The Athena Network is celebrating 10 years in business as a platform for female executives and entrepreneurs to network and collaborate.
Jacqueline Rogers, founder The Athena Network, recently spoke to WeAreTheCity about the last decade and plans for the next.
Rogers said she founded The Athena Network as a result of her own experiences attending networking events.
She said: “I was encouraged to network but I hated it. When I saw it in my diary my blood would run cold, but it triggered something in me. I would attend events and take bits I liked and didn’t like and realised you are not taught how to network.
“My coach said if you are not happy then do it yourself.”
Rogers decided to opt for voluntary redundancy at the corporate she was working at and set out on her own instead: “I had been working at a corporate so I had no idea how to start my own business or even how to get clients. If setting up on your own you have to network and I didn’t know what that was or how to do it.”
“It started off with one woman hosting an event at a golf club. I researched and connected with people, modeled it and added my own flavor. It had to be a franchise model as I couldn’t do it on my own. I had to franchise it to survive.”
At the first meeting 70 women attended and four groups were immediately created. As a result 34 groups were created before The Athena Network was officially franchised nationally.
Rogers added: “I was working with regional support managers at the time to prove that it would work. We now have over 130 groups now and we’re in Singapore too.”
The Athena Network offers training and development through its meetups, something that Rogers said she is proud of the quality training the network upholds: “For us our raison d’être had to be training and development, which had to be as critical as the networking to get this business started. We give hints and tip about networking and working the room in heels. We provide real life stories, because it is not enough to just to say network.
“I was told that when someone as a recognizes someone from the Athena Network as a result of a meeting, presentation or a quality pitch at work then you have done it. That happened in eight months.”
Rogers said when starting out many of the female members wanted to bring their children to meetings: “We tried to change ourselves into a pretzel to suit anyone. At first people thought we would be a group of mums with small businesses and that it would be sweet for us to get together, but it would be very condescending and patronising to do that.
“We are not about keeping women small and patronizing them and telling them you’re only doing this as an on the side thing because you have children. We still don’t have a crèche and we are incredible professional and the place to go for professional women. We’re challenging of our members, instead of letting them believe that if they have children then they can’t do something. I have kids myself and I’m a single parent.”
All women are welcome to become members of The Athena Network: “We are made up of about 80% female entrepreneurs and 20% female executives. Our members range from 20-70 years of age currently. If you’re committed to building your business and your relationships then you’re welcome,” said Rogers.
Rogers explained that The Athena Network will continue to grow its presence: “We plan to have more franchises in more areas where we don’t have a presence.
“The Athena Network is a success because of our regional directors.”
She advised the women of The Athena Network and beyond to “be first, be best, be different and keep developing.”