Get Off The Sidelines: Cook County Commissioner Bridget Gainer

Casey Gordon | June 30, 2016

Bridget Gainer plays the long game.

If more than twenty years of career experience spanning the nonprofit, public, and corporate sectors has taught her anything, it’s that real progress happens in months and years — not days and weeks.

She’s also learned that you can’t play the long game alone. If you’re going to last, you need strong relationships, and lots of them.

It follows that over the years Bridget has developed a bit of a specialty for crafting public-private partnerships. As Aon’s Vice President of Global Public Affairs since 2001, Bridget oversees the risk management firm’s strategic engagement with governments around the world. This is not an easy job. Frankly, most people would probably find it overwhelming.

Bridget, on the other hand, was just getting started. She was only elected as 10th District Cook County Commissioner in 2010, but from her ever-growing list of achievements you’d guess it was more like 2001.

A few highlights:

Bridget created and chaired Cook County’s Pension Committee in order to push for fair and sustainable pension reform. She also spearheaded the launch of OpenPensions.org, an open-data website where the public, the press, and county employees can go for details on plans and proposals.

In 2013 Bridget created the Cook County Land Bank, whose mission it is to reduce the impact of vacant and abandoned buildings. Its 16-member board — chaired by Bridget, of course — is comprised of civic and social leaders, realtors, and private developers (relationships make the world go ‘round, people!).

Bridget’s most recent initiative, undertaken with support from United States Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, is Off the Sidelines Chicago, an organization that encourages and enables young women to take their ideas to action. Off the Sidelines already boasts more than 2,500 members.

It’s no surprise that organizations are falling over themselves trying to give Bridget a seat on their boards. The two that presently enjoy that privilege are Big Shoulders Fund and 100 Club of Chicago.

Bridget shares 5 ways to get women off the sidelines:

1. Power is a muscle. Not a bank account. Don’t save your asks for a rainy day. Use them or you may miss a golden opportunity.

2. Act like a principal, not a helper. If you act like a helper people will pigeonhole you as a helper.

3. Stop apologizing. Make confident statements. Preemptive apologies give people a reason to discredit what you’re about to say.

4. Diversify your mentorship. Don’t only look to the corner office or the guru-gray hair. There are great leaders rising in younger generations and they have a lot to teach us.

5. Show up for people. Play the long game. Relationships are built on presence and the long haul is how things get done. Good work takes time.

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