Forums for Executive Women, or FEW groups, are one of the crown jewels of Athena membership for both executive and associate members.
Each FEW group is composed of eight to 10 women who agree to commit their time and energies by meeting on a regular basis for the purpose of peer mentorship, friendship and support in various aspects of their personal and career development. Currently, more than 40 Athena members are involved in a FEW group.
Since its establishment in 1999, FEW has provided a safe place for women to experiment with new ideas, test business approaches and generally rally the support needed to pursue and attain a professional or personal goal. Many of the original FEW groups still meet today because of the strong connections they have developed over the years.
FEW groups may decide to disband or add new members each year, but the commitment remains the same. "We were fortunate to be able to add a couple of new members this year to ongoing groups who experienced attrition due to sabbaticals and transfers out of the area," said Anne O'Donnell, UCSD Jacobs School of Engineering Technology program director and chair of the FEW groups. "The new members felt most welcome and each group was able to redefine and renew itself with a fresh infusion of experiences and perspective.
"We were impressed with the level of interest among our newest Athena members, our associates, most of whom are rapidly approaching director-level responsibilities in their organizations," noted O'Donnell. "FEW serves these equally talented and ambitious women well by affording them an immediate network and an 'on-call personal Board of Directors' for business and personal strategies."
"Since joining my FEW group in September, I have had the great fortune to develop relationships with other women executives I might otherwise never have known," said Michele Stephan, an account executive at Stoorza Communications and an associate member of Athena. "Our group has women from different backgrounds and various industries, but each has something to share. My FEW group has become an invaluable part of my professional development."
Athena members seeking to join FEW participate first in a two-hour orientation program before being assigned to a group whose composition is carefully reviewed by an experienced committee of Athena directors and FEW veterans to ensure there are no competitors from the same industry or over-representation of any one industry group or management function. Members engage in strictly confidential discussions about personal and professional challenges in order to problem solve and fully realize their career potential.
"The bringing together of professional women with varied interests and backgrounds is advantageous," said a partner in a law firm serving high-technology clients. She notes, "this diversity adds depth to the subjects we discuss that I cannot get anywhere else."
The success of FEW has launched efforts by the Athena Board to establish other 'affinity groups' of Athena members who hold similar positions of responsibility and who may want to connect with other CEOs or CFOs, for example. These groups will also meet in a confidential and committed environment for the exchange of ideas. Athena's biotech members are also expressing a strong interest in meeting on a regular basis. Plans have begun to develop these groups as well.
One software start-up executive notes "opportunities to celebrate our accomplishments with peers who truly know our achievements as well as the sacrifices made along the way are rare. FEW is a set time each month for me to take stock of myself and my work, to either accept a pat on the back or a push to meet my potential. There is no group of women I respect more than my FEW group."
One publishing executive summed it up by saying, "FEW is something I do just for myself."
Athena will be accepting applications for the next round of FEW groups mid-summer for launch in September. For more information, visit http://athena.ucsd.edu.
O'Donnell is director of the Center for the Commercialization of Advanced Technology, UCSD Jacobs School of Engineering. She is also the chair of the UCSD Athena Forums for Executive Women.