The Chattanooga Women’s Leadership Institute (CWLI) is a non-profit organization with over 600 members. Its mission is to increase the leadership capabilities and influence of women in the Chattanooga community while providing opportunities for established businesswomen to interact and engage with a ‘new generation’ of women leaders. Established 20 years ago, CWLI is now identified as a premiere training and networking organization for women of all ages, backgrounds and professions.
Women are unique and valuable contributors to society whose opinions ultimately benefit the entire community, but they continue to be under-represented in leadership roles. CWLI’s programs and activities are designed to help more women develop invaluable leadership skills while providing more opportunities for women in our community to assume leadership positions.
Holly Ashley is the Executive Director of the Chattanooga Women’s Leadership Institute: an organization of over 600 members whose mission is to increase the leadership capabilities and influence of women in Chattanooga.
Prior to joining CWLI, Holly worked with the economic development team at the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce from 2014 to 2016, supporting domestic and international business recruitment, expansion and entrepreneurship projects. She has worked in the social service nonprofit sector since 2004, previously leading fundraising and communications projects and managing programs at United Way of Greater Chattanooga, Partnership for Families, Children and Adults, and the Chattanooga Area Food Bank.
Holly completed her Master’s in Business Management from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga in 2013, where she also earned her undergraduate degree in Human Services Management in 2004. She is a Hamilton County public schools graduate and a first generation college student.
Holly’s current volunteer leadership activities include serving on the YMCA’s Youth Leadership Chattanooga committee and as president of the CSLA strings committee and vice president of the Friends of CSLA fund at the Chattanooga School for the Liberal Arts where her daughter attends. She is also a graduate of Leadership Chattanooga, class of 2011, and a member of the LCAA.
Holly and her husband of 16 years, Shane, and 12-year-old daughter, Isabella, live in Chattanooga with their two cats, two dogs and an abundance of intentional silliness. She is originally from Cleburne, Texas and has lived in Chattanooga since she was four years old.
Marlena Palmer joined CWLI as the Coordinator in January 2015 and has since grown this position to Programs Manager. She is responsible for maintaining the membership of over 600 women in the Chattanooga community, coordinates the events and programs, and provides support to the Executive Director, Board of Directors, and Committee Leadership.
Prior to joining CWLI, Marlena worked for the Sheraton Read House Hotel as the Administrative Assistant, working her way up to Social Catering Manager, followed by SMERF Sales Manager. Outside of her experience in Hotel Sales and Hospitality, Marlena also has experience in Retail Sales, Food and Beverage, and Sales and Marketing.
Outside of her contribution to CWLI, Marlena does freelance work, writes a blog, creates art and is a Core Group leader at The House, a UTC campus ministry.
Marlena graduated with honors, with a BA in Psychology from Flagler College in 2011, is married to her best friend, and has a full house of four lovable dogs: Bean, Jasmine, Basil, and Koda.
The Women’s Leadership Institute was initiated in 1996 with informal gatherings regarding the small number of women in true leadership positions in the Chattanooga community, especially the relatively few women holding elective and appointive office in local government. Additionally, a movement began to form an organization where women leaders could interact with each other more productively and could bring forward a new “generation” of women leaders. In 1998, WLI became a non-profit organization.
Ten years later, in 2008, “Chattanooga” was added to the title. The Chattanooga Women’s Leadership Institute consisted of 150 members. Quarterly Leadership Luncheons were held. The first annual Women Mentoring Women series was held with the purpose of developing mentoring skills in emerging women leaders. WMW has since graduated over 120 women.
In 2012, CWLI instituted the WIP (Women Impacting Policy) Committee whose goals include educating women on political issues, encouraging women to vote, to be politically active, and to run for office. In 2012 and again in 2015, CWLI leadership developed a strategic business plan to determine the future focus of the organization and the strategies to reach its goals.
Today, CWLI has over 600 members, a 20 member Board of Directors, an Executive Director and a Program Manager. Strong participation in leadership development series such as Finance in the Boardroom, Personal Financial Empowerment and the Leadership Studies series continue to increase the leadership capabilities and influence of women in the Chattanooga community.
2017 Board of Directors
President – Stefanie Crowe
Stone Bridge Asset Management
Vice President – Ronelle Sellers
Southside Creative Group
Secretary – Melissa Curtis
Woodall Agency Insurance
Treasurer – Domina Alford
Immediate Past President – Patti Frierson
Chattanooga Times Free Press
Director Emeritus – Marj Flemming
First Things First
Autumn Witt Boyd
Law Office of Autumn Witt Boyd
Real Estate Partners
Chattanooga Public Library
Chambliss, Bahner & Stophel
Bessie Smith Cultural Center
JP Morgan Chase
Memorial Healthcare System
Parkridge Health System
Carlene Carrabino Vital