First Generation Professionals Summit: Lessons on Risk, Fear & Success

First Generation Professionals Summit: Lessons on Risk, Fear & Success

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SPEAKER: Now, join me as
we hear from a panel of FGPs who will share
their stories of how they overcame biases and
learn from others how to navigate unfamiliar
landscapes. Please welcome moderator
Gregory White, Data Analyst with the Human
Capital and Diversity Office at the Department
of Commerce with Leonard Olijar, Director of the
Bureau of Engraving and Printing. Laura Shin, Deputy Chief,
Federal Assistance Law Division at Department
of Commerce. Tariq Hafiz, Group
Director for Technology Center 3600 at the Patent
and Trademark Office. Carissa Rocheleau,
Epidemiologist at the Center for Disease Control
and Prevention, National Institute for Occupational
Safety and Health, and Catalina Martinez Regional
Program Manager with the Office of Ocean
Exploration and Research at the National
Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. (Applause) GREGORY WHITE: I’d like to
say thank you to Ruky for presenting an
excellent story. As I was sitting there, a
lot of things came up for me. I want to get into a few
things before I launch into the panel. I wrote down some notes:
One, was achieving prestige; two, was not
feeling comfortable drawing boundaries. That particularly
resonated with me. I’m the oldest of nine
kids; four brothers, four sisters. I’m also the
oldest grandchild. So there were no older
siblings to help me along the way. And as I would matriculate
through my life, when you look at your resume people
would see Michigan grad; people would see
Harvard grad. They don’t see that my
mother was 15 when she gave birth to me. They don’t see that I was
16 when my first daughter was born. You know, they see you in
nice suits, speaking on stages, they see your cuff
links, they don’t know that I learned to do these
things anyway I could, because I met
my father at 32. So I felt very privileged
to be on this stage with first generation
professionals that really make this worthwhile
for me personally. (Applause) I didn’t expect to get
emotional, but this is what you do when you have
good speakers come before you. We’re here today to learn
more about the career journeys of the first
generation professionals, and we’ve loosely defined
that as those who are one of the first in their
immediate family to enter the professional
workforce, i.e.: their parents held traditional
blue-collar or working-class positions
that did not require a college degree. And it’s working because,
as we’ve had this journey, we’ve come to understand
that there are various ways that people identify
as first generation professionals and we
are here leading this conversation. So, let’s start there. Miss Catalina, you’ve
mentioned that you didn’t identify as a first
generation professional until Tinisha shared
a broader definition. Could you tell us
about that experience? CATALINA MARTINEZ: Yeah
sure, so I’m so honored to be here today and looking
at this incredibly room of beautiful faces. Thank you all
for being here. So I met Tinisha when
she spoke during the NOAA Diversity and Inclusion
Summit this past year and when I heard her speak
it was the first time I actually identified with
the term “first generation professional” mainly
because my father did go to college. And so I always thought
that traditional definition didn’t
really apply to me. Until I heard her
encompass a much more broad definition. So my father
attended college. He attended a
really good college. And I did not grow
up living with him. I grew up living
with his parents. But my brother did grow
up living with him. And my family are
Cuban immigrants. And my father and his
parents always expected the boys to go to college. My brother was definitely
going to go to college. I didn’t even know
what that meant. The girls were not
expected to go to school at all. So my brother was
introduced to my father’s academic network at
Emerson College early on, and he ended up going
to Emerson College and benefiting from all of
that political capital, the cultural capital,
all of that knowledge was transferred to my brother. Whereas, I grew up living
with his parents who were Cuban immigrants of
very little means. We grew up in the
outskirts of housing projects, so I understand
that world very well. And my grandmother was
very sick, so I was, as the girl, expected to stay
home from school and take care of my grandmother and
take care of the family in a lot of other ways. So I ended up dropping
out of high school, not surprisingly, at the age
of 16, and have been on my own I ever since. But to kind of bring this
full circle, I started the journey of obtaining the
education of my choosing when I left home. Thankfully I grew up in a
diverse community where I knew there was more out
there in the world for me than what I could see
within my own family. But the day my brother
graduated with his four year degree from Emerson
College, and I was so proud of him, I graduated
with a two-year degree from a local technical
college that I had to scrap my way through. That brings it a
little full circle. And I have three graduate
degrees; I’ve worked hard. But you’re left with a
lot of gaps and challenges when you are not
benefiting from a built-in support network and a
built-in — a built-in capital that comes with,
you know, that kind of — having that as
part of your orbit. But you do what you can
to get where you got to go and as multiple people
mentioned today you develop super powers
along the way. GREGORY WHITE: Thank you. (Applause) I think it’s remarkable
that the gender aspect of that is something that we
tend not to think about, we tend to think
about first generation professionals or first
