A Spotlight on Women’s Leadership and Bringing About Social Change

This story originally appeared on the LIPPI Impact blog.

Sometimes leaders forge a path largely on their own, but usually they tap the support of others to propel themselves forward.  Women are especially good at reaching out to friends and family, mentors and role models, people with similar ideas, and those who represent other opinions, to hone their skills and build collaborative leadership.  Collaboration comes easy to us.  It is one of our strengths.

Two women holding a signTwo women in Pittsfield embody this approach to leadership.  Linda Tyer, City Clerk, and Catherine VanBramer, Senior Clerk, applied to LIPPI together.  The duo work together, and each day reinforce each other's commitment to improving their city.  Almost twice the age as Catherine, Linda gains as much from her protégé as she receives.  Catherine has a passion for civic involvement and sharing her knowledge that started at an age when most people are focused on themselves.  Their decision to apply to the Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts' Leadership Institute for Political and Public Impact (LIPPI) together is emblematic of their team approach to getting things done.

Linda, who proudly claims to be an introvert, has been a formidable leader for many years.  Perhaps introverted but certainly not shy, Linda has long practiced the power of collaborative leadership.  About a decade ago, Pittsfield had no women at all on the city council.  She and several other women formed a group called WHEN, originally standing for We've Had Enough Nonsense but later changed to the more politically expedient Women Helping Empower Neighborhoods.  The group encouraged other women to run for office, and members helped each other campaign, watched each others' kids, and brought meals to one another's homes.  Within a year, three women were elected to the city council!  Another early WHEN member was MA Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, elected to this post in 2012, and who continues to pay it forward as LIPPI Advisory Board member, and in countless other ways.  Linda won her re-election for city clerk in November 2013.  She ran uncontested.

Catherine is methodically building her leadership skills through her role at City Hall, as well as by choosing to surround herself with supportive and inspiring people.  As one of the younger LIPPI participants in the 2013 cohort, she quickly established herself as committed, focused, and informed.  When she was chosen to participate in the MA Citizen's Legislative Seminar last spring, one of the first things she did was to pass along the opportunity.  She enthusiastically encouraged other LIPPI participants to apply.  Three did just that, and went through this excellent training themselves this October.

Back in Pittsfield, Linda and Catherine launched a new project called Be a Voter.  Discouraged by low voter turnout during the "off years" when no mayoral, senatorial or presidential seats are open, and when voters aren’t galvanized by low profile races, they decided to do something.  "Voter registration isn't the problem," says Linda citing the 28,118 registered voters in a city with 44,767 inhabitants.  "Turnout is the problem."  With no mayor running that year (2014), the November elections in the city garnered a dismal 25% turnout rate.  This certainly affected two other LIPPIs who ran for office.  2012 LIPPI graduate Donna Todd Rivers was a candidate for city council and despite running an excellent campaign, lost by just 16 votes.  2013 LIPPI participant Pam Farron won her race for school committee. 

The Be a Voter initiative may very well make a difference next year.  With almost 100 citizens having signed pledge cards to be a voter just this fall, a Facebook page that profiles Be a Voter signatories, stickers, and public speaking engagements by Linda and Catherine, Be a Voter is an effort that can truly make a difference. 

Linda Tyer and Catherine VanBramer are strong leaders in their own right, but together they pull each other forward, improve their community, and exemplify that leadership grows when shared.  Joined by other LIPPI sisters in Berkshire County, we can only begin to imagine how women will be leading the way locally and beyond. As MA Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier likes to say, "There is a special place in heaven for women who help other women move forward."  Linda and Catherine are making a special place in Pittsfield together.

Linda Tyer took her LIPPI skills to the next level, and ran and won the Mayoral race in Pittsfield earlier this month. She will be the first four-year term Mayor of Pittsfield. 

The Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts is a public foundation, supported by donors like you, that invests in local women and girls through strategic grantmaking and leadership development.
The Women's Fund's Leadership Institute for Political and Public Impact, or LIPPI. LIPPI is a nine-month, non-partisan initiative designed to address the need to provide women in our region with the training and support to become powerful and effective civic leaders. Started in 2010, LIPPI focuses on areas such as public speaking, effective negotiation, conflict management, board participation, the legislative process and policy-making, community organizing, fundraising and campaigning, municipal and nonprofit budgets, and running for office. 

To donate to the Women's Fund of Western Massachusetts, follow the link provided and click on Add to My Donation Basket, or use the code 106782 on your paper pledge form.