A short time ago I was waiting at the San Jose Airport for a flight back to Orange County, and I started talking to the young lady sitting next to me. Since American Airlines had canceled our particular flight we had an extra hour to wait, so we had a nice discussion.
Her name is Alicia, and I asked her what she had been doing in San Jose. She responded that she had been attending a 3-day conference. About what? She said she is an electrical and electronics engineer, and the conference had reviewed cutting-edge developments in her field. When I said that the Silicon Valley was the logical place to come for such a conference, she told me that actually the Golden Triangle area of Irvine is catching up.
But I noticed that when Alicia was talking to me about what she had learned at the conference she was actually beaming, and I told her so. She smiled and said the things that were happening in her industry were so exciting she couldn’t wait to get back to let her fellow workers know about them. But then her boss would probably want her to give a presentation to her colleagues, and she was nervous about doing that.
I said I understood. (Actually I once saw a study that concluded that most people are more afraid of public speaking than of dying.) So since I do a fair amount of public speaking, I passed along two tips to her that I have found to be effective. The first tip she had already mastered, which is to show your audience that at least you are convinced about what you are talking to them about. If you can’t show that you are convinced, it is hard to convince others.
The second tip is if you are nervous when standing in front of a group, instead of looking right at your audience, you should actually look over their heads and pretend to yourself that you are simply talking personally to a friend in the very back of the room. Never look down because that shows a lack of confidence, but if you look over their heads everyone will actually feel that you are looking directly at them. Try it; it works!
As an example, I told her that my wonderful wife had fairly recently given the valedictorian speech when she received her doctorate of occupational therapy, and she used this suggestion successfully. In fact, during her talk I actually stood at the very back of the room and she simply looked at me. And since I moved from side to side, everyone in the audience felt that she had been looking directly at them personally. My new friend liked the idea, and said she would try it. (I recommend it to you as well.)
Alicia also told me that she had been so fortunate in being able to come to this country from China and become a citizen she wanted to give something back. In fact she had learned of a group called MentorNet that tries to mentor and motivate young people, but the slogan from MentorNet prevented her from doing so. What was that slogan? She said it is “Until women and people of color are fully represented in the fields of science and engineering, society is losing out on the talents of a vast number of potential contributors.”
Then Alicia made me beam by saying: “I could not disagree more. Here I’m just a girl from China who came to America empty handed. And now look at me and what I have today. I think this country has already given me the equal opportunity. But equal opportunity does not guarantee equal outcomes. They focus on the wrong issue.”
So she asked me to recommend an alternative mentoring program. I recommended to her the Stay in School program that is overseen by the Nicholas Academic Center and its founder, Judge Jack Mandel, which is located at 412 West Fourth Street, Santa Ana 92701, telephone 714 834-0521. (As you may recall, the Stay in School program was the subject of a prior column.)
Are there still disparities or even discrimination in the workplace for women and people of color in our country? Okay, probably so. But there are also opportunities for everyone like never before. As a matter of fact, today I believe there are more females in law school than males, and companies of all kinds are hungry to find qualified people of color to work with them at every level of their operations. So in a lot of ways people of color who are good workers have an extra advantage over others.
In summary, I agree with my new friend Alicia. America, for all of its faults, still is a land of opportunity for people who work to get ahead. And generally people who have come over from other countries seem to appreciate our country more than those people like me who were so blessed to have been born here.
So without reducing our efforts to bring about a fully lawful and non-discriminating life in the United States, I suggest we all join with Alicia and not accept or even focus upon the contrary arguments of victimization. This is the next logical step in our progression to complete gender and racial equality.
As a result, for my part I don’t even respond to questionnaires asking for my race or ethnic background from the Red Cross when I give blood, or to other similar forms. In my view, today a person’s race is irrelevant for almost all reasons except medical, and I try to act accordingly.
This “girl from China” is now living the American Dream, and the opportunities she has are still available for people from Mexico, Indonesia, Rwanda, or anywhere else, as long as they come here legally, get their education, keep from having children out of wedlock – and work hard.
I am proud of Alicia and what she has accomplished, and I am proud of my country as we continue our march toward complete gender and color blindness. Please join us on that march.
Judge Jim Gray (Ret.)