generation college students without having
those added layers, and this is the challenge. But congratulations
to you. CATALINA MARTINEZ:
Thank you. GREGORY WHITE: Building on
that, Laura, you also have a particularly unique
experience, talk to us about where you fall along
the spectrum of first generational
professionals. LAURA SHIN: Sure. Just also I want to thank
the organizers for this summit and for the
opportunity to be on this panel with everybody else
here, and thank you, Ruky, for your very
inspirational talk this morning. So I guess like Catalina,
I wasn’t sure if I fit under the definition of
first generation, but because I had worked with
Tinisha on some other diversity and inclusion
initiatives, she knew me and I knew a lot
of her staff. So they suggested why
don’t you reach out to Laura to be on this panel. So I had a conversation
with Tinisha, and as I spoke to her I realized,
yeah, I think I do fit under the umbrella
of a first-generation professional. And one of the reasons,
like Catalina, my parents did attend university, but
they did it in a foreign country. My parents were born in
Seoul, South Korea and they emigrated in the ’70s
of the and when they did that, they basically had
to start their lives, their professional lives
all over again from scratch. And so they lived — you
know, they had to operate in a new language. And it was very
difficult for them. So in terms of their
professions, it didn’t necessarily cross over
to reflect their level of education. My dad worked for a
company, for Korean Airlines, as a
purchasing agent. And he worked at a
desk job in an office. And what was considered
a professional in Korea. And he did travel a lot
to America, purchasing aircraft. And so he would go to
Seattle and New York, and just followed the
wonderful opportunities that this country had
for himself and for his children. And so, he and my mom
were willing to make these sacrifices of
starting again. My father took blue-collar
jobs, doing deliveries and working as a machinist
in a factory. And, you know, just doing
things that he was not familiar with, but did
because of the wonderful opportunities that this
country has for him and his family. And my mom was in, I
guess, working-class, she was a nurse back in Seoul,
but she was able to get a position as a nurse here
in California where we moved to. But she had to operate
once again in a new language. So, those were the
hardships and challenges that they encountered and
definitely didn’t have any, you know, network of
professionals around them either to help me
along my journey. So, for me to be here
today, as an attorney, I — that was very
new for our family. We had no attorneys
in our family. And I never had
that network. So when I reflect back
onto how I came to my position today as a Deputy
Chief in the General Counsel’s Office, here
at the Department of Commerce, I do feel that I
faced many of the similar challenges of a first
generational professional, and I feel very fortunate
to have had those experiences and to have
learned the skills to overcome and be resilient
to get to where I am today, too, and hopefully
we’ll have a chance to talk more about that. GREGORY WHITE: Thank you. (Applause) As an educated by training
and a researcher I jotted down a few things that
resonated; number one, language. You know, coming from
one nation to another. But sometimes persons
within the same country, like myself, could have
a language barrier. I didn’t grow up speaking
the language of corporate board rooms, even though
I ended up spending ten years in Fortune
150 firms. So I think language
is important. Two, country, moving from
one geographic place to another, you know, and
trying to do that all at the same time. And then lastly,
socialization. The family, the schools
where your parents were able to gain their
credentials, that’s incredibly important. And I think we need to be
sensitive to that as we create solutions for us
here at the Department of Commerce and throughout
the Federal workforce. Does anyone else have
any other comments about defining first
generation professionals? If not, we can
move forward. All right. So the offices of life is
embarking upon this first generation professional
initiative to raise awareness about the issues
and unique challenges that some first generation
professionals experience during their career
journey, and by understanding the journey,
we can better work within our organizations to
leverage their assets and more importantly reduce
barriers at the individual level and scale up the
success that we want at the organizational level. Tariq, looking back at
your first generation professional experience,
what were some of the critical gaps that
you had to overcome? And speak to whether or
not there are some present day impact the in your
professional life. TARIQ HAFIZ: Sure. You first mentioned being
from a different country. For me I was immigrant as
well as first generation professional. So for me some of the
barriers I had to overcome were the language. I came here in
fourth grade. So learning a brand
new language, brand new culture, you know, being
in an environment where your parents were not
professionals, my mother actually didn’t even work. She didn’t speak English,
and for her life she never worked and my dad was
the sole provider for the family. He was a
blue-collar worker. So for them growing up,
going through junior high school and high school,
stilling navigating the social integration with
new environment was a challenge. In terms of going to
college and being someone when you grew up, didn’t
really have any guidance. Parents couldn’t help me. They had never
been to college. They are new to this
country as well. They really don’t
know what to tell you. Like, okay, we want you
