Our Staff & Board

Debra L. Ness


Debra L. Ness, President

Debra L. Ness, M.S., is president of the National Partnership for Women & Families. Before becoming president in 2004, she served as executive vice president of the National Partnership for 13 years. Her leadership has helped make the organization a highly respected and influential force that is working to advance its vision of a country where every person has equal opportunity and all individuals live free from discrimination — where workplaces are fair and family friendly, reproductive rights are secure, and all people have access to quality, affordable health care and real economic security.

Ness’ leadership is nimble and well-tested. She has persuaded friendly state and federal governments to advance initiatives that make life better for women and families, and helped lead a highly effective resistance when opponents hold power. Under her stewardship, the National Partnership has transformed the nation’s workplaces. Today, 40 jurisdictions have adopted laws that allow workers to earn paid sick days, hundreds of corporations and five states have put paid family and medical leave programs in place, and dozens of states have adopted strong laws that prohibit and punish pregnancy discrimination.

Ness is an innovative and sought-after health policy strategist who has helped shape the programs that are making health care in this country more accessible and affordable, while improving health outcomes and delivering better quality, more patient- and family-centered care. She has fostered collaboration across a wide range of health care providers and payers and is nationally recognized for advancing consumer and patient perspectives in health care transformation. Her skilled advocacy for the unique health care needs of women and diverse populations has created unprecedented, formidable, durable alliances.

She serves on the boards of some of the most prominent and powerful organizations working to advance justice and improve health care. Ness serves on the Executive Committee of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights (LCCHR) and co-chairs its Health Care Task Force. She serves on the Board of Directors of the Economic Policy Institute (EPI). She is a member of the Board of Directors and chairs the Consumer Advisory Council of the National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA). She is one of the first public members of the American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM) Board of Directors. She was appointed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to serve on the Guiding Committee of the Health Care Payment Learning & Action Network (HCPLAN) and co-chairs the HCPLAN Consumer & Patient Affinity Group, among many other influential boards and bodies.

Ness graduated summa cum laude from Drew University with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and sociology. After completing graduate work in social welfare and public health policy, she received her Masters of Science from Columbia University School of Social Work. She worked in numerous capacities at the Service Employees International Union, first as director of adult education and career development efforts, and later conducting strategic planning and organizational development programs for local unions. She headed field operations for NARAL, where she worked to revitalize the organization’s grassroots political capability and affiliate network, before becoming its deputy director in 1989 and helping transform the organization into a major force in electoral politics.