Pittsburgh Professional Women Influential Leaders 2021

Beth Caldwell, founder and head of Pittsburgh Professional Women, published her 10th book in 2020 and was scheduled to go to Manhattan in March for her first-ever book signing.

She never made that trip. Nor did she make the rest of the book tour.

“The last event I had was International Women’s Day, an event I’ve done for five years,” she says.

Stuck at home, she started paying attention to how people were handling the pandemic. While some were retreating and waiting it out and others were commiserating online, some women were doing innovative and significant things right out of the gate.

“The first person I noticed was Arlan Hess, owner of City Books — the oldest bookstore in Pittsburgh, but it’s only been around since 1984,” says Caldwell. “She sent out emails last year talking about something she saw in Europe called curbside pickup.

“We didn’t know what curbside pickup was back then!” she adds. Hess went on to collaborate with other business owners with care packages and moved her book business online.

“The second one was Mary Lee Gannon of the St. Margaret Foundation. For Mother’s Day, in early May, she put out an email raising money for all the women who were stuck in the hospital without visitors on Mother’s Day.”

They sent flowers or gifts to every one of them, and the campaign was such a success that they were able to buy seven iPads as well. Gannon also launched programs to help hospital staff, from gift cards to grocery stores to childcare needs.

When the pandemic lingered on and on, Caldwell realized there was no way she was going to pull off the big event scheduled for her organization’s 15th anniversary in July. That’s when she decided that in the 16th year, she would organize an event honoring women who were doing exceptional things during the pandemic.

Like Kiya Tomlin.

One day, Caldwell went to her mailbox and got a thick package from Highmark. Inside was a face mask designed by Kiya Tomlin. “So impressive!” says Caldwell. “Here was someone who could have clearly just taken a vacation. Instead, she employed all these people to sew these masks for a big project.

“From that moment on, I was taking names,” she says. Initially, she wanted to select 16 women for the 16th anniversary but she ended up with a list of 30.

It includes Stefani Pashman, head of the Allegheny Conference. “I thought she was kicking ass,” says Caldwell. “When we went into code yellow — I’m sure she had a team — but she just took the reins and said: here’s what to do.”

And Anita Buzzy Prentiss, a photographer (featured in NEXTpittsburgh) who started a series of socially distanced “porchraits.”

And Melanie Marie Boyer of the Pittsburgh Metropolitan Area Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, one of the first to create a digital speakers series and host online events on topics such as understanding the Paycheck Protection Program. She also highlighted inspirational success stories from leaders in the Hispanic community.

The virtual event honoring these women and more took place on Monday, March 8th — International Women’s Day — hosted by Natalie Bencivenga,  Beth Lynch and Caldwell.

The event served as a fundraiser for The Artemis Fund, started by Caldwell to help families in need during the pandemic.

See the complete list of awardees, including NEXTpittsburgh founder Tracy Certo who credits the NEXTpittsburgh team with the extensive and excellent coverage of coronavirus news that continues today.

The staff at NEXTpittsburgh writes about the people driving change in the region and the innovative and cool things happening here.