Former CIO Becky Blalock reflects on her decades-long career in IT and offers advice about self-confidence, risk taking, leadership and the lack of women in IT.
It was a real lesson on the importance of proactive and honest communication. Also, when you accept responsibility for an issue, it is amazing how people will jump on board and ask what they can do to help you.
In a recent Wall Street Journal blog post, you mentioned five ways to break through the glass ceiling from middle management to executive management. You wrote about the requirement of being able to see the big picture and to think in a broader sense. Was that something you learned from a mentor or was there a specific event that made you come to this realization?
Having stepped into several roles where I was not the subject matter expert, I learned early on that a key to success in these roles is reverse coaching—building a trusting and talented team and knowing your peers inside and outside your company. I also learned the value of trusted relationships with vendors.
There is no textbook to teach you how to lead at the top levels of a corporation. I did not talk with or see my boss but maybe once a month, and he knew very little about IT. To get that broad view I had to stay in touch with trends in my company's industry and in IT. Every company has an IT organization and many of the issues and challenges we face are universal. I learned a great deal by talking with world-class CIOs, vendors supplying other companies, subject matter experts in my own organization and reading a wide array of material on both my industry and IT. I also tried to look at what the world might be like in 20 years through futurists such as Daniel Burris and Thornton May. IT has to be thinking many years out because you must have the infrastructure and tools built and ready to deliver the support your company needs to leverage technology. IT is increasingly being called on to help the business understand what is possible and to help drive innovation. You can't be successful at doing that if you don't have some view into what is coming.
Are you confident that more female executives will follow your lead in a career in IT?
I hope to have some impact because we need more of our young people, men and women, pursuing degrees in IT. I think it is vitally important to the U.S. economy moving forward because this is one of the top growth areas. Today we are outsourcing many of these jobs because we do not have the talent at home. Women make up the majority of college graduates, but they are not choosing engineering or IT fields of study. Currently, just 13 percent of IT majors are women. However, there is a lot of focus on getting more girls interested in this area of study, and I hope to help make an impact as well.
The IT field has a poor image and has been labeled as a place for geeks. The truth is that this is one of the most exciting places to be in corporate America. IT touches every part of an organization, so it provides a great view of the entire business and prepares you for almost any role in the company. IT has the ability to revolutionize the way a company interacts with its customers, produces its product and grows its brand. There is not a more exciting place to be. Seven of the 28 women I interviewed in DARE are CIOs and each of them talked about the need to change the image of IT and their personal commitment to helping with this issue. They all discussed the fact that there are still too many times when we attend a meeting and find we are either the only woman in the room or one of only a handful.
It is hard to be something you have never seen. I hope by highlighting some of the successful women in this field and showcasing the excitement in IT, it will both dare and encourage others.
About the Author
Peter High is president of Metis Strategy, a boutique IT-strategy consultancy based in Washington, D.C. A contributor to CIO Insight, High is also the author of World Class IT: Why Businesses Succeed When IT Triumphs, and the moderator of the podcast, The Forum on World Class IT. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To read his previous CIO Insight article, "How Global Partners Manages Its Software Licenses," click here.