By Danna Lewis Former Chief Operating Officer
Organizations of all sizes know the value of investing in their employees. Just last year, U.S. corporations spent more than $90 billion on training and development. These investments go to training staff, classes, learning technologies, and more—all designed to build strong management teams and give employees at all levels the skills they need to grow in their careers.
However, when it comes to developing their most senior leaders, I’m learning that companies may lack the capability or bandwidth to form an appropriate program—a program designed to challenge, coach, and polish an executive’s leadership skills and board savvy. This is backed up in the feedback I receive when I speak to companies about Athena Alliance and what we do for senior women executives.
“We’re not sure how to develop the women in our C-suite.”
“We don’t have the resources to coach our most senior executives.”
“We know we need to do something for our senior female leadership, but we’re not sure what yet.”
My gut reaction to these comments is yes, while VP and C-level women have made it to the highest ranks of an organization, the need for development and growth never ends. In fact, I’d argue that these senior women leaders have unique needs that are drastically different than what a typical training and development program can provide. At this level in their career, these women need to be prepared to speak to board readiness—how do they qualify for the boardroom? What specific skills and unique perspectives can they deliver? What value can they add to a boardroom that others cannot?
When it comes to board readiness, executive women need to understand their strengths, personal brand, and value proposition. They need to review their career and understand all the pieces—the accomplishments, the challenges, the journey—that, brought together, make them so incredible today. These women should have the confidence and skill set to quantify their strengths without apology, share an elevator pitch that demonstrated their value in a heartbeat, and speak with confidence about their accomplishments.
For executive women: a way to build their leadership toolkit
Yes, Athena Alliance is dedicated to placing more women in board seats, but the crux of our value lies in executive development. We welcome women into our program not just when they’ve reached the last mile to the boardroom but also as they are hovering in the senior ranks of their company. These are executive women who are either aspiring for a board role, or those who are simply exploring the idea of board candidacy and want to become more board savvy. Athena also works closely with female founders and CEOs, whose board package will contribute to their company’s funding goals, scaling resources and building their own company boards. Here, these women have the opportunity to refine and polish their skills; brand their relevance; and become more board savvy. Refining their skills, confidence and leadership presence brings value not just for a board opportunity but right back into their current organization.
These women may already be rockstars at what they do, but we teach them how to convey it in every interaction. They may have revolutionized industries, transformed businesses, and created innovative new products—but we teach them how to quantify those achievements.
Emmy has gone through a process of creating what we call a board or executive package: a resume, (board) bio, elevator pitch, and list of hard-won achievements along with an updated LinkedIn profile. While a board seat may be the ultimate goal many of our members, our program sets many of the women off on a deeply personal development journey—one where they can view who they are, where they’ve been, and where they are going with a fresh perspective and a renewed sense of self and confidence.
Along the way, these women get to connect with a leadership development team. It’s highly personal. It’s highly customizable. And it’s at their service. Voice coaches. Executive writers. Thought leadership and PR strategists. These intimate coaching sessions give these female leaders an experience as unique and powerful as they are.
Since joining Athena Alliance, Cynthia has dived deep into her personal development. Beyond working closely with Athena coaches, she’s also attended events where she’s learned about raising capital and joined other Athena members for intimate ‘Athena Salon’ networking nights.
For companies: invest in your top women leaders
I know that progressive companies realize relationships with their top-tier leaders isn’t meant to be transactional. These relationships should evolve over time, regardless of changes or shuffles along the way. That’s why many companies tell me that they want to give back to their senior leaders—the leaders who dedicate their heart and soul to growing these organizations.
It’s not for lack of trying. One sentiment I hear often is that the challenge lies in pulling together the resources—recruiting the right curated team of coaches and strategists who know how to work with senior leaders. These people are tough to find (believe me, I know!) And perhaps that is why so many organizations are just as thrilled about the opportunity to develop their team as they are about board potential.
When women succeed, everyone wins
Getting to the boardroom is exciting, becoming (more) board savvy, and growing as a leader is a journey. It’s an opportunity for women to look inward and reposition how they frame themselves outward. And so much of it has to do with gaining confidence and self-awareness—something I refer to as conscious leadership. It’s an opportunity for women to become more self-aware leaders at every stage of their career and life, taking a holistic view to leadership rather than one that only exists inside corporate walls.
This is pushing leadership to the growth phase—even beyond when women think they’ve made it to the highest ranks. This is expanding the possibilities—for women and for companies. This is what it looks like when both companies and women make a commitment to push hard for a board seat, but enjoy the journey along the way.