About the Women’s Forum of New York

Who We Are

The Women’s Forum of New York is an invitation-only organization of more than 500 women representing the highest levels of achievement across all professional sectors and spheres of influence in our city.

Founded in 1974, when women were first entering the executive ranks, today’s Women Forum members are recognized among New York’s thought leaders, influencers, trailblazers, policymakers, change agents, power brokers, innovators, icons, creators and business builders.

Forum membership provides extraordinary women with the opportunity to network with a diverse array of peers, to help one another succeed and to share unique experiences. We believe the potential for cross-collaboration among our diverse membership and generations of members ignites progress and transformation for all of us.


Betty Friedan, Forum Co-Founders Elinor Guggenheimer and Eleanor Holmes Norton, with Gloria Steinem

The Women’s Forum of New York was created by civic leader and philanthropist Elinor Guggenheimer in 1974, at a time when women were first entering the executive ranks across most professional sectors. The Forum was originally conceived as a “new girls network” to provide inspiration and support for women who were “firsts” and to bring together women of diverse accomplishment for an exchange of ideas and experiences.

Nothing travels faster than an idea whose time had come. By 1979, the Women’s Forum of New York had inspired Forums in San Francisco then Washington, D.C., Chicago, Southern California and Colorado. In 1982 the Forum expanded into the United Kingdom. Other countries quickly followed, and in 1987 the International Women’s Forum (IWF) was established as an umbrella organization to bring Forums together, headquartered in Washington, DC. Today there are 74 Forums around the world in 33 countries representing over 6,800 outstanding women leaders.

The professional landscape for women has changed dramatically since 1974, but the challenges for women still remain – the challenge of access to the boardroom and the C Suite, to the highest levels in academia, law firms, technology, science and medicine; the challenge of access to venture capital and the global challenge for equal pay for equal work across almost all professions. There is an enduring need for women to support, celebrate, and inspire one another. Therefore, our Forum remains as relevant and strong today as the day we started.

Click here to read the History of the Women’s Forum

Our Leadership


Joan Haffenreffer

Managing Director, CAO, Global Public Affairs

Joan serves as Managing Director and Chief Administrative Officer for Global Public Affairs (GPA) at Citigroup, the leading global bank with 200 million customer accounts and 210,000 employees and business in more than 160 countries and jurisdictions. Citi’s Global Public Affairs group is charged with ensuring that Citi’s global dialogues with the public, governments and investors are effective and consistent. In her role as CAO, Joan oversees programs and budgets for 725 staff across six continents. She works with Citi’s Executive Management to organize and implement all Public Affairs initiatives, Citi’s Global Corporate Philanthropy, as well as the Group’s global talent development, staffing, governance and budget. An important part of Joan’s responsibilities is overseeing the operations and governance of Citi’s global charitable contributions programs to ensure consistency with Citi’s Executive Management strategic priorities. She is charged to identify opportunities to increase the institutional impact of Citi corporate philanthropy for targeted grant recipients by leveraging the resources of Citi Global Branding and Citi Foundation. Joan chairs the cross-functional Citi GPA Talent Development Program to grow talent and develop multiple career paths with over 400 participants. Over the course of her career at Citi, Joan has held a variety of senior line management roles, most recently in the Consumer Group.

Marlene Debel

Vice President
Chief Risk Officer
MetLife, Inc.

Marlene Debel is MetLife’s chief risk officer and a member of the Executive Group. In this role, she is responsible for monitoring, analyzing and managing risk for the enterprise. From March 2018 until assuming her current role, Debel served as EVP and head of Retirement & Income Solutions, the company’s institutional retirement business. In this role, Debel oversaw the growth, development and distribution of market leading businesses, including pension risk transfer; annuity and investment products for defined contribution plans; corporate and bank owned life insurance; funding for post-retirement benefits; and structured settlements. She led one of the strongest periods of growth for the business while working to ensure that MetLife delivered on its long-term promises to customers. Debel was previously chief financial officer for the U.S. Business with responsibility for the financial management of businesses in the U.S., including MetLife Holdings. She was appointed to this position in July 2016. Debel joined MetLife in 2011 as executive vice president and treasurer and was responsible for the strategic management of MetLife’s financial resources, including capital management, liquidity risk, cash management, and managing the company’s relationships with both banks and rating agencies. She was also responsible for MetLife’s transition to federal regulation as a non-bank SIFI. Prior to joining MetLife, Debel was global head of liquidity risk management and rating agency relations for Bank of America, where she developed the global liquidity risk strategy for the company. She was also responsible for managing the company’s relationships with rating agencies and fixed income investors. She joined Bank of America with the acquisition of Merrill Lynch.  In her 20 years at Merrill Lynch, she held a number of leadership positions, including assistant treasurer.

