In her 33-year career with $18 billion Southern Co., IT veteran and first-time author Becky Blalock held positions in accounting, finance, corporate communications, external affairs and IT, where she rose to the rank of senior vice president and CIO before retiring in 2011. Regardless of the department, she continually encountered young women starved for career tips who sought mentors to share lessons learned and real-life how-to information. That experience, combined with the fact that she always wanted to write a book and "couldn't just go from being CIO to doing nothing," led her to pen Dare: Straight Talk on Confidence, Courage, and Career for Women in Charge, which was published last month.
You worked in many areas and had a lot of experience outside of IT. Obviously that was instrumental in your making it to the C-suite. What else helped? One of the things that really gave me comfort is the fact that I went to four high schools, three junior high schools and eight elementary schools. All my life I was thrown into new situations. I had to learn to adapt. While I hated all of that growing up, I look at it as something that was a gift.
Federal Reserve CIO Lyn McDermid, whom I interviewed for the book, was a military brat, too, and she says that experience of going into new situations helped her, too.
But the single greatest thing that holds women back is confidence. Women need to believe in themselves so much more than they do.
We all live in these comfort zones where we feel safe and valued and appreciated, but you have to push yourself out of those things. That's what qualifies you for the next job level.
How do women get on the radar screen, especially at companies where the "old boys' network" is alive and well? There is definitely an old boys' network. When you look at businesses at the very top, it's white males that dominate. I don't think men purposely exclude women. I think they don't think about the advantages they have [as men]. Women have to educate them.
I went to an executive conference and 20% of the men in the room came up and asked how they could be more sensitive to women. I told them to be sensitive to the fact that you need to give women equal face time. If you're taking a man out to play golf, give a woman an opportunity to have exposure to you -- perhaps have her work on a special project.
Women don't have equal access to decision-makers. Men clearly have an advantage and some of them get really angry when you bring it up. But I won't make men mad who have daughters and who care about their daughters' progress.
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