Dr. Anita Perez Ferguson learned early what it means to have loving support in your family, with an extended Mexican-American family of 36 first cousins and two older sisters who taught her to understand her responsibility to help the younger cousins. Anita admitted that while they didn’t always get along, they understood, “that we were there to help one another.”
Now, with a Doctorate in Human and Organizational Systems, a Masters in Counseling Psychology, an undergraduate degree in communications and decades of experience as an accomplished speaker, multi-cultural educator and author as well as service on many national and community boards, Anita helps other women take their seats at the table where they have the greatest opportunity to get their voices heard and provide real support for each other.
Support is the key ingredient. Whether women follow the traditional model of getting married and having children straight out of high school, or another path, Anita says women today need to put aside their different life choices and work together to build on the purpose that we share. That’s how women advance a particular policy or issue that we agree on. She references the Bible story where the two cousins went their own ways, one as a learner and one as a household keeper, but both had gifts to help the community where they lived.
How to Get a Seat at the Leadership Table
In her dissertation research, Anita set about finding out how people from the Latino or Hispanic community had achieved seats on corporate boards in the United States. She notes that these corporations are more powerful economically than many countries in the world. “Caminos (Roads): Social Networks of Latinos Serving as Directors in the Fortune 500,” revealed that there were three well-established routes in the literature of the last decade for people of color, women, or minorities of any status:
- Some individuals come up through community support groups or advocacy groups.
- Others develop proficiency in business and actually climb the corporate ladder.
- Still others come up through a fine arts background.
Anita admits that this third group was surprising to her, but supposes, “There is some combination within the fine arts community that is naturally a collecting point for diverse voices and diverse talents.”
Overcoming Fear of Public Speaking
Fear of public speaking crosses all age groups, genders and cultural lines. Anita says that when we step up to a podium, we’re either approaching a group of strangers and expect to be judged or we know the group and feel already accepted. Whichever it is, she suggests that instead of preparing for your presentation like you’re going to war and picturing everyone in their underwear, you should pretend that you have an elegant silver serving tray and are about to graciously serve them all of the wisdom you have to share.
Anita has co-written two books with Dr. Lois Phillips, Women Seen and Heard. The most recent of these is the Women Seen and Heard Speaker’s Journal, which includes templates that you can apply to your speech. It’s a self-help tool to help you prepare your thoughts with the experience of two strategic communication professionals, whose business it is to help women communicate their messages in a compelling and effective way.
More Advice on Getting Your Voice Heard
Anita said that people are wired for story. Although you may have done a lot of research and have an impressive array of facts and figures, it’s the story that will bring the message home to the heart and make it memorable. Listen to this interview for more advice, to hear personal stories about how Anita has dealt with setbacks, and who she thinks benefits most from reading Women Seen and Heard. Step up your presentation, buy the book at womenseenandheard.com.