Leila Heckman

Managing Director
Lebenthal Asset Management

Leila Heckman is a highly regarded investment manager and global strategist with twenty-five years of experience. She manages global portfolios for premier domestic and international institutional clients and high-net-worth individuals. In addition, she leads an independent research advisory business with proprietary interactive software models and publications for global markets, emerging markets, and frontier markets. Leila is currently Head of the International Equity Team for DCM Advisors. She led the International Equity team at Bear Stearns Asset Management and developed a highly profitable investment management business with premier clients. Leila was the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Heckman Global Advisors, an independent research company which was purchased by Bear Stearns in 2005. Between 1993 and 2003, she was Senior Managing Director of Global Asset Allocation at Citigroup Smith Barney, where she built a preeminent team that was ranked #1 or #2 by Institutional Investor’s annual global poll for four years in a row. She also served as a voting member of the Investment Policy Committee and Asset Allocation Committee of Salomon Smith Barney. Leila also was Vice President at Alliance Bernstein, where she developed sophisticated strategic asset allocation models. She spent the early part of career at Citigroup as Head of Credit Policy.

Kate Swann

Blue State

Kate is Blue State Digital’s Chief Operating Officer, responsible for business strategy, operations and P+L management. She oversees a global team in six offices providing a range of digital services to non-profits and corporate clients, as well as managing Blue State’s SAAS business. Kate joined Blue State in 2013. Previously, Kate was COO at Frog Design during a period of high growth and international expansion, responsible for managing 12 offices worldwide. Kate has extensive experience managing technology teams – at Frog, Kate managed the global technology consulting teams and at Blue State, Kate oversees the business for their digital CRM and fundraising product. Kate has spent her entire career in digital, working primarily with fast growth agencies. She has expertise in product innovation, user experience, mobile, high-tech and digital ecosystems. Kate co-chaired the Hudson Square Business Improvement District’s successful expansion committee, and is a current board member of Graham Windham and the Hudson Square BID.


Felice Forer Axelrod Axelrod

Special Projects
Bloomberg Philanthropies

Felice provides special project and management services to both Bloomberg LP and Bloomberg Philanthropies, including fundraising and event production.  She managed special events for the Bloomberg for Mayor campaign in 2009 and recently worked with the affinity groups on Mike Bloomberg’s 2020 presidential campaign.   Felice also consults with nonprofit organizations on fundraising, event production, marketing and strategy.  Current and former clients include Asia Society,  The American Friends of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, The Fortune Society, New York Law School, 9/11 Memorial & Museum, Hunter College, Rudin Center for Transportation at NYU Wagner, Citizens Committee for NYC, Everytown for Gun Safety, Perelman Performing Arts Center at the World Trade Center, Cities of Service, the New American Economy and the Lupus Research Alliance, among others. From 2000-2008 Felice was a Senior Vice President for Corporate Events, Philanthropy and Protocol at Lehman Brothers in New York.  Prior to joining Lehman, she was Assistant to the President and Director of Special Events at Mount Sinai NYU Health as well as for the Mount Sinai and NYU Schools of Medicine. Previously, she worked in fundraising, special events and public relations for the Museum of the City of New York and the New York Public Library. Felice served as Mayor Bloomberg’s representative to the Brooklyn Academy of Music board from 2010 through 2013.  Felice is president emerita of the Council of Protocol Executives (COPE), a nonprofit organization for professional event planners and protocol officers. Also, she is a Corporate Etiquette and International Protocol Consultant certified by the Washington School of Protocol. Felice volunteers at several New York City organizations including Read Ahead, God’s Love We Deliver, Children’s Hospital at Montefiore and LaGuardia Community College, among others.

