Athena In Action June 15, 2020

Race Equity: It Starts at 37.6%

By Coco Brown Founder and CEO

I am not going to make one statement and be done. This is the first in a series of posts/letters I will be making to address how Athena, and I personally, will help the whole of our society thrive.

I started Athena because I wanted to change the world from the top.

My vision was simple: to enable every woman to reach her highest level of impact in business. Success would look like a 50/50 split of women and men across executive ranks, in the C-Suite, and in the boardroom. It’s in these realms that vision, mission, and values are truly expressed, and the business shaped. Culture is either championed, or torn down, starting from the top. You cannot change the whole unless you change those in charge. Therefore, the top must represent the demographics of society—the whole of society.

Yet, for as much good as Athena has done to propel more women into top leadership roles and the boardroom, only about 13% of our community are women of color. Only about 4% are Black. My goal is for 37.6% of the Athena community today to be of color, and for that number to grow over time as our society continues to evolve into an even greater cultural melting pot. I also want to be clear: Athena is for all women—including all women represented in the letters LGBTQ. We are neither undecided nor selective in this stance.

Why 37.6%?

At Athena, we support women in the realms of VP, SVP, C-Suite, and the Boardroom. The US representation of women of color is 7% of VPs, 5% of SVPs, and 4% of the C-suite. Further, women of color hold less than 5% of board seats. Yet women of color are 37.6% of the US female population.

We know all humans have equal potential, drive, and value. In large populations like the US, the statistics should work out that the diversity of those who reach the top is represented in equal proportion to the diversity of society as a whole. If not, there must be something systematically wrong holding those not represented back, such as bias, educational and economic setbacks, and so forth.

Carrying this logic forward, women of color should have 37.6% of the 50% of senior leadership roles that women should hold in general: Black women—13.7%, Hispanic women—17.8%, and Asian women—6.1%.

These goals are the truest measure of success if we believe that the demographics at the top of our society should map to the demographics of our society as a whole, as I and Athena do.

“Good Enough” is not the answer.

I don’t want to—won’t be—satisfied when so many tell me, “Things are improving. They are better than they were before. Coco, you and Athena are moving the needle.”

It’s not enough to move the needle slowly over time. Better is not good enough. Certainly not for Black Americans. Black people need to be raised up, equalized, and advanced—quickly. Until then, we are not the society we claim to be. Recently, I heard a quote that struck me: “Slavery did not end in 1865, it evolved.” I see that.

I’m not going to be yet another CEO sending out a “Hallmark card of support”. I don’t want to be yet another organization posting an image on social media and checking a box.

I want to say, “I haven’t done enough.”

I want to say, “Join me.” I want to welcome Black women executives to Athena. I want to listen to you, to learn from you. We are a community. We will gather around you and help you rise. We are designed to support women leaders. I want us to be a community designed to support ALL women leaders.

I want to say, “Use my voice.” I have a platform as a founder and CEO of a global network. For executives who are trying to shape the leadership perspective and practice in business around equality, I offer my voice to you. Tell me what you want to amplify. I will use my megaphone.

I want to say, “Help me understand.” I want to listen and to learn from you.

I want to say, “I don’t have the answers. But I am committed to figuring this out.” Believe me when I tell you that I am dedicated. Believe me when I tell you that I want to fix this. I will post an action plan for Athena. Hold me accountable to my beliefs and my actions.

Black lives need to thrive. And that’s not going to happen until Black women around the world see more Black women at the top.

Stay with me. In the coming weeks, I’ll continue to share my personal commitment, and that of Athena, in supporting all women of color. I’m having deep conversations with my team, members, and partners as we focus on creating a thoughtful and actionable path forward.