NEW YORK—They are the women who build this city. They head development projects, bring the city its news, lead community groups, and forge business deals that impact all New Yorkers.
City and State Newspaper honored 25 women at its Above and Beyond: Honoring Women of Public and Civic Mind, award ceremony and forum Wednesday night.
“I think there are misconceptions that Arab and Muslim women do not hold leadership positions, or they need the approval from the men in their community,” said honoree Linda Sarsour, 32, executive director of the Arab American Association of New York, in a phone interview on Thursday.
She said in the Arab-American Muslim community there is always an opportunity for women to lead, but other obstacles such as child rearing exist. With three of her own at home, she is grateful for a supportive family that helps mind the children.
Balancing babies and careers seems to still be the lot of women more than men. A 2008 U.S. Bureau of Statistics report found that women employed full time are more likely to spend time on household activities and childcare than their husbands.
Some women on a panel that preceded the ceremony said they waited until later in life to have children. Honoree Julie Menin, Community Board 1 chair, said in an interview that being a mom and publicly active is manageable—she has become great at organizing and multitasking.
The Advantages of Being a Woman
Honoree Jennifer Falk, 40, executive director of the Union Square Partnership, says being underestimated in a man’s world has given her the satisfaction of proving herself.
“Economic development and real estate typically is a male-dominated environment, so it wasn’t uncommon that I would be the only woman in a room during strategy sessions and planning meetings,” said Falk of her time as economic development communications deputy for the mayor’s office. “Generally I think that at first glance I was underestimated, but it gave me the opportunity to really show them that I knew my stuff.”
Her gender contributed to others underestimating her abilities, as did her youth—she was only 24 when she started her first city press-office job. After a decade in communications, she jumped into the unfamiliar waters of nonprofit management at the Union Square Partnership.
A panel of six outstanding women in the public and civic sphere, not included among the 25 honorees of the evening, discussed the advantages and disadvantages as a woman in their careers.
One of the panelists, Catherine M. Abate, has worn many hats: she served as commissioner of both the New York City Departments of Correction and Probation, as an attorney at the Legal Aid Society, and as executive deputy commissioner of the New York State Division of Human Rights, to name a few.
She told the story of saving Rykers Island from a prisoner take-over—all due to her feminine sensibilities.
“I knew I had 24 hours to take over the bridge,” said Abate. The officers and Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly were on the bridge when she walked across at 4 a.m. Kelly told her to stay back, she refused. “You’re going to regret this,” he told her, recalled Abate, but she continued. She knew the officers would only inflame the anger of the inmates and stepped in to ease tensions between the two masculine forces.
“I used my instincts, and that’s what females do,” concluded Abate, who had the situation sorted out and the prison back under control by dawn.