to be vital contributors to successful business outcomes. A 2020 report by McKinsey & Company found that companies with the most diverse leadership teams proved 48% more likely to outperform companies with the least diverse leadership teams. I believe it’s our responsibility – as responsible leaders, as responsible stakeholders, as responsible humans – to center diverse voices in the conversations and decisions at the top.

When we first made our Path to 37.6% pledge in 2020, just 13% of our executive development community came from underrepresented backgrounds. I’m thrilled to report that three years later, we’ve exceeded our goal with 39.5% of members within the Athena community coming from racially diverse backgrounds.

Where we stand today

Today, we’re excited to share that we’ve reached 39.5% diversity within our membership, and we couldn’t be more proud. This number is pulled from our member onboarding survey, which 75% of members have completed. Of those:

  • 8.1% identify as Black
  • 12.4% identify as Asian
  • 4.2% identify as Hispanic/Latinx
  • 14.7% identify as Other or some combination
  • 60.5% identify as White

Further, 4% of Athena members identify as LGBTQIA+, many of whom are also people of color. We recognize the value intersectional voices bring to every room, and moving forward we will be incorporating and reporting on multiple points of diversity (including socioeconomic background, age, and other “ability” – seen and unseen), ensuring that every intersectional perspective has a seat at the table.

We can’t wait to see what the coming year has in store for all these incredible women – how they will use the Athena platform to catapult their careers and transform our society. We’re ready to see them rise.

And we’re anxious to move beyond tracking percentages, to a time when we just know we are an inclusive and integrated balance of all the world’s diversity. So while 37.6% was our mark in the sand – our target as table stakes – it is not our stopping point.

How we got here

When we first committed to ensuring 37.6% of our membership comes from racially diverse backgrounds, we knew it was a lofty goal; we also knew that true progress requires bold commitments and steadfast dedication. Diversity isn’t just something you can offer lip service to; it’s something you commit to every day, that you weave into your business practices, that you place at the forefront of every conversation.

Our team put several strategies in place to expand the diversity of our community:

  1. We launched the Athena Rising Foundation to offer scholarships for women of color to take advantage of all the wisdom in the Athena community, completely free. We’ve sponsored 163 women into the Athena community so far thanks to the generous support of funders like Bank of America, Scott & Jane Maxwell, Workfront, Alembic, Yvonne Wassenaar, and Purvee Kondal. These individuals dove head-first into our community, attending live events to master board and business best practices; working with our coaches to refine their value propositions, expand their networks, and develop their personal go-to-market strategies; and elevating their vision of the impact they can create in this world.
  2. We placed two women of color on the Athena Rising Foundation board, Dr. Yasmin Davidds and Beverly Cole. Alongside Lloyd Taylor, the board is unified by the belief that when women (and particularly diverse women) rise, we all rise.
  3. We brought a Black woman and a transgender woman onto the Athena Alliance, Inc. board. Rhonda Mims and Michele Bettencourt have provided invaluable insights that have challenged us, encouraged us, and helped us grow – both as an organization and as humans.
  4. We ensured our newly formed Advisory Board was 50% racially diverse, welcoming Tama Smith, Purvee Kondal, and Tahjar Roamartinez to the board and benefitting tremendously from their collective wisdom on the future of the work world for women.
  5. We brought on more diverse coaches to better serve the unique needs of our growing membership. We were thrilled to welcome Cindy Montgenie, Julianna Hynes, and Jeanette Jordan as Athena Coaches, bringing a wealth of knowledge around career transitions, executive presence, and leadership development.

Where work remains to be done

Last year, we set another goal: that within our executive learning community, the insights we’re sharing are diverse, inclusive, and expansive. We committed to ensuring that 37.6% of our Salon speakers and experts came from racially diverse backgrounds, and in 2022 we fell short with just 20% of our experts (that we know of!) being racially diverse.

Part of the challenge was reporting: frankly, we don’t know how someone identifies and we didn’t ask them to report their demographic information before hosting an event. This number is our best guess, and likely lower than the reality. We’re implementing processes internally to better track the demographic background of our Salon speakers, and remain steadfast in this commitment for next year.

We also committed last year to have 37.6% of our coaching staff come from diverse backgrounds, and we still have work to do. We’ve brought on some remarkable women of color to our coaching staff in the past two years, yet just 18% of our coaches are women of color.

As I mentioned earlier, 37.6% is table stakes. Our team is pushing harder to see more forms of diversity and intersectionality in our community. We want to go beyond the concept of “women” and think more broadly and more inclusively about supporting the range of individuals identifying as female and non-binary. We want to be more aware of neurodiversity, age, socioeconomic backgrounds, varying political views, and so on. We want to embrace more founders, more next-generation leaders building companies to scale.

We have so much we want to do to ensure our community is truly as diverse as the world we live in. Watch for an update next year, and in the meantime please – hold me accountable! I always invite you to let me know what you are thinking and expecting of your community at Athena Alliance. After all, we would not be an Alliance without you.

Thank you for your ongoing support of our mission to create a more diverse and inclusive future for leadership. If you’d like to sponsor a woman’s Athena membership through the Athena Rising Foundation, please get in touch.


Coco Brown

Founder & CEO, Athena Alliance



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