This Is What Modern Executive Development Looks Like

by Coco Brown, Athena Alliance Founder & CEO

Leadership and pressure. 2020, with all its twists and turns, compounded those intertwined concepts. So many businesses faced undeniably steep sales barriers as the way we sell shifted nearly overnight — and many of those we sell to faced economic hardship. Among all of it, the world went through a fast-tracked digital transformation, whether they were ready or not. As Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella , in 2020 we went through “two years of digital transformation in two months.”

So, what does this mean for executive leaders, and what does this mean for women in particular? To start, there is no going back to how we were — leaders today must be agile, responsive, tenacious. Gritty. Never before has there been a greater need for more creativity in innovation, a deeper connection to teams, and a steadfast resolve in overcoming challenges.

For female leaders, we know that so many are suffering as they work to overcome challenges at home, in the office (now the same place!), mental health, carrying the brunt of homeschooling, and more. For all our progress, for all of our leaps forward, perhaps never has there been a more difficult year in recent history, leaving masses of women in the workforce asking, “Is this worth it?” And then, “Where can I go for help and support?”

With business travel on the backburner (possibly for many years to come) and budgets re-shuffled, organizations of all sizes have an opportunity to do the right thing for their women leaders, now. Today. CHROs and management teams have an incredible opportunity to support female leaders. Budgets that would have otherwise gone to in-person summits and expensive hotel conferences can now be repurposed to support underrepresented female leaders.

What are you doing for your most senior leaders?

As the leader of the top organization developing and supporting women executives, from VP to the C-suite and the boardroom, I see some persistent trends that affect all female executives, but are now even more amplified in our isolation.

Women need to see others like them.

There’s no shame in workshops and in-house mentoring and leadership training programs. But women also need to see others who look like them, who hold the place they wish to be on the org chart one day. In many organizations, notably in tech and investment firms, women are often looking up the management ladder at men. There’s a certain power and strength that comes when a woman can see another woman in the roles she so desires to achieve one day.

Women need to expand their networks.

Beyond their backyards and beyond their local communities. When a C-suite female exec wants to network locally, they’re immediately bound by the (few) other local female executives. Even in large urban cities like New York and San Francisco, there are only so many female executives. Consider this: of the 5,000 CEOs in San Francisco (Bureau of Labor Statistics), only 250 are women. That means women would need 17 San Franciscos to have the backyard ecosystem men have in just one location!

Widening a woman’s network beyond the confines of her local vicinity not only widens a woman’s network and support system, but gives a nod to the global workforce (and global community) we all exist within.

Women need raw knowledge.

They need to know the real deal. The no textbook (and no bullshit) real insights into executive knowledge and trends. There are many places to learn about the soft skills of leadership, but name one that focuses daily, consistently, digitally on the hard skills of running a business: financial essentials in the C-suite and boardroom, how CEO performance is evaluated, succession planning, and the management of ESG in the C-Suite and the boardroom.

Athena conducts 2 to 3 live deep-learning sessions per week and boasts a library of more than 300 pieces (and growing!) of on-demand executive learning content developed by top female leaders. There is real value in allowing women to learn from a friendly source, ask any question, and get the real story of what is happening from leaders at some of the world’s biggest companies. Now.

Women need a thought leadership platform.

Social media is just part of a thought leadership strategy. But there’s also magic when women can be thought leaders for and to each other. Mentors for and to each other. Teachers for and to each other. It’s a safe sandbox to practice within and elevate your own prowess as a female leader. And for experienced executives, it’s a playground of current trends and knowledge, keeping you up-to-date long after you’ve left the workforce or joined your first board.

CHROs, re-imagine your approach to executive development.

Athena works with organizations from startup to Fortune 500, as well as investment firms, to develop top executive women leaders. We do it in a way that is persistent (the community is there, always, when a woman needs it).

We deliver ongoing learning, education, and events to support women who want to understand business models, financial models, the path to the boardroom, and more — all through the eyes and insights of top business leaders. And we create connections for mentoring and support at just the right time (before those board interviews, to gain industry knowledge, or even just to connect with a friendly face).

In a world of virtual, in a world where women are on the rise, and still climbing — even if just from the comforts of their home office, for now — Athena can deliver career-transforming support in a way that in-house models can’t.

It’s what happens when women can look across the (virtual) room and see a woman who is in the exact seat she is working so hard to get into. It’s what happens when women can ask questions and share vulnerabilities without fear of judgment. It’s what happens when they can get the no-holding-back version of executive learning, real, and current.

Forward-thinking CHROs and business leaders, we’re ready for you.

CHROs, what are you doing to support your top women leaders? And how can the Athena team help?

Originally published at on February 12, 2021.

Activating the connections, knowledge, & opportunities women executives need to lead at their highest level of impact. Learn more:

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