The Chattanooga Women’s Leadership Institute (CWLI) is a nonpartisan, 501c3 nonprofit organization with approximately 680 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 in 1996, 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.
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 650 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 three lovable dogs: Bean, Jasmine, and Basil.
Alese Taylor joined CWLI as in June of 2017. She is responsible for scheduling meetings, maintaining financials, and providing support to the Executive Director and Programs Manager.
Prior to joining the CWLI team, Alese worked as an Information Services Assistant at a private insurance firm in Memphis, Tennessee. After working in private insurance, she went to BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee as a Community Relations Intern. Outside of the corporate world, Alese also gained experience working as a Mentorship Program Coordinator in the Office of Multicultural Affairs at UTC.
Outside of her work at CWLI, Alese is pursuing her Master’s Degree in Business Administration from UTC, as well as working for a Graduate Assistant for the Office of Multicultural Affairs. There she is responsible for managing center programming and supervising the Multicultural Mentorship Program.
Alese graduated with honors from UTC in 2017 with a BS in Public Administration and Nonprofit Management and a BS in Sports & Leisure Service Administration.
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 138 women.
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 approximately 680 members, a 20-member Board of Directors, an executive director, a program manager, a part-time administrative assistant, and 13 volunteer committees. 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
Chair | Ronelle Sellers
Vice Chair | Janet Dunn
YMCA of Metropolitan Chattanooga
Secretary | Dionne Jennings
Treasurer | Rowena Belcher
Immediate Past Chair | Stefanie Crowe
Stonebridge Financial Asset Management
Director Emeritus – Marj Flemming
First Things First
Autumn Witt Boyd
Law Office of Autumn Witt Boyd
Roundtable Advisors of Raymond James
Real Estate Partners
Chattanooga Public Library
Chambliss, Bahner & Stophel
JP Morgan Chase
Parkridge Health Systems
Memorial Healthcare System
Parkridge Health System
Chattanooga Police Department