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TBT Series: Brenda Berkman, FDNY, and Giving Back

TBT Series: Brenda Berkman, FDNY, and Giving Back

Too often we tend to get caught up in our daily grind. We’re constantly thinking about how we’re going to close that deal or when we’re going to make that next big move in our career. We get so caught up in thinking about the next step, that we sometimes forget to take a step back and think about the accomplishments we’ve achieved.

We have big goals at Ellevate Network and our team hit the ground running in 2019(as did I!). This year, I’ve been fortunate enough to connect and collaborate with some phenomenal leaders and entrepreneurs doing incredible work towards equality.

One of the biggest learnings during this time is how critical it is to surround yourself with people that inspire you, challenge you to think differently, amplify your voice, and help to make you stronger. I’ve personally grown so much these past few weeks(yes, I’m in my 40s and still learning!) due to the impact of my network. At Ellevate Network we like to say that Networking is the #1 unwritten rule of business and I don’t think I’ve believed this as strongly as I have this year.

To acknowledge the power of community, to reinforce that women should be celebrated every month(not just in March), and to continue to remind myself of the powerful journey I’ve been on this year, I’m going to share some of my favorite memories here each week — who’s with me?

Let’s start in January.

At the very top of 2019, I learned that courageous conversations mean speaking up for yourself, speaking up for others, and refusing to back down until the change you seek is accomplished. I’m amazed by those that have the strength to persevere and recognize that for many, the fight for equality is not a choice but rather an imperative necessary to gain equal access to our society.

When I met Brenda Berkman, Retired Captain of the FDNY, at an Ellevate event hosted by Sara Kay Gallery, I was riveted. Brenda shared her experiences fighting for her right and the right of all women to join the Fire Department of New York. She ultimately won a federal sex discrimination lawsuit(in 1982! that was less than 40 years ago) that opened the FDNY to women firefighters. Today women comprise 3% of the FDNY.

Some things that I learned from Brenda:

  • The importance of allies. When Brenda was fighting for equality in the FDNY, the leaders of the Vulcan Society(society of black firefighters) were her biggest supporters. She credits this support with being instrumental to her ability to persevere during her early days on the FDNY.
  • Community lifts us up. Brenda co-founded the United Women Firefighters group in 1982 to provide support and and community for women firefighters.
  • History can be rewritten. Berkman was off duty when the first plane hit the World Trade Center on Sept. 11 but she rushed to the aid of others and spent 9/11 and the weeks following searching for survivors. Many of the 9/11 accounts and media spoke of“firemen” so Brenda advocated to have women recognized for their contributions leading to a video titled“The Women at Ground Zero” and the book Women at Ground Zero: Stories of Courage and Compassion. Brenda also serves on the board of Monumental Women, a nonprofit, all-volunteer organization dedicated to placing the first statue honoring women's history in New York City's Central Park.
  • There is power in giving back. Brenda, now retired, volunteers as a walking tour guide at the 9/11 Memorial to honor her friends and colleagues who were lost, and to help educate visitors. She is also and artist and recently had an art show titled "Thirty-six views of One World Trade Center".

It’s hard to hear Brenda’s story and not want to be brave in my every day life like her. It’s not always easy to stand up for your community, but Brenda found key allies, used the power of community, and believed in the cause so much that she changed history as we know it. I’m so grateful to have met Brenda and learn from her courageous work. To watch the recording of our conversation, click here.

I hope you enjoyed this recap of the incredible people I’m learning and growing with through my work here at Ellevate. I’ll be sure to update you more on what I’m up to every week, right here on Linkedin.

Be sure to follow Ellevate Network on Linkedin, read more about Ellevate, and sign up for my Friends of Kristy newsletter to know where I’ll be next.


Have more questions? Follow up with the expert herself.

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