Pamela J. Craig

Former Chief Financial Officer

Pamela J. Craig served as Accenture’s chief financial officer from 2006 through 2013.  She served in a variety of leadership roles at Accenture during her 34 years with the company.

Pamela currently serves on three public company boards:  Merck & Co., Inc. where she is chair of the Audit Committee and a member of the Governance Committee, Progressive Corporation, where she is a member of the Compensation Committee and 3M Corporation where she serves on the Audit Committee and Finance Committee. Ms. Craig is an Advisory Board member of Spencer Stuart, a global executive search and recruitment firm.

Pam is a member of the Women’s Forum of New York and is a leader of its Corporate Board Initiative which promotes women on corporate boards. She also chairs the Board of Comprehensive Development, Inc., a non-profit that provides academic and social service support to at-risk students at three public high schools in downtown Manhattan.  Pam has been a member of Junior Achievement of New Jersey State Board of Directors since 2007 and actively participates in their lead scholarship program.

Ms. Craig has a Bachelor of Arts Degree with Honors in Economics from Smith College.  She also has an MBA from New York University Stern School where she serves on the Board of Overseers.

Heather Dietrick

The Daily Beast

Heather Dietrick serves as CEO of The Daily Beast. Previously she was President of Gizmodo Media Group, LLC (formerly known as Gawker Media, LLC), leading day-to-day operations and driving strategic integration into its acquiring entity, Univision Communications, Inc. Before this position, she was President and General Counsel of Gawker Media, LLC, overseeing business strategy and day-to-day operations, including editorial, advertising and business development. At Gawker Media, she also served on the Board of Directors, providing strategic advice to steer the company towards a successful asset sale. Before joining Gawker, Heather worked as First Amendment Fellow and Counsel at Hearst Corporation, as a Law Clerk in the Eastern District of New York, and as an associate at Goodwin Procter, LLP, where she practiced trademark and patent litigation and prosecution. Heather was previously Co-Chair of the American Bar Association Forum on Communications Law.

Paige Evans

Artistic Director
Signature Theatre

Paige Evans has been Artistic Director of Signature Theatre since July 2016. She leads the organization and programs and produces seasons that celebrate playwrights and their bodies of work. Over the past two years, she has produced seasons of work by Suzan-Lori Parks and Stephen Adly Guirgis and developed and produced new plays by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, Annie Baker, Will Eno, and Dominique Morisseau. She has also brought Lynn Nottage and Dave Malloy to Signature for upcoming residencies. Before Signature, Evans was the inaugural Artistic Director of LCT3 at Lincoln Center Theater. Since its inception in 2008, Evans programmed, developed and produced more than 20 world and New York premieres for LCT3, bringing new artists and new audiences to Lincoln Center Theater, including David Adjmi’s Stunning, Amy Herzog’s 4000 Miles (which transferred to LCT’s Mitzi Newhouse Theater), Greg Pierce’s Slowgirl, Ayad Akhtar’s Disgraced (which won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and transferred to Broadway), the Rude Mech’s Stop Hitting Yourself, and Dave Malloy’s Preludes. Under Evans’ direction, LCT3 plays and productions – all priced affordably and presented to a wide audience – won the Pulitzer Prize as well as numerous Obie, Lortel, and AUDELCO Awards. Before LCT3, Evans worked in the literary department at Manhattan Theatre Club (MTC) where she then became Associate Artistic Director. At MTC, she championed, commissioned and/or developed scores of new plays, including David Auburn’s Tony Award® and Pulitzer Prize-winning play Proof, John Patrick Shanley’s Tony Award® and Pulitzer Prize-winning Doubt, Conor McPherson’s Shining City, Ayub Khan-Din’s East is East, Tarell Alvin McCraney’s Choir Boy, and David Harrower’s Blackbird. Paige lived in Rome for three years, where she was the Arts Editor for the “International Courier” and from 1998-2000, and in Havana, Cuba on a writing fellowship with the Institute of Current World Affairs.

