Women City Leaders: Success and Challenges

An event of the Bloomberg Center for Cities

Cherelle Parker speaking on stage to a large audience

Panel starts at 4:15 p.m. Reception: 5:30-6:30 p.m.
Bloomberg Center for Cities, Taubman Third Floor, Harvard Kennedy School

About the Event

Co-sponsored with the Center for Public Leadership and the Women and Public Policy Program

Event Description

The rise of women’s leadership in city governments has led to more gender-equitable policies and programs and shifted societal norms about women and girls. However, women remain underrepresented in local governments worldwide, and when they do rise to positions of executive power, they disproportionally face gender-related challenges and threats. How can we address these issues to ensure fair and equal representation and continue our progress around women’s participation in local governments?

Join us to mark International Women’s Day 2024 with a panel discussion featuring women city leaders from Kansas, Puerto Rico, and Uganda. This event also marks the launch of a set of new teaching cases featuring women leaders by the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative.

Event Information

Reception and refreshments to follow.
The in-person event is open to all Harvard University ID holders and registration is requested as space is limited.

Those not attending in person can stream the event live via YouTube. Please register for the livestream using the link below. We will send the livestream link via email closer to the event date.

Register for livestream

Register for in-person event


  • Carmen Yulín Cruz, former Mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico
  • Michelle De La Isla, former Mayor of Topeka, Kansas
  • Judith Tumusiime, former Deputy Executive Director of Kampala, Uganda


Hannah Riley Bowles
Roy E. Larsen Senior Lecturer in Public Policy and Management, Harvard Kennedy School (HKS); co-director, HKS Center for Public Leadership and HKS Women and Public Policy Program

Directions to the Bloomberg Center for Cities at Harvard University

We welcome individuals with accessibility needs to participate in our events. Contact us at events@cities.harvard.edu to request accommodations or if you have other questions.​




Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz headshot

Carmen Yulín Cruz

Former Mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico

Carmen Yulín Cruz Soto was mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico from 2013 to 2020, and came to national prominence in 2017 as an outspoken advocate to ensure federal support to Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria. Her vision of public service is one of governing not for the people, but with the people.

Yulín, as she prefers to be called, holds degrees from Boston University and Carnegie Mellon University and has worked in the private and public sectors; including at the U.S. Treasury Department, in the Puerto Rico House of Representatives, and on the Board of Directors for Annie’s List. She has held fellowships at Mount Holyoke College; the University of Chicago; and the Center for Public Leadership and Women and Public Policy Program at Harvard Kennedy School. She has received awards from numerous humanitarian organizations, including the Martin Luther King Center and the United States Hispanic Leadership Institute. In 2018, Time magazine named her one of its 100 Most Influential People.

Yulín is the author of EL PODER ESTÁ EN LA CALLE, on how alliances can change the political landscape and produce results for citizens. She is a consultant and speaker on climate change, crisis management, female leadership and empowerment, community engagement, and resilience planning. She founded EN PUERTO RICO SE PUEDE in 2023 to help communities organize and innovate in these areas.

Of all her titles and accomplishments, the one she is proudest of is being a mother to her 33-year-old daughter Marina Paul Cruz.

Michelle De La Isla headshot

Michelle De La Isla

Former Mayor of Topeka, Kansas; CEO, Hack.Diversity

Michelle De La Isla has devoted her life to service in the nonprofit, private, and public sectors during her career. Her journey into public service was not easy. She overcame poverty, homelessness, domestic violence, and cancer as a single mother. These experiences made her a stronger community advocate. After graduating from Wichita State University, she taught financial literacy to Latina women across the country with MANA National, built homes with Habitat for Humanity, started a Latina teen empowerment Conference in Topeka and participated in the Capital District Group that revitalized downtown Topeka. She served as chief financial officer and executive director of two nonprofit organizations, and successfully ran a state-wide supplier diversity and diversity and inclusion programs for a Fortune 500 public utility. Michelle was elected to the Topeka City Council in 2013, and Mayor of Topeka in 2017. As mayor, she focused on economic development, equity, and infrastructure improvements. She was elected by her peers to the US Conference of Mayors Advisory Council in 2018.

