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Jerry Hicks

She Shattered Myths Along With Some Glass Ceilings

June 11, 1996|Jerry Hicks

Urban planner Carol Hoffman was explaining to her boss that she would need a few weeks of leave time--she was about to have a baby. But he had news for her: It didn't work that way, not in his shop. You leave, lady, you leave for good, for a baby or whatever. She was fired.

It wasn't the first time Hoffman, now an Irvine Co. vice president, was faced with sexist attitudes from an incompetent male boss. And this didn't happen in the '50s, this was 1973.

Hoffman has advice for other women working in companies fraught with sexual harassment, sexist bosses and glass ceilings on promotions for women: "You have to be willing to stand up to them, and also kill them with competency."

Hoffman, in charge of entitlement and community relations for the Irvine Co., was honored Monday by the Orange County chapter of the American Red Cross with its Glass Ceiling Award. It was one of nine Clara Barton Spectrum Awards presented by the Red Cross at a luncheon at the Hyatt Regency Irvine.

The award Hoffman won is for a woman "who has overcome extraordinary obstacles in the corporate environment."

"It is an important award, because women do need role models in the corporate world," Hoffman says. She jokes that her maiden name happens to be Mentor, and having female mentors in her career has helped her get past those responsible for those glass ceilings. "Sometimes we women are our own worst enemies," she says. "We need to know how to lead by example."

As I sat there listening to the introductions for all the winners, it was impossible not to be impressed with their many accomplishments.

Eileen Chung of Santa Ana, for example, who won the Youth Award, became inspired to do Red Cross volunteer work after her music teacher died of AIDS complications. She eventually became president of its Youth Council and a member of the Red Cross board of directors. She's also trained in emergency services, and has lent a hand after every earthquake, fire and flood to hit Orange County in recent years. No surprise that she helped lead Foothill High School to the largest school blood drive in the county the last three years running.

Chung is off to Yale University in the fall, and you just know this is somebody who's going to have a gangbusters career.

Paula Werner's name you likely recognize; she's a member of the Irvine City Council. She's a politician, and that alone means a few enemies. But she also has a long list of achievements in many causes: the homeless, the disabled, senior housing, child care for the needy, battered women.

When Werner lived in Maryland 19 years ago, she turned her own home into a temporary shelter for battered women.

"I knew then that was only a stopgap solution," she says. "We needed some place permanent where these women could feel safe." That's why Werner, also honored by the Red Cross, is so excited about A Safe House for Kids and Moms, the new local transitional shelter for 40 women and children that opened in May. She had a huge hand in helping create it.

The other winners deserve mention: Pat Soderquist, the Education Award; Molly Lynch, Cultural Arts; Susan Sullivan, Health Care; Mary Fegraus, Environmental Issues; and Cathy Singletary, Personal Achievement. The Mediation Center of Costa Mesa won the Group Award for its volunteer work in solving civil, community and family disputes.

Don't Call Her Pablo: First thing to catch the eye at the Red Cross awards were the extraordinary--and extraordinarily large--abstract paintings by the special guest, Alexandra Nechita. She's the 10-year-old from Norwalk the art world has been raving about. Her stuff is selling for $60,000 per canvas just as fast as she can paint.

But being a girl genius, she pointed out to the crowd, comes second, by order of her parents, "after my homework."

Nechita told a delightful tale that brought lots of laughs: When she was 8, she attended a Picasso art exhibit and thought, "Finally, somebody besides me who works in abstract."

The art world is calling her a "Petite Picasso," and though she was polite when asked about that at the lunch, her response to the crowd was "I'm just Alexandra Nechita, and I always will be."

The best question of the day came from cable-TV news anchor Rebecca Cobb Brown, who asked Nechita: "All of this comes out of your little head?"

The Mailbag: This column is now about 4 months old, and in that time, there's been a variety of mail. One reader complained that I am too conservative, another that I am too liberal. One man wrote to say that I was a conservative pretending to be a liberal, but that I hadn't fooled him.

But by far the most mail on any one subject has been about my picture--none of it favorable. I should have explained before: I have Bell's palsy, a slight muscle paralysis, on the right side of my face, and it shows in every picture.

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