The Founding of the Filipina Women's Network


Why the Filipina Women's Network

The idea of a Filipina Women's Network started with a lunch hosted by Cora Manase Tellez at the San Francisco City Club in 1996. Cora wanted to gather Filipina women in management positions for a support network of Filipina management rising stars. At that time Cora was herself a rising executive in the health care industry. 

Cora was Vice President and Regional Manager, Hawaii Region for Kaiser Foundation Health Plan and Hospitals, culminating in Cora breaking the *glass ceiling* when she became the President and CEO of Health Net (NYSE:HNT) in 1998. She had P&L responsibility for health plan operations in California, Oregon, Arizona, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania serving 3.6 million members with revenues of $8 billion. Cora Manase Tellez became the first Filipina to break through the Fortune 500 "glass ceiling" in 1998.

*The “glass ceiling” refers to the barriers that confront women and minorities in reaching the upper echelons of corporate America. Because glass is clear, women and minorities might not, at first, even notice that a barrier is in place which separates them from higher levels. If they try to pass through, they will quickly learn that the ceiling prevents any such rise.

Virna S. Tintiangco, then a new college graduate, continued the group's networking "to provide a unique space for Filipina women to discuss concerns and issues related to their personal and professional lives". She operated under an informal structure with volunteers chairing ad hoc planning committees for each meeting.  They met occasionally for either lunch or dinner with invited guest speakers covering topics such as growing up Filipina in the 90s, work/life balance, spirituality, mother/daughter relationships, career development, peer mentoring, and a visit to the Asian Art Museum to view the Filipino art exhibit in celebration of the upcoming centennial of the Filipino migration to the United States. 

FWN time has come

In 1998, I was invited by Virna Tintiangco to speak about one of my company's workshop offerings, "Transitions: Life Planning". At that meeting Virna announced she was moving to Oregon and was looking for someone to take over this loosely organized networking group.  I met with Virna and expressed interest in continuing the work. I had my own professional reasons - workplace challenges faced by Filipina women I've met through the years as a career and image coach, organizational change consultant, and outplacement adviser. I told Virna I would be interested if I can find a co-chair as my own consulting business required a lot of travel. I met Victoria Urbi who was then reviewing for the California state bar and she agreed to be my co-chair.

Strategic Plan

In 2001, I wrote a plan that became our blueprint and the Filipina Women's Network (FWN) was born. I put out an eblast (the first of many!) - a call to join the FWN Steering Committee who will take FWN to the next level. We met those who responded at a restaurant, and I presented to them the FWN blueprint with the following goals:

  • Create a professional identity for FWN
  • Ensure leadership succession
  • Provide programs that meet the professional needs of FWN members
  • Create a vision of who we are and our role in the Filipino community

The first group of individuals that helped “steer” and birthed FWN are: Anna Bantug, Anna Villena, Judy Nipay Gee, Laarni San Juan, Victoria Urbi and myself. Tessie Zaragoza and Thelma Estrada later joined us at subsequent meetings.

We formalized the organizational structure of Filipina Women's Network as a non-profit professional association in June 2001; opened a bank account, conducted a needs survey among Filipina women professionals, and charged member dues.  We elected the founding board members and our first action was to hold a board retreat to create a vision for FWN. The founding board members were Anna Villena, Christina Macabenta Dunham, Dina Guingona, Elaine Serina, Katherine Zarate, Laarni San Juan, Maya Ruiz, Thelma Estrada and myself.

We convened a weekend board retreat facilitated by my dear friend and peer organizational coach, Kelsey Escoto. Christina Macabenta Dunham hosted us at their family vacation home in Tahoe.

The board planning retreat resulted in the following strategic directions which has been the guiding foundation of FWN's programming:

  • Intensify Member Value
    • Engage and partner with all members, understand their needs and expectations, and respond with value-added solutions to strengthen learning, leadership, professional and personal development in their respective workplaces and the Filipina community.
  • Create, Capture and Provide First Class Knowledge and Professional Learning
    • Make FWN a comprehensive source of information on Filipina American culture, workplace learning, leadership, professional and personal development for Filipina women.
  • Lead Through Technology
    • Leverage technology to engage members, capture knowledge, facilitate interaction, and deliver customized products and services.
  • Shape The Filipina Image
    • Define the Filipina image and shape its future by being the leading source of workplace data, trends, and successful practices for Filipina women professionals.
  • Position FWN as the recognized leader with current and emerging players
    • Serve the Filipina global community by being a leading catalyst for sharing knowledge, professional learning and personal development worldwide.

