Last week, visitors filled a gallery of the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, sipping wine, chatting and exploring the striking photographs that lined the wall. The event was like many exhibit openings, except for the rare makeup of the curators, artist, subjects and over half of the audience: women.
We were there to celebrate the debut of “Women in Wyoming.” The multimedia exhibit is the result of years of work by Lindsay Linton Buk, who has profiled more than 20 women with photographs, podcasts and more.
At the event, Linton Buk expressed gratitude to her subjects, who welcomed her into their homes and lives. She forged real friendships with many, who then pointed her to additional inspiring figures.
“This is how Wyoming is,” said Rosie Berger, who is featured in the exhibit. “We all know someone in common, and we want to help carry their dream.”
This connection between Wyoming women was the theme of the evening. Minutes earlier, I had watched in delighted surprise as Berger pulled my mother-in-law into a tight hug. Minutes later, Berger was introducing me to still more inspiring women, each ready to connect.
In “Power Of The Pack: Women Who Support Women Are More Successful,” Forbes’ Shelley Zalis references Harvard Business Review’s new research that finds women with an inner circle of close female contacts are more likely to succeed.
“Women trying to rise up into leadership face cultural and systemic hurdles that make it harder for them to advance, such as unconscious bias,” Zalis writes. “The study suggests that a way to overcome some of these hurdles is to form close connections with other women, who can share experiences from women who have been there, done that.”
Fortune recently published “When Women Invest in Other Women,” which describes studies that show the importance of women who, once successful, turn around to help others.
“More women succeeding means more mentors, more torch-bearers, more examples to follow,” author Ellen McGirt wrote.
In previous columns, I’ve explored Wyoming’s striking gender-wage gap, discordant with our reputation as the “Equality State.” If that event is any representation, we’re heading in the right direction.
While disparity still exists between male and female leaders in Wyoming, Linton Buk’s project offers shining examples, such as Affie Ellis, the state’s first Native American State Senator; Neltje, the Banner artist who fills every space with color; and Lauren Gurney, Wyoming’s only female MEDEVAC pilot.
“In Wyoming and in our country and around the world, there’s a lot of work to be done,” Linton Buk said. “We’re not at that point of true equality.”
Still, Linton Buk said that she has felt embraced since returning to her native state — she is a fifth-generation Wyomingite — in 2016. “Women in Wyoming” has been covered by media across the state, giving further leverage to her stories.
“Your voice can be heard here,” Linton Buk said. “There’s a lot of potential, a lot of space for women and girls to step forward. That’s what I’m trying to inspire with these stories, to encourage more women and girls to take risks and be courageous and move forward. So hopefully, we can reach that point of true equality.”
As the exhibit opening came to an end, Linton Buk was surrounded by the connections she has forged, all giving hugs and thanks.
That gallery full of successful, supportive women gives me hope.