to go to college, but we don’t know what you
want to major in. The whole question of what
are you going to do when you grow up? I didn’t have an
answer to that. I didn’t know what I
was going to major in. So I started — some of my
friends were applying to colleges, started
applying to colleges. And when I got in to
college, I went, but had no idea what I was
going to get into. So that was really some
of the initial gaps that I had. I didn’t have the sports
structure or college prep or any of the things that
kids have today, or the kids in professional
environment they get. No role models, I
had never went to a professional job just to
see what a professional works like, and so
that was really a big challenge. Right? So I think that still
resonates with me today is really the role models,
and someone to guide you through your career. I didn’t have any of that. And I think that those
are really important. Today, what I do
personally, is I try to mentor as much as I can. Whenever somebody comes to
me for advice, I’m there. I make time. I’ll sit down with them. Help them through
the process. And for professionally
even as an executive I feel we all still need
role models, we need mentors, somebody we
can go to for advice, guidance, sometimes
you just need to vent. Sometimes you want to just
talk out the issues that you are facing and
somebody there to help you through it. And those are really
important in one’s career. And I think the first
generation professionals sometimes don’t have that
at home, because your parents haven’t gone
through that process. They can’t give you
the same guidance. Like we can today; like
I can with my kids. Whenever they are facing
issues, whether it’s in school, college or the
job, I can guide them and tell them how to
navigate that. That is some of the
things I didn’t have. GREGORY WHITE: Thank you. (Applause) A couple of the things I
found significant: Growing up in a situation where
your mother didn’t work, it made me think how
people need to later in life, not knowing your
story, they create a narrative around what your
parents are or are not. You know, I would always
get compliments: Your parents did a great job
with you, I’m glad they showed you the way. Let me tell you something;
I was a senior in high school, a guy from the
University of Michigan came to my High School. Did a presentation. And at the end of the
presentation I go up to him and I say, “Sir,
thanks for coming to my school. Most people don’t
come to Finney High. I’m smart. What do I need
to do to get in?” He looks at me with an
incredulous look upon his face and he says, “Okay.” I can see now in
retrospect this guy is saying this kid is nuts. He says, “What you
have on your ACT, SAT?” I said, “What’s the ACT?” I’m a senior
in high school. But going to your point,
you figured it out. You didn’t know what
major, you didn’t know about applying, but
you muscled through it, through grit, through
tenacity, through the self-created resources and
I think that’s one of the unique things. When I got to college, it
really was because I was going out of spite. I didn’t see teachers
talking to me about going to college. You know, when your mother
is 15 and have you, and you’re 16 and you have a
kid, you’re not Harvard material. But at 23, when I had that
degree in my hand I was Harvard material. (Applause) Leonard, your bio
mentioned a particular lifetime goal that I found
interesting and it also mentioned that many of
your promotions were not self-initiated. Talk to us about that
career goal and those realities. LEONARD OLIJAR: I’d say
all of my promotions were not self-initiated
to be honest. GREGORY WHITE: Wow. LEONARD OLIJAR: I think
in general we’re not risk-takers, and FGPs have
to get out of that comfort zone to advance. The fear of failure
can be paralyzing. At one point in time I was
a busboy in a restaurant. I advanced to
becoming a cook. I became assistant manager
and within a year I was fired. And it was a life-long
lesson, you know, the Peter Principle. I advanced beyond
my capabilities. I didn’t have the skills
necessary to be a good manager. Consequently, in my job at
BP as an accountant, I had absolutely no desire when
they encouraged me to apply for a
supervisory position. Fortunately, I had people
who believed in me and encouraged me. They sent me to
school, education. I got the training
that I need. Encouraged me to apply
for those supervisory positions. And when I got them, they
were mentors and helped me because God knows I made
a lot of mistakes, and how they handled them was
very important to me personally. They took it as: You learn
a lot from these things. You’re not going to
repeat these mistakes. Move forward. Look forward. Continue to adjust
your sights. With their continued
support, I think I’ve become fairly proficient
in what I’m doing today, and I continue constantly
to educate myself. You can’t rest ever on
your skills, the world around us changing. So I continued
to up my skills. One of the other factors
that I want to mention is that FGPs may have friends
and family that will reinforce the self-doubt,
discourage risk-taking, and social mobility. This can be a very
powerful force. It was in my life. You can’t let the
nay-sayers hold them back. We have to help
them advance. My kids used
to laugh at me. When I would be at home
and doing something related to work and
remember oh, I need to take care of something
tomorrow, I’d call myself up on the phone and I
would leave a message. I’d say: Len, you rock. Have a great day. Don’t forget to
do such and such. (Applause) LEONARD OLIJAR: You know,
it may sound silly but it was a good way to start
that day so that every one of you today I want
to say, “You rock!” (Applause) GREGORY WHITE: That’s awesome. I’m going to start leaving
