Cecilia Pina Boyd knows what it is like to have people try to put her in a box.
At first glance, her complexion makes people assume that she is African-American, until they get to know her and discover that her mother is a Mexican American. Her calm, cheerful demeanor can make people think she is relaxed and easy going, until they find out that, at 34 years old, she has already run 10 marathons. Her job at the American Bar Association involves fighting for women to have an equal place in the male-dominated profession.
Pina Boyd, who also serves on the Forest Park Diversity Commission, is a person who has integrated several facets of her life into a fairly coherent identity.
“I’m angry about a lot of things but I try to transform it into positivity, because anger won’t make you any more effective and it can consume you,” she said.
In her professional life, one thing she fights to overcome is society’s placement of female lawyers in lower positions of power than their male counterparts. Just 36 percent of persons practicing law, and 24 percent of counsels to Fortune 500 companies, are women, according to statistics from the Commission on Women in the Profession, a segment of the American Bar Association. When Boyd and her colleagues tried to find out why the percentages are so low, they discovered that women have to jump over more hurdles than men in order to acquire positions of power.
When they interviewed women who had remained in the profession for at least 10 years, they discovered two common traits—grit and a positive mindset. Boyd said that women who last as lawyers either have those traits when they enter the profession or learn them fairly quickly.
“Women I’ve encountered who are in their 60s and still in profession are very tough women. They’ve dealt with a lot,” she said.
As part of her work, Pina Boyd implements a program to “help younger lawyers understand that if they want get into these positions of power, they have to go through certain steps to get there–they have to build networks and be a stronger person in their abilities.”
Confronting those barriers as a professional, along with the discrimination she has experienced in her own life as someone who doesn’t fit neatly into racial/cultural/gender box, makes her angry. Pina Boyd credits her parents for being role models regarding how to respond to discrimination. Instead of taking on the world with an angry persona she said “they transformed their anger into positivity. That’s what I try to do in my life.” She said her father was a big influence, pushing her to pursue athletics and never telling her she couldn’t do something because she was a woman.
“We women of color have often tried to hide our anger, because if we show it we’ll be type cast as angry black women,” she said. “Yes, I am angry but I have to present myself as something else to get things done.”
She added: “I understand the need to rabble rouse. I like to do that every once in awhile, but I also understand that a lot of people don’t react very well to that approach. I’m of the belief that if you go to people in a calm and gentle way you can be just as effective in getting work done. It’s all about balance.”
Perhaps the word “balance” sheds some light on why Pina Boyd loves running marathons so much. As a woman of color working in a male-dominated profession, she confronts prejudice and resistance every day of her life. But when she talks about running, she said she feels empowered. She said she started running eight years ago because she wanted to challenge herself. Now she remembers crossing the finish line of her first marathon as one of the best experiences of her life.
“For me running is therapy,” she said.
She added that running makes her more aware of herself. “Your whole lifestyle — what you eat and whether you are having a good day or a bad one — all affects how I run. Even finishing a marathon is humbling and empowering. It reveals what my body can do. It makes me think ‘If I just did that, what else could I do?”