UNDERLINES MAGAZINE INTERVIEW
FRIDAY INSIGHT – WE ATHENAS, AN INNOVATIVE NETWORK CHANGING THE WAY CREATIVE WOMEN COMMUNICATE April 23, 2021
Underlines talks to Asi Efros and Suzy Haber-Wakefield, the creative women behind We Athenas and in this ‘new’ world they cannot even remember how they met – bearing in mind that they have never actually met in the flesh but only across Zoom screens! For nearly a year, the two women have been chatting every Tuesday at brainstorming sessions…and storming is the right word. In no time at all, We Athenas became an upsurge of networking, relationship building and learning about each other. It provides the collective with a safe and caring space, where everyone can connect, get inspired and celebrate whether chatting about fashion trends or sharing practical supplier information. What prompted you to start the group? SHW: At the beginning of COVID we were each talking to many other creatives on missing the connection to other people. And while we all relish having our own businesses we miss the contact of getting to talk frankly with like-minded women about work, life and reminders to celebrate each other and ourselves. It has been as much a journey in a kind of collective mindfulness as it is a professional networking adventure. AE: We have all worked for the same companies and were confined by the limitation of the same system. We were united by the belief that life can be much more fulfilling, happier, kinder, more collaborative and uplifting. We also agreed on the fact that it takes a while to come out of the system (12 steps rehab programme!). We found more women in their 40-60s that have stepped out and are in different phrases of becoming independent. Those who had made that transition some time ago were very content and those who have just left the industry, were scared, anxious and just ‘learning how to breathe’. The corporate world ‘defaces’ people and they start thinking about themselves in terms of what companies they work for, as opposed to who they are and what they bring to the world. One of the helpful practices that we do, we ask our new members to send us their bios, stating what they project to the world, rather than what companies they worked for in the past, and a picture that best represents them. This is an interesting and difficult task that prompts one to answer the question: “Who am I?”. But what brought you two together in this time, this space? SHW: I am so blessed to have met Asi. I had vaguely heard her name and I can’t remember which one of us reached out on LI and started the conversation. Immediately I felt her genuine warmth and from the first day we spoke, I felt her energy and creative spirit. There was never anything except an authentic spirit of partnership in how we were going to start small and support our friends, old and new. I am so happy to say that our friendship has continued to grow, we are always each other’s cheerleaders and we have become the defacto den mothers to all our other lovely Athenas. How have you seen it evolve? SHW: Certainly, it has grown in numbers. The first meeting was less than 10 people and now we are up to almost 60 members. I also think there was a turning point at about meeting 3 or 4 where women started to share more vulnerable, curious sides of themselves. The questions and conversations got easier, the dialogue more comfortable. I am pretty sure it was when Nikki Baratta spoke. Also, the network of members helping each other with little and big opportunities as well as bringing new people in has continued to blossom. I believe everyone is truly interested to make it work for their schedule every month so they can hear what is being presented as well as the discussions at the end. AE: On an individual level, we have grown to appreciate life more. Every day, every moment, every process that we are involved in. We see each other not as competitors but as friends, co-creators, two individuals who help each other evolve. And for our growing membership, it is a safe place to share their concerns, ask questions, receive support, celebrate their talents, talk about where they are in their lives, brag about achievements (be those large or small). SHW: We would like to be the destination for them to share ideas whether that is practicing a pitch, a discussion how to get over a bump in the road or celebrating a win in their personal or professional lives. On a more tangible level we want to highlight our members within the social streams to the design community and beyond. And help magnify the opportunities that they would find on their own. And what might the future hold for Athenas? AE: We see it evolving into a school of greatness, a platform that truly and truthfully addresses the needs of creatives, a place to connect and evolve, share knowledge, get inspired and perhaps find what they are looking for quicker. SHW: Yes, it would be good to think we have a collective site where members can get partnered up with opportunities, learn about each other and also grow themselves. And what has this initiative meant to you personally? SHW: For me it has been an immensely joyful experience all around. Getting to know Asi and all of these other fabulous women, along with the opportunity to do something good for our community, makes me feel good and also what we can achieve. I love hearing the speakers every month and really appreciate having a focus that is outside myself. AE: It’s so good to see the group grow and evolve, which brings us such happiness and joy. During our Zoom meeting, members are communicating, sharing, answering questions. In-between meetings they send emails to the group and share their knowledge on very specific subjects. We have 2 platforms, where we introduce our new members. The industry reacts in such a positive way!!! People that we knew from way back write really great comments, and it’s amazing to see this positive change happening in a very competitive industry. It’s also great to know that we help women feel better about themselves and their smiles mean a lot! We love watching our members’ progress in the ways they perceive reality. Little by little, they discover what makes them happy and many begin to form their new creative paths.
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