myself voicemail messages in the middle of my day. There are a few things
that stood out to me. Fear of failure. The counter to that
is a fear of success. I have a good friend
of mine who is a first generation professional
and she has actively resisted taking leadership
roles, because the fear of not succeeding is
paralyzing for her. And so the second
thing was developmental experiences. I, too, was a
busboy and a waiter. And one of the things
it taught me was how to interact with people of
different socioeconomic backgrounds. When you’re serving
somebody it’s a vulnerable and humbling position, and
yet this is how you eat, so you are very aware
of what’s happening. And then lastly, finding
your way and continuing to recalculate. It made me think of
something a friend said to me years ago. He said, Greg, you’re
like a human GPS. You run into a dead-end
— back when we would have the Garmin and it would
tell you to go into an alley and say,
recalculating, recalculating. You find a new way. This is a hallmark
characteristic of first generation professional. Carissa, some first
generation professionals, including a few of our
panelists said they were ashamed or even insecure
about their humble beginnings and found it
difficult to advocate for themselves both early in
their careers and even today. What has been your
experience and what advice would you share with first
generation professionals? CARISSA ROCHELEAU: I grew
up in a small rural area, which was good because
that meant there was one public school that
everybody went to. So I wasn’t stuck in
a bad school district. I got to go to the same
schools that the children of professionals did. The bad side was that my
school bus picked me up at the trailer park
where I lived. So I got called trailer
trash, because everyone knew. And I was very
ashamed of that. And I took that with me
when I left the state and I went to college. I took that shame of my
background, my family, where I’d come from. I didn’t want people to
think of me as trailer trash. As I tried really,
really hard to fit in. And I think I was so busy
trying to fit in, that I actually cut myself off
from people who could have been mentors to me,
because I was trying to prove to them that I
belonged, so they didn’t think I needed help. But eventually, I came to
realize that my background is actually my receipt. It is the tangible proof
of my strength, my hard work and my resilience. (Applause) So, and I — the one thing
that comes up a lot in these conversations is
impostor syndrome, and I wanted to share a story. Neil Gaiman, who is this
beloved internationally bestselling writer had
written a blog a while back and he talked about
being at a convention of writers and scientists and
futurists, and he ran into another guy also named
Neil and they bonded over their shared first name. And at some point while
Neil Gaiman talking to the other Neil, this other
Neil looks at the stage and says something to the
effect of, you know, man, I’m out of my league with
all of these writers and scientists and I
don’t belong here. And Neil Gaiman was
absolutely floored because he had been sitting there
feeling the same way, going, oh my God, I can
the believe I’m talking to the first man on the moon. And so I figured I figure
that if Neil Gaiman and Neil Armstrong both
feel impostor syndrome sometimes, that number
one, I am never going to get over it. It’s just going to be
along for the ride. But number two, it’s not
rational and I don’t have to listen to those
feelings of insecurity. And so I just became
more open about the insecurities I was feeling
to the graduate students I was mentoring, to the
junior scientists. And it was really
interesting because they were all like, “Oh my God,
you feel that way too? Maybe I’m not the failure
I secretly feared that I was!” And it was a very
liberating and bonding moment to find that we all
feel these insecurities, but it doesn’t
mean anything. (Applause) GREGORY WHITE: My
background is my receipt. I’m about to get
me a t-shirt. Patent trademark? First generation business
right here on the stage. So although many first
generation professionals may not have had the
advantage of being raised in a home with parents
who had white collar, professional work
experiences, a common theme is: First generation
parents played a significant role. So we have a few
questions around that. Leonard, what are some
lessons learned from your parents? LEONARD OLIJAR: My dad was
a truck driver, my mom was a homemaker. One of seven children. My dad was laid off
multiple times during his career. He maintained a
constant optimism. Worked extremely hard to
get us the things that we needed. Not the things that we
wanted, we got what we needed to get by. Very much learned, if
you’re going to do any job, you do it well. If you didn’t do it well,
you got to do it again. So we learned quickly that
you better do your best effort the first time. Most importantly, I
think both of my parents emphasized education. You really have
to get education. The expectation was high
that I was going to go to college. My brother who’s three
years older than me, ran away when he was a junior
in high school and looking at colleges. Got into some drug issues. So the world of
expectations feel upon my shoulders. I will echo what some
others say about going to college and doing well
in college are two very different things. And the guidance
counselors at my school did nothing to help
prepare for careers. My parents didn’t. So your parents instilled
— my parents gave me a great work ethic and a
desire to do a job, but there are others in your
life that you need to go to, to get
everything you need. They don’t know
all the answers. They are there for you,
they will back you up, but kind of like Tariq was
