MJ Tocci, principal of Trial Run Inc. and the co-founder and director of a new academy at Carnegie Mellon University designed to enhance women’s negotiation skills – the first program of its kind in the country – received the 2011 Greater Pittsburgh ATHENA Award on Monday, Sept. 19 in front of a record-breaking crowd of 900-plus at the Westin Convention Center Hotel, Downtown.

Also recognized was Jennifer L. Cairns, recipient of the new ATHENA Young Professional Award for women leaders age 35 and younger. Cairns is just the second woman to become a partner at McGuire Woods’ Pittsburgh office, where she specializes in litigation and risk management in the pharmaceutical industry. (Scroll down to see our Flickr gallery of images from the event, as well as a link to a third video of nominees.)

“It’s a privilege to recognize – for 21 years now – the professional and personal accomplishments and the service of extraordinary Pittsburgh women,” said Barbara A. McNees, president of the Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce, an affiliate of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, which organizes the annual ceremony.

Named after the Greek goddess of strength and wisdom, the ATHENA award is unique among other regional honors for women in business because of its focus on developing the next generation of women leaders through mentorship.

As a principal at Trial Run, Inc., Tocci coaches attorneys on effective communication, litigation skills, persuasion and negotiations.  Her clients range from the U.S. Navy to international law firms, government agencies and businesses  Additionally, she is the founder of Fulcrum Advisors, which helps organizations recruit, retain and promote talented women. Tocci, and Dr. Linda Babcock are building the Women’s Negotiation Academy at Carnegie Mellon University under PROGRESS. PROGRESS, on whose advisory board MJ serves, empowers women and girls to negotiate for what they want, need and deserve.

MJ Tocci (left), Jennifer Cairns

Cairns is a founding member of McGuire Woods’ Women’s Leadership Initiative, which provides professional development for women in the firm and opportunities for philanthropic giving. Cairns has mentored students through Duquesne University’s CLAAY program, and is active with the Girl Scouts, Dress for Success and the Special Olympics. She also plays defensive back with the Pittsburgh Passion, a full-contact football franchise that’s part of a 62-team North American league.

“Our population is not only growing in size, but it’s growing younger as more 20- and 30-year-olds choose to live and work here,” said Maris Bondi, chair of the 2011 ATHENA Award Host Committee. “Pittsburgh is attracting and retaining younger talent.  It’s a place with a future for individuals who will be tomorrow’s changemakers and leaders.”

The Greater Pittsburgh ATHENA Award Luncheon maintains its standing as one of the largest stand-alone events of its kind among some 500 presented annually across the globe in affiliation with ATHENA International. Check out the videos above of the awards recipients, and click here to watch a video of the six ATHENA Award finalists, who include Susan Baker Shipley, Kathleen Hower, Sister Fidelis McDonough, Brenda Tate and Kim Tillotson Fleming. You can also check out our Flickr photo gallery, below.

Monday’s Greater Pittsburgh ATHENA Award Luncheon at the Westin Convention Center Hotel will recognize a female leader whose professional and personal contributions, especially her mentorship of other women, are exemplary. This year’s luncheon will also feature the first-ever local presentation of the ATHENA Young Professional Award, recognizing an outstanding professional age 35 or younger.

More than 900 attendees registered for the luncheon, the highest number in the award’s 21-year history. The recipients will be revealed Monday. In the meantime, here’s the roster of the 2011 ATHENA Award finalists.

  • Susan Baker Shipley, executive vice president, head of global trade finance, The Royal Bank of Scotland Group/Citizens Bank
  • Kathleen Hower, chief executive officer, Global Links
  • Sister Fidelis McDonough, director, Mercy Neighborhood Ministries
  • Brenda Tate, detective, Pittsburgh Bureau of Police
  • Kim Tillotson Fleming, chairman of the board, Hefren-Tillotson, Inc.
  • MJ Tocci, principal, Trial Run, Inc.

These finalists were selected from a group of 33 nominees. “Choosing six finalists was a real challenge, but ultimately six women stood out.  Their professional accomplishments, service to community and contributions to the development of our region’s next generation of women leaders are inspiring,” said Bernadette Elyer Smith, chair of this year’s ATHENA Award Selection Committee and the recipient of the 2010 award.

Already part of other ATHENA Award events around the world, the Young Professional Award is new to Pittsburgh. The fact that there were more than two dozen nominees – and that a wave of younger women have pushed the luncheon attendance into record-breaking territory — underscores the changes afoot for Pittsburgh. While our population may be older than the nation average, our median age is dropping (now at 33), and the number of 20-24 year-olds living in the city increased 22 percent between 2000 and 2010. The ATHENA Young Professional Award makes clear that younger professionals are here, and they are engaged in nurturing each other and the region’s long-term diversity.

“More and more 20- and 30-year-olds are choosing to live and work here. Among them are professional women who will be our region’s future change-makers and leaders, and we’re excited to begin celebrating one of these younger women annually,” said Maris Bondi, chair of the 2011 ATHENA Award Host Committee.

Luncheon guests will hear from Keynote Speaker Lindsay Hyde, the 29-year-old president and founder of Strong Women, Strong Girls. That organization strives to help girls increase their confidence and reach their fullest potential, and operates in three cities:  Boston; Miami, Fla.; and right here in Pittsburgh.

Hyde was recently a guest on Our Region’s Business, hosted by the Allegheny Conference’s Bill Flanagan. Watch the video below to learn more about Hyde and her passion for empowering girls and young women. And come back to Monday afternoon to find out who the 2011 ATHENA and ATHENA Young Professional Award recipients are!

Do you know an exceptional woman business leader who leads by example, inspires her community and mentors other women?  Nominate her for one of our region’s premier honors – the Greater Pittsburgh ATHENA Award, presented by the Allegheny Conference on Community Development. 

The following criteria define a successful ATHENA Award nominee:

  • Demonstrates excellence, creativity and initiative in her business or profession
  • Provides valuable service to improve the quality of life for others in the community
  • Assists other women in reaching their full leadership potential

In addition, the Greater Pittsburgh program will present the first annual ATHENA Young Professional Award for candidates age 35 and younger. 

Learn more and submit nominations at by 5 p.m. on June 29, 2011.  Nominations will only be accepted online. Also, plan to attend the 21st Annual Greater Pittsburgh ATHENA Award Program Luncheon on September 19, 2011 at the Westin Convention Center Pittsburgh.