OGDEN -- Martha Mayhood Mertz is grateful to the men who told her she could never be a leader because she was a woman.
It was 1982 and Mertz was the only female member on the board of directors of the Lansing, Mich., Chamber of Commerce. She said the comment made to her by those men placed an obstacle in front of her that she was bound and determined to turn into an opportunity.
"I wanted to do something that would honor women and their strengths and contributions," she said. "We needed to go out and prove to the community and to ourselves that we are leaders."
So, while women were marching and staging rallies for the Equal Rights Amendment, Mertz quietly spearheaded a leadership award program to honor women in her community. She called it the Athena Award, named after the Greek goddess for her wisdom, courage, strength and enlightenment.
She then found a student at the University of Michigan by the name of Linda Ackley, to create a sculpture of the Athena Award. The sculpture has a marble base, representing a solid foundation. The bronze texture represents life experiences and the cut crystal on top symbolizes the many facets of human character and the light emanating from them.
Mertz told her story Tuesday afternoon at Weber State University during the ninth annual Women Empowered Leadership Conference. The daylong conference included several speakers and breakout sessions on topics such as standing up against bullying, the power of mentors and girl leadership, how to place boundaries on your time and taking advantage of opportunity.
During her talk, Mertz spoke about how the Athena Award turned into an international program that helps women around the globe.
"My goal was to have 10 Athena recipients," she said. "I thought that would be a good start and we could be done. Boy, was I wrong. We now have over 6,000 recipients in over 500 cities and are going strong."
Mertz is also the author of the book "Becoming ATHENA: Eight Principles of Enlightened Leadership." She said the most important principle is to live authentically.
"Know what you value and live those values," she said. "It shows you have integrity and other people will notice. It doesn't matter if times are bad. Know who you are and what you value."
She also encouraged women to continue to learn as much as possible.
"Learning means listening, and we are good listeners," she said.