Newsletter

Stay up to date with the latest from MAKERS delivered straight to your inbox. Sign up for new stories from trailblazing women, a big dose of inspiration, and exclusive MAKERS content.

Newsletter Confirmation

Thank you for joining! Please check your inbox for our special welcome letter
with exclusive updates from MAKERS.

MAKERS Moment

Being the Boss

Being the Boss

More From Brenda

In this video

How years of harassment by men in the fire department end up making Berkman an ideal boss.

Brenda's Biography

Cause of Choice: Girls Prep Lower East Side Elementary School
Role Models:  Billie Jean King, Gloria Steinem, and Betty Friedan
Trial Run: Before taking on the FDNY, she worked as a lawyer on sexual discrimination cases brought by female NYPD officers.
Awards and Accolades: In 1996-97, she served as a White House Fellow, the first professional firefighter to be awarded this prestigious leadership development fellowship.

Brenda Berkman served the City of New York for 25 years before retiring in 2006 as a captain in its storied Fire Department. Her bravery was twofold: Berkman was summa cum laude graduate of St. Olaf College and was practicing law with a New York University J.D. when, in 1977, the Department began, grudgingly, to allow women to test for firefighter positions. The young lawyer, and FDNY applicant, challenged the fairness and relevance of the newly intensified physical test and won a federal sex discrimination lawsuit that truly opened the Department to female firefighters for the first time. Berkman was among the first class of women hired.
 
Captain Berkman has led organizations of women’s firefighters in both the New York City and nationally while earning one Master’s in American History and another in Fire Protection Management. By now, Berkman’s deep commitment to her Department and to the people of New York has long outlasted the sexual and workplace harassment that came with her pioneering career. To honor friends and colleagues who were lost on 9/11, she volunteers as a guide for walking tours at the Tribute WTC Visitor Center in Lower Manhattan. 

Related Videos

Sheryl Sandberg
Sheryl Sandberg
Facebook COO

By now, Sheryl Sandberg has spent more than two decades achieving at the highest reaches of governmental and corporate America. And she’s determined to bring more talented y...

Alexis Maybank & Alexandra Wilkis Wilson
Alexis Maybank & Alexandra Wilkis Wilson
Retail Entrepreneurs

Long time friends Alexis Maybank and Alexandra Wilkis Wilson are two of the founding partners of Gilt Groupe. Launched in 2007, the ecommerce startup specializes in bringing luxury...

Carol Burnett
Carol Burnett
First Woman Variety Show Host

A child of Hollywood, but not of means, Carol Burnett had to fight her way into the playwright program at UCLA. An acting class was a requirement and Burnett would always remember ...

Faith Ringgold
Faith Ringgold
Artist & Activist

Faith Ringgold is one of America’s most gifted and generous visual storytellers. Though originally trained as a painter, she has worked to superb effect across media. Ringgol...