In 2002, the FWN Board convened its first Filipina Conference at the Moscone Center. It was very well attended. The evaluations reflected a hunger for more career-oriented sessions and the celebration of Filipina women who have succeeded in the workplace. The CEO Forum was packed and standing-room-only. Attendees appreciated hearing the career stories of the panelists: Celia Tomlinson (entrepreneur), Cora Tellez (President and CEO, HealthNet), Evelyn Dilsaver (CEO, Charles Schwab Investments), Mona Lisa Yuchengco (Publisher, Filipinas Magazine), Tessie Guillermo (CEO, Community Technology Foundation). 

In 2006, as the Filipino community in the U. S. celebrated the centennial of Filipino migration to the U.S., I observed that the contributions of Filipina women were not recorded nor acknowledged. It was also a turning point for myself and FWN. I felt that FWN was missing an important aspect of its work - promoting Filipina women's accomplishments in the U. S. workplace and our economic contributors to society. The mainstream public did not really know who we are! I decided to convene a Future Search process for the 2006 Filipina Leadership Summit. This was an eye-opener for many of us. We found our calling.

The major outcome of Future Search at the 2006 Filipina Leadership Summit is the nationwide search for the 100 Most Influential Filipina Women in the United States. The campaign was called Pinay Power 2020. FWN was so San-Francisco-Bay-Area-centric. We wanted to know about fellow Filipina sisters making their marks in their own communities in America. The first awards ceremony was convened in 2007 in Washington DC, America's seat of power. We intend to go back to Washington DC for the culmination of Pinay Power 2020.

FWN continues to re-invent itself adapting to the changes in the workplace, the economic and political trends, and responding to the needs of Filipina women. In 2013, FWN went global reaching out to our sisters in the Filipina diaspora. We have convened the annual Filipina Leadership Summit in the Philippines (2014 Manila, 2016 Cebu); Canada (2017 Toronto); United Kingdom (2018 London); United Arab Emirates (Dubai 2019) and United States (Washington DC 2020).

Our work continues.  We invite you to join us!  Volunteer as a board member, committee chair, whatever time you can commit . . . we will put you to work.  We promise you . . . you will be so proud of being Filipina and to be part of the Filipina Women's Network.  To join FWN as a professional member and be part of the Pinay Power 2020 Campaign and FWN100™Reunion, go to

Click here to read more about FWN.


Marily Mondejar
Founder & CEO, Filipina Women's Network

We are grateful to the following outstanding professionals for their contributions to FWN.

FWN Founding Steering Committee:

  • Anna Bantug
  • Anna Villena
  • Judy Nipay Gee
  • Laarni San Juan
  • Marily Mondejar
  • Victoria Urbi

FWN Board Members
past and present include:

  • Commissioner Al S. Perez
  • Amar Bornkamp
  • Anna Villena PhD
  • Alicia Fortaleza RN
  • Arlene Tinaco
  • Bambi Lorica MD
  • Caroline Enriquez, MD (Philippines)
  • Christine Nati
  • Christina Dunham
  • Connie Lloren
  • Dina Guingona
  • Edcelyn Pujol
  • Edna Rodis RN
  • Elaine Serina PhD
  • Elena Buensalido Mangahas
  • Elizabeth Bautista
  • Genevieve Jopanda
  • Georgitta "Beng" Puyat (Philippines)
  • Gizelle Covarrubias Robinson
  • Jacqueline Yu, Esq.
  • Jennifer Ong OD
  • Jessica Jallorina
  • Jocelyn Formento
  • Katherine Zarate, Esq.
  • Laarni San Juan
  • Leonor Vintervoll (Norway)
  • Lita Abele
  • Maan Hontiveros (Philippines)
  • Maria Beebe PhD
  • Maria Nieves Santos-Greeves (Canada)
  • Commissioner Marily Mondejar
  • Maya Ong Escudero
  • Maya Ruiz
  • Nina Nguyen Lagac
  • Philippine Trade Commissioner Nini Alvero (Philippines and Canada)
  • Pearl Parmelee Cabrera
  • Rosario Cajucom-Bradbury (Philippines)
  • Colonel Shirley Raguindin
  • Sonia Delen
  • Susie Quesada
  • Tessie Zaragoza
  • Hon. Thelma Boac
  • Thelma Estrada, Esq.