A Message From The President

January 2022

On a Sunday afternoon in mid-December, Dr. Susan Steen texted me, concerned:

“Hi Tina.  I am looking at the numbers of Covid infections in North America as well as worldwide and wondering if we should reconsider our decision.  What are your thoughts?”

Susan is part of Athena’s Medical and Legal Task Force, which had decided three days earlier — after weighing a bevy of evidence and multiple options — to hold January’s membership luncheon in person, requiring proof of full vaccination plus a booster shot to attend.  That sparked a flurry of activity: The Centre Club had confirmed that all staff was vaccinated and would wear masks while serving us.  Notice had gone out to the membership.  Members had hurriedly begun submitting their vaccination cards.  January’s speaker confirmed her vaccination status.  All the pent-up demand to unite at a monthly luncheon, for the first time since two Athena presidents ago, finally had a release – and relief – valve.

Now, it looked like we might have to reverse course.

Research shows that changing your decision can feel like failure.  “In light of the pandemic, not much about the world is certain, and yet the implications of making certain decisions carry life-and-death-level weight.  But while changing your decision upon learning new information is certainly possible, the process can stir up feelings of discomfort, guilt, or even failure,” according to a July 2020 article in Well + Good, based on psychologist Jennifer Trueblood’s research.  “This is especially tough when you dedicated time, thought and effort to making certain big-picture decisions in the first place.”

From today’s vantage point, reverting to a virtual meeting seems like a no-brainer.  Consider, however, that Susan posed her question before the current crush of cases in the U.S. substantiated a reversal.  It was not until eleven days after Susan’s text that the U.S. set a one-day record, with almost twice as many new cases as the crisis’ worst days ever.

Moreover, Susan and her fellow task force members defeated a strong psychological pull: confirmation bias.  “This bias describes the human tendency to search for and interpret information in a way that is consistent with one’s current beliefs,” Dr. Trueblood says. “Basically, once you make a decision, you’ll go out of your way to prove yourself right, even when there’s evidence to suggest your decision may not be the absolute best one for you.”

“The business world has historically favored strong-willed leadership that resists persuasion and remains impassive in the face of external influences, and yet there’s evidence that mind-changing is a critical success factor in leadership,” according to the organization Investors in People.  “This creates potential friction.”

Changing a decision can hurt morale, dampen engagement, and invite disruption.  Athena encompasses 200 strong women who are not shy about voicing opinions, frustration, and opposition.  When we emotionally attach to an outcome, the disappointment of a contrary outcome hits like a blow.  It’s far easier to stick with the status quo, especially a more popular and pleasing decision that, in this case, had protections in place.

Still, Athena is nothing if not willing to challenge the status quo.  This year’s focus on mental health and emotional wellness – and indeed, Athena’s Five-Year Strategic Plan – prioritizes creating a safe space.  I am proud of the nonjudgmental culture that the Board of Directors and committee chairs pledged to model this year.  We specifically drafted calls to action for “mutual courage and support” and to “build a foundation of trust.”  We agreed in writing to set a tone of “educating ourselves prior to approaching shareholders to show our commitment to an issue.”  Three of our eleven stated values are courage, reflection, and adaptability.  While our decision may have changed, our strategic intention and vision have not, embodied perhaps no more perfectly than in our Medical and Legal Task Force volunteers’ dogged pursuit of our safety, ever on the lookout for threats, even at the risk of questioning their own convictions.

Bold pronouncements turn our heads.  More valuable is the woman with the integrity to offer, “Let’s re-think this,” resisting temptation to treat a decision made as a decision done.

Here’s to a new year full of health, happiness, and courage.