saying, now we’re there to give that to our children
and can pass a lot of that knowledge and the
experiences that we’ve been through, through
the next generation. So I think it’s important
that, especially as we have new FGPs coming into
our workplace, that we share those
lessons with them. That we help them with the
things that they are going to go through. I can remember when at
BP I got invited to my supervisor — my boss’s
house for dinner. I had no frame
of reference. I had no idea what
you do, how you dress. So you’ve got to reach out
to people and ask them. So I talked to my
co-workers, “Have you ever been to Rich’s house? What do you do? What is he going to
serve for dinner?” And you need to build a
true network that is going to help you through
these other things. And we need to be a part
of that network now for the next generation. (Applause) GREGORY WHITE: Catalina,
do you have anything else you would like to
share on that one? CATALINA MARTINEZ: Let me
just say first that I had the incredible honor and
privilege to speak to each one of these super people
up here to prepare for this panel and I’m so
thankful to have met you all. And just know that I’m
now collecting you. You’re part of my peeps. Collect your people. Collect your people. I’m just so deeply honored
to have been, you know, in that position, Tinisha,
thank you so much. GREGORY WHITE: That made
me think of something a mentor taught me when I
was younger, he said you need to always be in the
business of identifying, assessing and retaining
good talent, because when you get a chance to sit in
a big seat you don’t get a chance to go find a team. You need to have a working
Board of Directors in your head at all times. (Applause) So that’s something
I’ve always done. I’m very interested
in what people do. One, because whatever you
are doing 8 to 10 hours and 12 hours a day,
definitely shapes who you are as an individual. And two, I really want to
know because what I found is as I became more
successful in my career is that opportunities came
to me that I did not want, but I did not know who
I could forward these opportunities to. And I think that’s a
challenge with first generation professionals
that you don’t even see coming until
you’re in the seat. So, identify, assess,
retain good talent and build upon the network. Staying on the parent
aspect of this, Tariq, being not only being
a first generation professional, but having
the layer of being an immigrant — what are some
of the unique qualities and gifts that you gained
based on your parents who are first immigration
immigrants to the U.S.? TARIQ HAFIZ: Yeah,
surprisingly, my experience is a lot
similar to Leonard’s, in the sense my mom was a
homemaker, she didn’t work. My father worked, very
hard worker, rarely took a day off. I don’t even remember
him taking a day off. Never complained
about work. So he has really good work
ethic, and so for me, I tend to be a very hard
worker, and sometimes to the point where you never
think about yourself taking a break from work
and doing something just for yourself. You’re just like so
focused on working, and so I just — being a first
generation professional, you are so thankful that
you have a job, you have gratitude for the job
itself and you invest so much into it. I think sometimes you need
a break from that and you focus on yourself. And whereas folks who
are second and third generation tend to do that
more because their parents or grandparents have had
that experience and will let them know that, hey,
you need to take a break, you’re working too hard. You just need to take a
break and take a few days off and do whatever you
need to do and just pamper yourself instead of
just constantly working. So sometimes I never
know when to stop. You just like work,
work, work, right? And you want to be able
to take a break and that’s the difference for me. GREGORY WHITE: Thank you. Laura, how about
you build on that? I saw the wheels turning. LAURA SHIN: So a lot of
similarities with Tariq and Leonard. So my parents are really,
you know, they are mentors and role models to me,
too, and, you know, after they worked, my mom as a
nurse and my father worked in blue-collar jobs, they
were able to save enough money to start a
small business. So, that is a lot of
influence that I learned from them as
they struggled. They’re almost in 40 years
of running their business, which is a small trophy
and engraving business in Los Angeles — and for
me, as a child, to be free labor for them and
throughout those years, as I’m sure many of you did,
if you have parents with businesses. I saw what they went
through on a day-to-day basis, and the struggles
they had communicating with their customers. They chose, I mean, just
to break some stereotypes, a lot of people who are
Korean-American, which we are, they start a dry
cleaning businesses or liquor stores, but my
parents wanted to do something where they can
be interacting with the community and doing
something a little bit different. So they decided to open a
trophy and engraving and awards business. So something that people
in our community didn’t really do. And so that was something
that always, as a child that I kind of absorbed,
like, oh, my parents are doing something a little
different from the rest of our community. And I think that kind of
encouraged me to be a bit of a risk-taker as Leonard
mentioned, which is really important attribute for
professionals and leaders. So that was one thing that
my parents probably didn’t think about,
but I absorbed. And also, you know, as
they tried to make a living in business in
a foreign country, in a foreign language, I look
back and think how did they do it. You know? And it was through
persistence, hard work, just when they failed they
would just get up and do it again and it’s not easy
