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Trailblazing firefighter Brenda Berkman shares her game-changing journey at Global Women’s Forum Dubai 2020

Trailblazing firefighter Brenda Berkman shares her game-changing journey at Global Women’s Forum Dubai 2020
  • Retired Captain, Brenda Berkman, shared her inspiring journey as a pioneering firefighter in the USA during the Forum’s second ‘Game-Changer’ session

  • Berkman emphasised the importance of moral courage and supporting others to achieve their dreams

Captain Brenda Berkman: “Don’t close the door behind you after you’ve walked through it – helping others to achieve their dreams is truly heroic.”

Dubai, UAE, 16 February 2020: Leading the second ‘Game-Changer’ session at the Global Women’s Forum Dubai 2020, Captain Brenda Berkman shared her trailblazing journey to become one of the first female firefighters in the city of New York against all odds. Through her inspirational session, she underscored the importance of championing social change for the greater good of generations to come, citing that “changemaking is a marathon, not a sprint.”

Berkman was a third-year law student in 1978, when, for the first time, the New York City Fire Department allowed women to apply. After failing the physical fitness component of the exam alongside 89 other women, Berkman set out to challenge the state of New York, with a firm belief that the gruelling physical exam was discriminatorily designed to keep women from joining the department, rather than accurately assess the skills needed for the job. 

“I was the only person who stepped out from the crowd to challenge that unfair test” said Captain Brenda Berkman, retired female firefighter. “When I won the lawsuit, I experienced a lot of harassment, not only from some of my male firefighter co-workers but also from the media, from politicians, members of my own labour union and even the public.”

Berkman explained that the struggles did not stop there – alongside some 40 women who graduated to become the city’s first female firefighters in 1982, she was forced to endure relentless discrimination at every turn ranging from a lack of on-the-job support, social exclusion, as well as physical and verbal abuse. 

“Why didn’t I quit?” posed Berkman. “Because I discovered that while going into burning buildings requires courage – what required me to be really courageous was just refusing to quit a job that I loved and that I found out I could be good at.”

Berkman underscored that all the abuse she faced was baseless – built solely on stereotypes and fear of change. She highlighted the importance of persevering to secure more opportunities for women. 

Berkman stressed the importance of supporting others to succeed across all industries. “Don’t close the door behind you after you’ve walked through it – helping others to achieve their dreams is truly heroic” she said. She closed the session by encouraging others to be brave, and not to forget the struggles of those who paved the way for the achievements of others.

The ‘Game-Changer’ sessions, introduced for the first time at Global Women’s Forum Dubai 2020, showcase inspiring personal stories from women who have made great strides across various industries, providing insight into their journeys to success. The sessions highlight pioneering women’s diverse experiences – including the lessons learnt and obstacles overcome – as they delve into topics ranging across philanthropy, international relations, male-dominated industries, business, and more. 

Global Women’s Forum Dubai 2020 is organised by Dubai Women Establishment, which is led by Her Highness Sheikha Manal bint Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, President of the UAE Gender Balance Council and wife of HH Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, UAE Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Presidential Affairs.
Building on its theme, ‘The Power of Influence’, Global Women’s Forum Dubai 2020 will highlight how effective policies and partnerships in four key areas – Government, Economy, Society, and the Future – can further women’s positive impact for a better future.


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