By Coco Brown Founder and CEO
This is the second in a series of articles where I address how Athena, and I personally, will help the whole of our society thrive.
Two weeks ago I shared a letter about Athena’s desire to have 37.6% (to start) of the US-based executive women we champion be women of color: Black women – 13.7%, Hispanic – 17.8%, Asian – 6.1%. Beyond this, I pointed to LGBTQ+ women, the percent target for which should be at least 4.5%. In response to my first letter, I was asked if our support is for Native Americans, too. The answer is yes. This group is about 1.3% of the U.S population. Our mission at Athena is to advance women at the top of business, and to do so in a way that is fully representative of society as a whole.
In this second letter, I want to communicate our “table stake” commitment toward these goals. The percentages noted above are just our starting point goals for Athena. They will evolve and rise to reflect the changing demographics of the US. And, we’ll strengthen them over time as Athena becomes even more of a global community.
I challenge all companies to think about their table stake commitment as well, and I welcome comments on ours.
Athena’s table stakes for race equity
Our table stakes include race equity in our mission, the funding of race equity, ensuring the makeup of our board and our team maps to the makeup of our stakeholders, and leading race equity in the Modern Boardroom.
- Equity for underrepresented women will be integrated into our mission.
Athena is restructuring to support both a non-profit charitable organization and a for-profit commercial organization, a process we began almost a year ago. The split will enable us to focus the non-profit effort solely on funding and programming to help underrepresented women rise. We’ll be able to speak more to this structure as we get closer to regulatory approval, which we hope to be soon.
- We will fast track representation by eliminating barriers to entry.
We will establish two Fellowship Funds dedicated to increasing the number of diverse women within Athena. We want to change the world from the top; doing so requires proper, diverse representation of talent to champion. We can’t learn how to champion diversity if we are not learning from a variety of diverse individuals. When we have diverse women within Athena, we can all learn. We can all champion. We can all rise. We can collectively create inclusive and equitable boardrooms and C-suites.
These Fellowships are intended to acknowledge the merit of diverse female leaders. Simply put: if you believe you qualify for Athena membership as an executive woman of an underrepresented race, economic background, gender orientation, or other — we want you in Athena. You have the merit to be here, and we have the need for you.
Access Fund: Athena will immediately grant $300,000 in Tier 1 memberships to 350 diverse executive women with an emphasis on Black and Latinx women.
We are raising donations for this first Fellowship Fund and already have partners lined up to support matching contributions. I will speak more to who those partners are and this effort overall in the next letter I post.
Acceleration Fund: A second Fellowship Fund will be created upon the establishment of two entities carrying out Athena’s mission — one charitable, one commercial. Also for underrepresented women, this fund will focus on Athena’s accelerator offerings of executive coaching and brand package development.
Women joining either of these Fellowship Funds will become a part of our global community of women on the Athena technology platform. To be specific, our tech platform is a combination of 1) Community (imagine LinkedIn, but curated and exclusive for executive women), 2) Learning (imagine the KhanAcademy, but for exclusively for senior executives with content primarily developed by the world’s top female business leaders), and 3) Access to Opportunities — board seats, advisor roles and CxO roles (imagine a job board where boards, PE and Venture firms, recruiters, and CEOs share their opportunities with us, where we share them with our members, and where we help broker the right connections).
In both of these commitments, we want to be clear that the women joining us will be as valuable to our efforts as we are to theirs. We do not in any way want you to feel patronized or unequal because of how you come to our community. Your experience and diversity are incredibly important to our mission, and we will need to fund that to jumpstart our commitment to a diversity of women in top leadership.
- A minimum of 33%, growing to 40% of Athena Alliance, Inc.’s board will be women of color.
Our for-profit commercial entity’s board will start at three individuals. One seat will be reserved for a woman of color, Black, or LatinX woman. Over time, as we grow to a five-person board, a second role will be reserved for a second woman of color, Black, or LatinX woman. These are the two largest non-white races represented in the US (combined 31.5%), and by approaching our board this way we will hold 20% of our board seats for Black women, and 20% for LatinX. We are currently interviewing some extraordinary leaders for our commercial board and we’re looking forward to formalizing the process once we receive approval from the Attorney General of CA to go commercial.
- The diversity of our team will map to the diversity of our stakeholders.
We believe the Athena team is quite diverse, from the perspective of race, location, generation, and gender. However, we will formally evaluate our team. In particular, we commit to growing our team of member-facing coaches so that every member can connect with a coach and an advisor who looks like them, should they wish to do so.
- We will lead discussions and learning about racial equity in the boardroom.
The learning begins with a Virtual Salon with six top black female leaders, with a second discussion with CEOs this coming Tuesday. Athena is an advocate for gender and racial equity and is building the modern boardroom. We believe that the top must be able to represent the demographics of the stakeholders the business serves. Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity is a boardroom issue. We will go beyond talking and leading the discussions. As we grow our community of diverse women, we will measure and report on the progress we are making to bring diverse women to the boardroom against the goals I laid out at the beginning of this letter.
Athena and I are committed to this.
Stay with me. In my next letter, I will speak more specifically to the funds we are raising to diversify our community. And, subsequently, I will speak to each of our 5 table stake commitments.