Being one of only a handful of women in her law school class didn’t discourage Nelda Luce Blair, attorney, The Blair Law Firm, P. C. and Texas Conference for Women advisory council member. Instead, it encouraged her to keep pushing. She shares advice for staying motivated and succeeding in a male-dominated industry.
Q: How did your professional career begin, and how did you end up where you are today?
A: “You’ve come a long way, baby” was a slogan for the women’s liberation movement decades ago, and it is still valid today. My world is the legal arena. But, in 1970’s law schools, girls were scarce, and those few were not expected to thrive, much less graduate, and certainly not become actual practicing lawyers. A law professor told me pointedly that I would never make an attorney, so best to get married as soon as possible. And one fussy old judge growled in front of a crowded courtroom that perhaps I should “go home and make babies.” After all, lady lawyers were still an anomaly, especially young ones with long blonde hair.
Those lessons were tough, and yes, a few times they made me want to quit, but the key is, I didn’t. No way. What I did do was learn. I learned that not every slight is intentionally mean. I learned not to take myself so seriously, but to have a sense of humor and give people the benefit of the doubt. I learned that all of those incidents, whether well meant or ill-intentioned, can be deflators or they can be motivators—and it all depends on me. These lessons only made me more determined to prove my professionalism, to gain my own respect on my own terms.
Today is no different from the ’70’s in many ways. There will always be opportunities for success, as well as hindrances that laws cannot prevent. Whether it’s gender, nationality, skin color, education or lack thereof, family background, or any number of life situations and experiences that differentiate us, the lesson is the same: we have to turn the barriers into motivators, and manage them for our own success.
Q: Can you name a leader for whom you have great respect and tell us why?
A: As a former President, George W. Bush is a person to be respected and revered, both for his time as the leader of our country, and especially for his actions since his retirement from office. At a time in life when they could simply enjoy their grandchildren, he and Laura Bush continue to quietly visit our military service men and women, contribute to a number of great causes with their presence and endorsement, and focus on health and quality of life for the poor of the world in a less public venue. Even when badgered by the press to give critiques of his successor from a different political party, President Barack Obama, George W. Bush always responds that being president is a hard job, and that a former president doesn’t need to make it any harder. What a class act.
Q: As a leader in your company, what is the best piece of advice you would offer to a new employee to help them succeed?
A: A major challenge for any new person in an organization is to understand its uniqueness, and to identify how they can best benefit the group. Sometimes new ideas and innovative suggestions are needed to move a company forward. On the other hand, just as important is the understanding of and respect for how a business got to where it is, why they do things like they do, and what they have learned from past mistakes. So, I encourage new employees to first watch, listen and learn; and only then to speak up, contribute and lead.
Q: What would you say has been your driving force in your staying power in a male-dominated industry?
A: Optimism. Hope. Positive thinking. Can-do attitude. Belief. Dreams. There are many different words for it. My term is “Faith,” and has been since I was a little girl. My personal drive to do good is fostered by my faith as a Christian. But, whatever we call it, we can only do good if we first find our own happy place. After all, how can you be a positive influence on other people and the world around you without first finding a positive source for yourself? An optimistic attitude is contagious to others. Mainly, though, it fosters self-confidence in challenging or difficult or unfamiliar settings. And self-confidence allows women to deal effectively with sometimes discouraging situations. In short, I learned to stay positive, and not to take affronts or disrespect or chauvinism too seriously, to look behind the actions I couldn’t change, and to change my reaction to them. And, as a bonus, I also learned not to take myself too seriously.
Q: As a seasoned professional, how do you share your experience with your team on a daily basis?
A: I believe that absolutely every aspect of life revolves around personal relationships—no exceptions. So, I try to do my best to continually cultivate and nurture my relationships with my teammates, both personally and professionally. I like to keep us all “on the same page” so that my entire team knows which task each one of us is responsible for, that each person is essential to the plan, and how each one’s part fits into our overall goal; identifying the goal is pretty important as well. To be an influence for good, we have to relate to others, and they to us. From my thoughts on societal affairs, to my interactions with people, to how I dress, my behavior is an influence on the folks around me. I make a conscious effort to be aware of that, and try to set an example in everything I do. I want my influence to be a positive one.
Q: What is the one thing you make time for in your daily life that helps keeps you refreshed and positive?
A: My entire philosophy of living and doing good in the world is based on my faith, trust and beliefs as a Christian. God’s hand in my life has been a constant for 55 years, and time after time, He opens doors and supports me to succeed. God is the source of good in our world, and I strive to emulate His ways in everything I do. So, the one thing I make time for everyday is prayer. Communication and connection with God renews me, sets my mind straight and gives me a clearer vision of the opportunities He has in store for me.