Chattanooga Women’s Leadership Institute Meghan Green hopes to ‘think less, act more’ in new role as executive director

Staff photo by Olivia Ross / Meghan Green of Chattanooga Women's Leadership Institute poses for a photo on Monday, February 27, 2023.

Name: Meghan Greene

Job: Chattanooga Women's Leadership Institute executive director

Age: 40

Education: University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, Bachelor's Degree in Public Administration and Nonprofit Management

"Think less. Act more."

That simple call to action is Meghan Greene's guiding light.

Greene, 40, the new executive director of the Chattanooga Women's Leadership Institute, remembers hearing the four-word admonition at a CWLI event about four years ago. The quote came from British journalist Katty Kay, one of a long list of female luminaries who have been featured at the institute's annual IMPACT dinner.

"I was a new member [of CWLI], and it was literally an epiphany moment for me," says Greene, a Chattanooga native who formerly worked for Step Ahead, a Chattanooga nonprofit focused on women's reproductive health and birth control.

Greene says Kay's message -- "Think less. Act more." -- was not meant as an indictment of carefully considering problems, but merely an acknowledgment that "over-thinking" can get in the way of progress.

Greene, who formerly worked in volunteer leadership roles inside CWLI, has only been on the job since January, and she is admittedly still assessing the group's needs. But she is eager to chart a way forward for the 400-member institute which began organically in the 1990s when a few Chattanooga women decided the city needed an organization to mold and mentor female leaders. CWLI is funded through member support and corporate partnerships.

Below is a recent Chatter Magazine interview with Greene which has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Chatter Magazine: Is the fact that you grew up in Chattanooga, before moving away for a while, an asset in your new job?

Meghan Greene: I went to [Chattanooga School for the Arts and Sciences]. I spent a lot of time downtown, and my mother worked at Unum. I would go into Unum with her in the mornings, sit in their cafeteria and then go to classes [at CSAS] a 9 a.m. That's the way I grew up. I know the nonprofit community here well.

Chatter: CSAS is known for teaching assertiveness through Socratic class discussions. Do you see that influence in your personality today?

Greene: CSAS was something special. I started there in first grade and went all the way through. ... I never thought of myself as particularly assertive until recent years. But people are describing me that way.

Women in leadership positions need to be able to put themselves out there -- to raise their hands. ... It's not about every woman becoming a CEO, but raise [your] hand and speak up.

Chatter: People say you are known for your ability to raise money. How important will that be in your new position?

Greene: I think that experience has served me well on a lot of fronts. ... I am a fundraising executive. That is a large focus for me. You need the funds to be able to start new programs. If we find a need for a program, and if the program is as good as we think it is, we are going to be able to find somebody to support it.

Chatter: What challenges have you had to overcome in your life that have made you who you are?

Greene: I was diagnosed with breast cancer while I was finishing my [college] degree. It was 2013. I was bound and determined I was going to get through it. ... I never stopped [school], but I did have to pull back on some things. ... I did surgery. I still take medicine. At the five-year mark you are basically cured, and I'm almost at 10 [years from diagnosis].

... The point of all of that: I'm doing great now. For me, it made me more determined to do impossible things. I've accomplished a number of things just because I refused to believe that I couldn't.

Chatter: What do you think the future holds for women seeking leadership roles in Chattanooga?

Greene: [I'm] optimistic, certainly. I do think that there is still work to be done. That's not special to Chattanooga, that's across the board. There's still a system that wasn't really designed with women in mind. We have made strides [here], but there's always going to be more to do.