Melissa James

Vice Chairman, Global Capital Markets
Morgan Stanley

Melissa James is a Vice Chairman of Morgan Stanley in Global Capital Markets. She is currently Chief Risk Officer for lending where she oversees capital, liquidity and balance sheet management across Global Capital Markets including running CCAR planning for the division. She provides risk management oversight and governance for GCM’s lending business. In addition she is a senior client advisor helping manage some of the firm’s Investment Banking relationships. Prior to her current responsibilities, Melissa held a number of leadership positions including Global Head of Loan Products where she managed over $80 billion of loan commitments for the firm’s clients. She also Chaired the firm’s Capital Commitment Committee and ran the industrial origination effort in Debt Capital Markets where she had responsibility for managing relationships with some of the firm’s largest industrial clients including General Motors, General Electric and DuPont. In this capacity Melissa helped raise billions of dollars of capital for corporate clients and worked on some of the firm’s most complex transactions including the first domestic yen issuance for General Electric Capital Corporation, the first global bond for DuPont and a complex debt for equity swap in connection with the $4BN initial public offering for Agere. Melissa sits on the Global Capital Markets and Securities Operating Committees. She is a member of the Asset Liability Committee for the Securities Division, the Securities Division’s Diversity Council and Morgan Stanley’s Women’s Business Alliance Steering Committee.

Courtney Kelso

Senior Vice President and General Manager
American Express

Courtney Kelso is the Senior Vice President of Global Charge, Co-Brand, Loyalty, and Consulting within American Express’ Global Commercial Services division. In this role, she is responsible for managing some of the company’s largest product portfolios, retaining existing co-brand relationships and launching new strategic co-brands, reshaping Loyalty and MR for the commercial business, and overseeing our consulting team’s critical strategic efforts to support our highest priority accounts. Prior to her current role, Courtney was Senior Vice President of Global Strategy, Brand, & Field Enablement for American Express’ Global Commercial Payments division, where she led the organization’s efforts to develop strategies to evolve our commercial business trajectory, create cohesive brand messaging, build key strategic partnerships, advance merchant coverage, and empower our field teams to bring our vision to life for our clients and business customers. During her 12 years at American Express, Courtney has also held various other roles in Enterprise Growth and Global Advertising and Brand Management where she focused on Strategy & Innovation, Business Development, Brand, and Experiential Marketing. Before joining American Express, Courtney worked as a management consultant for McKinsey & Company and Accenture, where she focused on corporate and marketing strategy in the High Tech, Consumer, Retail, and Government industries. Courtney is originally from Texas and resides in Tribeca with her husband, son, and daughter.

Jessica Lappin

Alliance for Downtown New York

A lifelong New Yorker, Jessica has a distinguished record in civic life and public service. Since taking the helm of the Alliance in February 2014, Lappin has emerged as the voice of the downtown business community and has ensured that the country’s largest Business Improvement District remains at the forefront of efforts to shape the neighborhood. Prior to her tenure at the Alliance, Lappin was elected to serve two terms in the New York City Council, representing the Upper East Side, East Midtown, and Roosevelt Island, and was praised by the New York Times for her “steely resolve, dedication, and energy.” She played a key role in bringing the Cornell-Technion Applied Science and Engineering Campus to Roosevelt Island, oversaw the approval of over 20,000 new public school seats citywide, helped keep 100 senior centers from closing, expanded the city’s recycling efforts and spearheaded the successful development of four new waterfront parks. In addition, as Co-Chair of the Women’s Caucus, she authored a nationally recognized, landmark bill to protect women’s health and reproductive rights. In 2013, she was a Democratic candidate for Manhattan Borough President and finished second in a competitive four-way race.