In 2020, she ran for U.S. Congress in KS-02 while serving on Shawnee County’s COVID-19 emergency management team managing crisis communications and facilitating community collaborations to mitigate the effect of the pandemic in the community to safeguard citizens, medical resources, and the economy. Michelle retired as Mayor in January 2022, and worked as a Managing Director at the Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation while obtaining her Masters in Public Administration at Harvard University, where she was a U.S. Latino Leadership Fellow at the Center for Public Leadership. Michelle graduated from Harvard Kennedy School in May 2023. She is now the CEO of Hack.Diversity, where she along with her team work to transform the economy by breaking down barriers for Black and Latin@ professionals in tech. She sits on six boards for social enterprises, these are: The American Journalism Project, Education Superhighway 2.0, Accelerator for America, The Well, Partners for Justice and Brilliant Detroit. The title she holds dearest to her heart is “Mom” to Erick, Cristina and Lorraine.

Judith Tumusiime

Former Deputy Executive Director of Kampala, Uganda

Judith is a senior professional with over 25 years of solid expertise in institutional leadership, change management, urban development, climate change, sanitation, and research with academia, government institutions, nonprofits, and the private sector in Africa, Europe, and the United States. She has been recognized for her excellent transformative leadership skills. Judith currently leads the Federal Grants of the City of Cambridge and is a Commissioner on the Cambridge Women Commission. She is also a member of the National Community Development Association committee. Judith is a judge for the 2024 President’s Innovation Challenge and a mentor for the Harvard Innovation Lab. She’s also a SEED consultant for the SEED transformation program at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. Judith is a member of the Calestous Juma Legacy Foundation Advisory Council.

She has been a guest lecturer for the City Hall Fellowship program at the Bloomberg Center for Cities and for the Center for International Development at Harvard University. She has also provided pro bono business consulting services to Boston area nonprofits through Harvard Business School Community Action Partners. Judith previously led the City of Somerville Community Preservation program. She was also part of the Harvard Ash Center Innovation Field Lab (IFL) teaching team. She was a Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative Fellow and protagonist in three teaching cases.

Judith was appointed by HE Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, the president of Uganda, as the first Deputy Executive Director of Kampala Capital City Authority. In addition, she was an environmental specialist and consultant for the U.S. Presidential Malaria Initiative, a USAID funded Indoor Residual Spraying (IRS) program in Ethiopia, Mozambique, Uganda, and Zambia. Judith has a Ph.D. from Wageningen University, an Master in Public Administration from Harvard University, a Master of Business Administration from the University of Warwick, an master’s degree in environment and natural resources, and a bachelor’s degree in education from Makerere University.

Hannah Riley Bowles headshot

Hannah Riley Bowles

Roy E. Larsen Senior Lecturer in Public Policy and Management at the Harvard Kennedy School (HKS); chair, HKS Management, Leadership, and Decision Sciences Area; co-director, HKS Center for Public Leadership and HKS Women and Public Policy Program

Hannah Riley Bowles is the Roy E. Larsen Senior Lecturer in Public Policy and Management at Harvard Kennedy School (HKS). Hannah the chairs HKS Management, Leadership, and Decision Sciences (MLD) Area and co-directs the HKS Women and Public Policy Program (WAPPP). She is a leading expert on how gender influences pay negotiations and more broadly on negotiation as a micro-mechanism of inequality. Her current research focuses on women’s leadership advancement, examining both situational barriers and individual strategies. Her research appears in academic publications, such as the Academy of Management Journal, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Organization Science, Psychological Science, and Journal of Behavioral Decision Making.

She teaches “Conflict & Collaboration” in the MPP core curriculum and is the faculty director of Women & Power, the HKS executive program for women in senior leadership from the public, private, and nonprofit sectors. She has been actively involved in negotiation and conflict management training, practice, and research for over 25 years, including early career opportunities to work for the governments of Argentina, Costa Rica, and Germany. She has a Doctor of Business Administration from the Harvard Business School, a Master in Public Policy from HKS, and a Bachelor of Arts from Smith College.

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