to be in the same business for almost 40 years. So I saw that as well
in my own life when I encounter struggles
and challenges. I think, oh my goodness,
if my parents did that, surely I can get through
this, you know, legal writing assignment or
whatever I was doing at that time. And so they were a
real inspiration to me. And just to break some
other stereotypes, I think people tend to think the
Asian-American community really focus on education,
and, you know, Amy Chua wrote that book about
Tiger moms, and my parents were actually not very
intense about academics. They were too busy making
a living and surviving. And, yes, they — there
was something always unspoken about your — you
need to do well in school, and you need to go to
college, but like I said it was unspoken. And I think they were a
bit concerned about me in high school, because I do
remember one time they sat me down and they’re like,
hey, you want to go to college. Right? Where do you want to go? And so it was one
conversation, but it was very helpful. And so I started thinking,
okay, I guess I better think about this stuff. So, you know, my parents,
although they didn’t always have a lot of time,
it wasn’t a day-to-day conversation. It was unspoken, it was
reflected through their life that I saw their hard
work and persistence, and I really internalized
those things, I think, as I grew up and began my
academic and professional career out of high school. GREGORY WHITE: Thank you. I wrote down a few things
that seem to be recurring themes. Number one is work ethic. Not only do we display an
incredible work ethic, we tend to get that from
our household background. Number two, high level of
performance, and three, education. And I think these are all
things that we ourselves embody in general, but
also things that help our organizations, our
agencies, our departments perform at a high level. So I think it’s incumbent
upon us to embrace the first generation
professional initiative, so that we can better
leverage those strengths to whatever happens to be
the mission at the agency or the department
we work for. Transitioning to the
business case, for many first generation
professionals, you have overcome significant
adversity to achieve success. And while this can present
unique challenges, it also can result in the
development of unique characteristics. And you’ve termed
this, super powers. Catalina, talk to us
about your super powers. CATALINA MARTINEZ: Sure. And I think a lot of
people on this panel and our incredible speakers
also mentioned some of this. It’s not surprising that
we develop particular perspectives and
incredible skills and work ethic, and I come from a
background very different than a lot of
the people here. I didn’t have that kind of
family structure at home that was supporting me. And just to get back to
the shame for one second, to sidestep for a minute,
there’s a lot of shame within communities or a
cultures that have gender oppression, and we
don’t talk about it. Because it’s such a
shameful part of our culture. So within Hispanic
communities I’ve worked a lot with young women to
have them feel empowered to say no when
they are kept home. To have them feel
empowered to go to school when they are told they
don’t need an education. It’s definitely a shameful
part of our culture that we just don’t talk about. In terms of the super
powers that we develop, I think it’s important that
we never expect things to be easy. We know how to get
things done, right? So we know how to turn
barriers into just little detours instead of
outright obstacles. We figure out how to
navigate the world in really creative ways;
we don’t take no for an answer, right? And when we hit a brick
wall, as you so eloquently said, we become human
GPS, and we recalculate. Those things are really,
really important. I think also I heard
someone speak about to our detriment. I think it was our amazing
Ruky who said that. To our detriment sometimes
we’re also warriors for our people, we are
determined to kick doors open for others, even
if it’s at a cost to ourselves. And I consider myself
scorched earth on that front. And although I may not
have a family structure that was there for me,
I built my family out of community. And to me that’s the most
important skill I’ve ever honed, is to collect
the my people. And those people that I
collect, those are the people that I consider
myself scorched earth for and to my detriment I will
make sure I am kicking open the doors so they
can crawl over my back. So I absolutely now view
all of that as a super power. Certainly through most of
my academic experience and a lot of my professional
experiences had I made my background known, which I
mostly did not, I think it would have been held
against me or viewed as detriment when I had — I
had to take many years to finally accept those
as super powers. (Applause) GREGORY WHITE: You made
the comment about gender oppression and that
really resonated with me. As the oldest of nine
kids, I didn’t even have to think about it, but to
give you an example of how that works within the same
family, I’m a dissertation away from my PhD. And my oldest sibling, my
sister, we just celebrated her getting her GED less
than two months ago. (Applause) Thank you. So what that made me think
of as I grew older in my career and got a bit older
is, the fact is, a lot of the power at the heads
of our agencies and organizations is held in
the hands of men, and when we see these things, it’s
income been the upon us to step forward to address it
and to create situations where we can reduce,
mitigate or eliminate it. CATALINA MARTINEZ:
Thank you. (Applause) GREGORY WHITE: Thank you. Another thing you brought
up was this idea of being warriors even to
our own detriment. And it made me think