Anne-Claire Legendre

Consul General of France in New York

Anne-Claire Legendre is Consul General of France in New York and is the first woman to hold this position. As Consul General, she is in charge of promoting the influence and appeal of France across the tri-state area of New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey, as well as Bermuda. She serves a community of 80,000 French citizens, whose vitality actively contributes to the visibility of France in the United States. Anne-Claire Legendre previously served at the French embassy in Yemen in 2005-2006, before joining the Direction of the French Abroad at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, where she contributed to develop consular cooperation between member states from the European Union. From 2008 to 2010, she was in charge of bilateral relations with Algeria as part of the Direction of North Africa and the Middle East. She was then appointed to the Permanent Mission of France to the United Nations, where she served under the current French Ambassador to the United States, Mr. Gérard Araud, until 2013. As the Arab Spring upheavals placed the Middle East at the center of attention, she supervised negotiations on Syria, Lebanon, Israel-Palestine, and Irak, at the Security Council of the United Nations. In 2013, she served as Advisor on North Africa and the Middle East for the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development.

Laura Clayton McDonnell

Vice President, Enterprise Sales - Eastern Region

Laura A. Clayton McDonnell is the Vice President, Enterprise Sales – East Region for ServiceNow. In this capacity,  Laura is responsible for leading a sales team who is helping make the world of work, work better for customers headquartered in the East Region. Her most recent prior position was  Vice President, New York Region, Microsoft, where she was responsible for supporting the digital transformation of key customers. She has extensive sales management and legal experience in the information technology industry. Prior to Microsoft, Laura was the SVP, North America Sales at Aspect Software. Prior to that, she was VP of Strategic Services at IBM and closed the first long term digital transformation deal with a leading insurer/healthcare provider in Spanish South America. She also was VP, Public Sector/West IMT, North America Group which supported the State and Local Government, Education, Healthcare and Life Sciences industries. She also led the Smarter Cities/Smarter Planet and the North America Healthcare Growth Initiatives. Laura held other senior IBM positions in Business Development, S&D Communications and Global Technology Services. Before IBM, she was Vice President of Business Development at Rational Software and previously held a variety of executive-level positions. Prior to Rational, she was Senior Director of Market Development and Strategic Planning, and General Counsel of the Consumer and Embedded Software Division at Sun Microsystems. Previously, she was Managing Attorney for North American Sales at Cisco Systems and a Senior Counsel at Apple Computer. Prior to Apple, Laura was in private corporate and securities law practice at a law firm in San Francisco.

Stephanie Mehta

Fast Company

Stephanie Mehta is Editor in Chief of Fast Company, overseeing the title’s print, digital, and live journalism initiatives. She most recently served as a deputy editor at Vanity Fair. Mehta was editor of Bloomberg LIVE, the conference division of Bloomberg Media, and she spent 14 years at FORTUNE, rising to the position of deputy editor. She helped set the overall direction of the magazine, with a special focus in technology, international news and policy coverage. She helped reinvent Fortune’s annual Brainstorm Tech conference, and spearheaded the international expansion of the title’s Most Powerful Women summit. Stephanie joined FORTUNE in 2000 from The Wall Street Journal, where she was an assistant news editor, reporting and editing technology stories. Prior to joining the Journal, she worked as a business reporter for the Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Va. A Chicago-area native, she now lives with her husband and two daughters in Scarsdale, New York

Wendy Mendenhall, MBE

President & CEO
Grandview Advisors, Inc.

Wendy is the Former Global Executive in Charge and Managing Director with BritishAmerican Business, a highly curated B2B network and the voice of transatlantic business, dedicated to advancing economic growth for companies with operations in the US and UK. BAB offers strategic insights, introductions and marketing opportunities that help members to generate trade and new business and to power new ideas. Since joining BritishAmerican Business in New York in 2000, she has played a key leadership role in the organization’s growth in the United States and on a transatlantic basis. Involved in both strategic vision and day-to-day operations, she has transformed the organization into a powerful voice for BAB’s members, reaching the highest echelons of Washington and Parliament. Wendy also served as a member of the organization’s Executive Committee and Board of Directors, and continues to be on the Board of its Charitable Foundation. In addition, she served on the Executive Committee and Board of Directors of the British-American Business Council and the Executive Committee and Board of the European-American Chamber of Commerce in the United States. She is actively involved with OUT Leadership’s Quorum, a select group of executives dedicated to increasing LGBT+ visibility and representation in corporate boardrooms. Prior to joining BritishAmerican Business, Wendy served with Richmond Events, the leading UK-based producer of high-level business conferences, and NatWest Markets Investment Bank N.A.’s corporate communications.