of the fact that if you talked to my friends, if
you’re my people, if I claim you, I will
burn the bridges. I will burn the boats and
I will get a shovel and dig a moat around us,
we are going to be safe. And I feel like that kind
of environment, where we stand up for each the
other, support one another and claim one another,
that’s the kind of stuff we can use to leverage
better performance for ourselves as individuals
and we can scale that at the organizational
level, because all of our organizations are
comprised of what’s in this room. Carissa, you have
mentioned that your life experiences and background
enable you to bring cultural competency to
your field and to your agency. Help us understand. CARISSA ROCHELEAU: Yes. So my agency is tasked
with performing research to protect workers. But also with translating
that research and communicating findings to
employers and to workers. And so I know these
jobs, I’ve worked them. My family worked them. I understand these
communities, and I understand the constraints
that people are working in. And so it’s allowed me to
ask really good questions and have insight. I can remember being at a
presentation, someone was talking about truck driver
work hours and driver fatigue and crashes that
commercial truckers were involved in. And they said they were
doing this study and they were getting the books
from the truckers, and I said, which set of books? And they said what? And I said, well, I’ve
never known a trucker that didn’t keep two sets of
books; there’s the one that if you’re pulled
over, that you show the cops and the one
that logs your hours. Which books are
you looking at? And, you know, I’ve had so
many experiences like that over the years, where
I had insight into a community or a job. And I also think it’s
being a really good communicator. I’m good at translating my
science, because I’ve been trying to explain what
I do to my family since middle school. So, one example is, you
know, early in my career I was really frustrated that
we didn’t have resources for pregnant workers
who were concerned maybe they’re working with
chemicals that they know are hazardous, and they’re
not sure if they should do something special because
they were pregnant or breastfeeding, and there
just weren’t any resources out there. And so as a little tiny
side project with minutes I could steal from my
schedule here and there, I led an effort with a
couple of other colleagues that I kind of roped in,
and we created over 2000 topics pages that have
since become some of the agency’s highest traffic. We see over 20,000
unique visitors a month. They are now cited in
up-to-date and Google answers and in What
To Expect When You’re Expecting. And that tells me that we
were successful in meeting a need and answering
questions that people had. And I think I understood
those questions and how to give people what they
needed because of my background. GREGORY WHITE: Beautiful. Would anyone else care to
share anything they may have not shared already
about business case or embracing the first
generation professionals initiatives? All right. A couple things that
I’ve thought about. Number one was
cultural translators. I find that a number of us
are cultural translators because we had
no other choice. You know, we didn’t
speak the language. We encountered some
resistance, we had to figure out, okay,
something’s happening here and then unpack that. That’s language, that’s
culture, that’s a cultural translation taking place. It reminds me of something
a researcher once said in relation to education. Someone was speaking
in a language that was something other than
the queen’s English. And a teacher made a smart
comment that they couldn’t read. And the researcher said,
“Absolutely incorrect. Not only can they read,
they’re doing something more sophisticated than
reading, they’re reading and translating it into
a language that they and others they love and care
about understand.” That’s what we do every day. (Applause) CATALINA MARTINEZ: Can I
just, one more point in terms of the
business case? We know that first
generation professionals are going to be courageous
problem solvers, right, and that we’re going
to consider really unconventional ideas
because we’ve had to. So having first generation
professionals at the table will definitely help
you have a much more innovative solution to a
potentially catastrophic issue, as far as
I’m concerned. GREGORY WHITE: Thank you. Thus far we’ve explored
ways of defining first generation professionals,
personal and professional challenges of first
generation professionals. Now parents in the
household units positively impacted us as first
generation professionals, so let’s transition into
what next steps could look like. Tinisha shared that one
of the goals of the First Generation Professional
Initiative is to established to establish
a community of first generation professionals
and allies to nurture pride in the unique
background of first generation professionals
and cultivate an environment that provides
support and space for shared experiences
and to ask questions. This can involve
mentorship, the building of networks, and training
to help develop social and political capital. Starting with mentorship,
Laura, what are your thoughts on how important
it is to have mentors and allies? LAURA SHIN:
Very important. So I’m sure, you know,
mentors is such a common topic, I mean, beyond
first generation. I think when people
graduate college and they are looking for jobs,
but there are additional challenges, I think, first
generation, because you don’t have that network. It’s not like your
parents maybe have that professional network to
introduce you to a partner at a law firm who can be
your mentor and that’s your uncle Bob or
whatever the case may be. But from my personal
story, I mean, lessons learned from me, I think,
in my career, you don’t have to have one mentor
who knows it all and does it all, and sort of every
purpose for your life. I think, you know, I’ve
learned that along the way, because that was my
idea of what a mentor was when I started my
professional journey. Also, mentors don’t
have to look like you. So, for me, I have had
many mentors along the way who — some were in formal
settings, where you’re in a program and they
assign you a mentor. And those can be, you can,
fruitful and productive as well. I was recently in the
SES Candidate Development Program which is a
leadership program here at the Department of Commerce
and many other agencies and they actually formally
assign you a mentor who is a senior executive
service individual. And so, that’s one route. And, you know, you can
gain a lot from that, maybe meet someone who you
never would have in your, you know, regular
professional life. But I think another
productive way to think about mentors are just
people that you meet in formal settings. It could be people that
are in professional organizations that
you belong to. I mean, even in my case,
in my own office, my boss happens to be a
mentor, as well, too. So just mentors come in
all different forms and, you know, like I said, one
mentor can help you with maybe opening up
your social networks. Another can provide
you with guidance on leadership skills, just
— or — and also maybe emotional intelligence. Different skill sets from
different mentors and people in your life. I know for me that I was
teaching Sunday school in a high school — for high
school kids, and the youth pastor there was someone
who focused on the teaching there, but he was
also very much interested in developing the teacher,
the Sunday school teacher there as leaders. And so I remember he
recommended a book to me, the Seven Habits of
Highly Effective People. And I see a lot of people
nodding their heads here. But to me at that time
it was actually really mind-blowing to come
across a leadership book. I was in college
at that time. And I think just going
back to my formative years, I’d always had like
Harvard secret ambitions of leadership. And I remember, you know,
we were selecting like a Class President
in 6th grade. And I was just hoping, oh,
I hope someone nominates me, nominates me. You know, so even from
that early age, I think I had wanted to be a leader
but unfortunately, no one nominated me and then
I went through life thinking, oh, maybe I
don’t have the leadership skills that
people see in me. But I think as I realize
that there are these leadership books, and, you
know, as you see that you can learn these skills,
that was a mind-blowing concept for me. And so I — that was
something that mentor specifically taught
me by providing — by recommending a specific
book to me about leadership and
understanding leadership can be learned. And maybe you didn’t
learn about a professional skills or leadership from
your parents, but, you know, there are
ways to learn that. GREGORY WHITE: Thank you. Well, we’re getting the
wrap-up signal so I want to point out a couple
of things really quickly about the mentorship
that I thought was very important to
carry forward. Number one, we’ve learned
that we need a number of mentors, not
just a mentor. Mentors can be very
context specific, very situational, you can
have long-term mentors. I was even introduced to
the concept of short-term mentors. A leader told me call
up six people you trust. Tell them you want them
onboard for six months, you’re trying to do
something in this time-frame. People tend to say yes,
because they view it as a short-term project, but
in reality you create a life-long relationship. So to summarize today:
Number one, there are some social and political
capital questions that we did not get to. And I think that we should
keep that in mind because those are very important. But here are a few things
that I wanted to touch on as we close. Number one, we’re in the
early stages of exploring identity that we
consider first generation professionals and in order
for this to be scaled, which we need it to be, we
need everyone to embrace this concept. Embrace the research
that we started. And that way we
can move forward. Number two, being a first
generation professional is not an identity that’s
easily captured. That’s why these
communities of practice that we’re trying to set
up and nurture are very important. Also, the Bureaus and
agencies could take a step further and institute
something to capture that information. One of the things I
briefly discussed with Tinisha was an entrance
survey or something that you put on the
job announcement. You know, again, these are
things we’re just tossing around as ideas, but
these are ways that we can gather this information
so that we can have better research and we can create
better programming around it. And three, this is related
to something that’s been in the news recently,
the Bureau of Labor and Statistics recently
released their jobs report, LinkedIn released
their workforce report and IBM released a study about
our nation’s skill gaps. And if you filtered
through that mountain of data, you see a huge focus
on Tech, on STEM, on AI and those kinds of things,
but what stood out to me was this: The top five
employable skills: Number one, flexibility/agility. Number two,
prioritization/critical thinking. Three, team/interpersonal
skills. Four is communication and
five is critical analysis. After what you heard this
morning, if you don’t understand that first
generation professionals are the ones bringing
these skills to the table you haven’t
been listening. (Applause) And with that. Thank you.

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