Susan Robinson

Principal, Culture Change & Inclusiveness
Ernst & Young LLP

Susan has worked in the change space for over 20 years in consulting and industry roles. While she is Canadian born and New York based, she brings extensive international experience from her time living and working in Asia, Europe and the Middle East supporting organizations through transformational change. Susan supports clients across a range of sectors as they move through large scale transformations. As workforces evolve due to generational shifts, digital enablement, increased workloads and pressure, Susan brings a comprehensive yet pragmatic approach to managing change while keeping a focus on organizational culture, inclusivity and driving results. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature at Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario.

Cassandra Santos

Head of Business Process Innovation

Casey Santos serves as General Atlantic’s Chief Information Officer. She joined the firm in 2014 and is based in New York. Casey joined General Atlantic from McKinsey, where she served as Head of IT for MIO Partners, their private investment group, after working as a strategy consultant in McKinsey’s Business Technology Offices. Casey began her career at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Mission Control as a propulsion systems engineer, supporting more than 15 Space Shuttle missions including the first Mir/Space Shuttle docking mission and the first Hubble Space Telescope repair mission. She also volunteers her time to speak with students about pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

Bonita Stewart

Vice President, Global Partnerships
Google Inc.

Bonita C. Stewart brings extensive consumer technology and operational experience as her career spans over two decades of digital transformation across multiple industries.  Since joining Google in 2006 she has driven adoption of digital technologies within the C-Suite in the US and globally. Currently, she oversees the company’s Global Partnerships team  for the largest US publishers across Search, Mobile Apps, Commerce, News, Broadcast, Telecommunications and Domains.

Prior to Google she had an extensive automotive career where she led Chrysler Group Interactive Communications for DaimlerChrysler AG, Dodge Passenger Cars and Minivans brand management and Chrysler Brand Advertising. During her tenure Advertising Age named the Chrysler Group the 2005 Interactive Marketer of the Year.  Ms. Stewart enjoyed a 10-year management career with IBM in software/hardware pricing, sales and PC product marketing.  As an entrepreneur she served as President, COO and co-founder for Nia Enterprises, a web-based company as well as the Founder and CEO for One Moment in Time, a formal wear rental company for women.

Over the past several years she has been recognized externally for her leadership as a Woman to Watch (Advertising Age, 2011), Power 100 (Ebony, 2012), Woman to Watch in Tech (Crain’s NY, 2014) and Most Powerful Women (Crain’s NYC, 2017)

Barbara M. Van Allen

The Economic Club of New York

Barbara M. Van Allen is president of the Economic Club of New York (ECNY). In this role she is responsible for leading the nation’s foremost nonprofit and nonpartisan speaking forum for economic policy speeches and the expression of diverse views and opinions on social, political and economic issues facing society. The ECNY draws its membership from the senior ranks of New York’s diverse business, financial, technology and professional communities. She represents the organization at the highest levels of domestic and international government, business and finance and, together with her Board, regularly serves as host to heads of state, central bankers, Supreme Court justices, secretaries general of the United Nations, international business leaders as well as key cabinet members, military leaders, ambassadors, members of Congress, and innovators across all sectors. Prior to the ECNY, Ms. Van Allen was founder and president of Van Allen Associates, a boutique consulting firm. In this capacity, she provided strategic communications, stakeholder outreach and government affairs advice and counsel to the senior leadership of business to business and business to consumer clients across multiple industry sectors although typically those highly impacted by regulation such as finance and health care.Earlier in her career, she served in senior leadership roles with award-winning results in the trade association, nonprofit, corporate and government sectors based in New York, NY Washington, DC and San Francisco, CA. This included serving in senior management positions with major corporations including ITT Corporation and Cushman & Wakefield at their headquarters in New York after beginning her career on Capitol Hill where she served as a legislative adviser to several members of Congress.