Women Climbing the Corporate Ladder with Robin Bienfait and Becky Blalock
I feel honoured and privileged to be able to bring you two powerhouse women in corporate, entrepreneurial and STEM leadership today, Robin Bienfait and Becky Blalock all the way from Atlanta, Georgia USA.
I had the pleasure to work with Robin at BlackBerry when she was CIO. These were the days when men only had these roles in technology. Robin has an engineering background and is a advocate of getting more women in STEM disciplines, and more women in leadership and innovative positions and paths, being a speaker at The Global Women in STEM Leadership Summit. Robin started out at AT&T, at one time leading teams of tens of thousands of people. Robin has also spent time leading Samsung’s Technology group, and most recently Robin has started her own venture in Emnovate – specialising in setting businesses up to succeed and grow through innovation! Robin is a strong force to be reckoned with!
Becky Blalock was previously CIO of the 5th largest utility company in the world, a job that took her around the world traveling and Becky has written the book ‘Dare’. This book is a voice to all women who have ever wondered what it takes to reach the top of the corporate ladder and lead in business and corporations today, or any woman in business wanting to hear from others what it takes to succeed and last in a corporate environment. Becky specifically sought out 28 successful women to interview for this book and she shares their experiences and stories with her readers of her book.
The breadth of our conversation speaking about their experience and the adversities they have faced over the span of their careers is something I am most excited to be sharing with my audience. To hear from both Robin and Becky on the biggest challenges they have faced, what they see as being the biggest opportunities for those in corporate leadership positions today as well as those who need to reinvent or innovate their own entrepreneurial pursuits.
This particular interview was one that I didn’t want to end, and as such we have split this podcast into 2 parts. Part 1 covers their experience in dealing with corporate America and what it has been like navigating STEM companies and STEM roles as women over the past 40+ years. Part 2 is special; we discuss innovation, what leaders really need to do to succeed in business and life. We also dig into the topic is mental health and their views on this epidemic of a topic on society and through corporations today.
Part 1: Climbing the Corporate Ladder
Robin and Becky both open up about what’s it’s like being the only woman in the room. How do you get others to listen? What happens if they don’t? I too share my experiences with diversity and inclusion from my past 25+ years in corporations and businesses. When you are different to the norm, many people take shy to this and not always include you in the conversation. Being genuine, being persuasive, being likeable has all been traits myself as well as Becky and Robin have had to acquire and permeate to be heard around the Boardroom.
(2:08) Becky: Many of the jobs I held in the company, I was the first woman to hold those jobs because Robin and I came along at a time when woman didn't do these kinds of things. When I came out of college only 15% of business graduates were woman, today that number is more like 50%.
There is a common theme in my podcasts and chats that I do with global leaders around the world. Becky found this truth from the 28 women she interviewed as well for her book, the truth being – be willing to put yourself out there and take risks – no matter what the consequence. Make sure you are doing what it takes to succeed in the endeavours that you choose, your dreams. Get out there and try different things, just make sure you are not holding yourself back. If your mindset or something in your life is holding you back, be sure to identify it and deal with it head on or choose to push it aside so you can move quickly towards achieving what it is you want to achieve. Thrive in business, move towards your dreams and goals and live the life you envision for yourself.
(3:46) Becky: Be willing to put yourself out there and take risks. Do whatever it takes to grow yourself. Get out of your comfort zone and don't be afraid to fail.
(9:10) Becky: So many of these issues are universal. If you are struggling with something go talk to your peers.
(10:18) Robin: I do agree that there are a lot of leaders that feel like they should be the one who understands and knows all the answers. I think the great thing that women bring to the table is that we are great listeners.
(11:17) Becky: I think it's really important to listen to the vendors, those people who sell to your company. You can find a lot out about who is the best company out there doing what you are doing, and find out why. Be open to the answer.
(12:30) Becky: Be open to ask for feedback, and take the feedback on board.
(16:07) Robin: If I ever have a situation where I need to lead a team, I need to do it in such a way that is collaborative and not competing with each other.
(20:15) Robin: What I find with a lot of women, we are very collaborative. We support each other. Men can do it but are mainly individual.
Consider this: how many men are the ones putting together marketing pitches, advertising collateral and how many are women? Becky highlights that more than 80% of women are the ones making the buying decision, and so how many companies are really doing their research on getting the message right for their products in regards to gender marketing?
(22:40) Becky: Companies are also interested in the gender dynamic because more often the one making the product decisions are women, women make 80% of buying decisions
When considering their own wellbeing, I was curious to know how these 2 hardworking ladies take care of themselves. What self-care practices they themselves implement on a daily basis to stay fresh and relevant. Becky advocates outsourcing all that you can so that you can prioritize what it is you really need to be focused on. Women by nature are not very good delegators and have traditionally been the doers. When you consider a lot of business functions, women have traditionally been the administrators of the organisation and therefore have started in companies as the doers. Delegate to give yourself time to reflect, grow and learn a new skill, and gain that experience to be promoted in your industry and or organisation. If you are someone that has had trouble with delegating in the past, consider this article from HBR 'Why Aren't You Delegating?'
Robin discusses how important your health is. This is one area you cannot delegate. You cannot get anyone else to do all of the great healthy habits to reap the rewards it has to be you that is engaged in the healthy living lifestyle.
(23:40) Becky: Of the many things you can delegate, outsource and prioritise, looking after yourself is not one of them. The other advice that I give to a lot of women is that you need to be better delegators. But then they aren't able to grow themselves if they aren't spreading the work out, giving it to others and allowing them to spend time to develop their skills.
(24:19) Robin: When it comes to taking care of yourself, your health is your wealth. And we take it for granted until we don't have it.
Part 2: Women who know how to Innovate
Innovations, creating a vision and not being afraid to fail are all big contributors to those who succeed and get ahead – not only for people but organisations themselves. Having a laser-focused mindset and knowing what to be doing and what not to be doing is one of the most critical quality of a top leader. They learn how to critically evaluate tasks and move towards top priority.
(9:21) Robin: What’s the right thing to execute on? You need a vision of ‘do we even need to be doing this in the first place?’
Happiness for individuals, happiness for organisations – where do these intersect? – is a consideration we discuss ecosystem and measurement of success amongst corporations and individuals.
(12:02) Robin: How happy is the team? How successful is the team? Are they creating and generating new ideas? I don’t think that conversation is happening.
(13:22) Robin: I think companies need to be careful in the long term if you don’t have happy employees.
(14:20) Becky: I was a judge for EY Entrepreneur of the Year and each of the winners came up and said their employees were their biggest asset and really valued them.
What really intrigued me in this conversation is what Becky highlighted as to the reasons why women may leave the workforce. You hear all the time of very awful situations, perhaps harassment issues that women face (you hear in the news or stories shared) that are very upsetting as to why some women feel they are not accepted in their chosen workplace. Becky shared the results of a McKinsey study that showed there are three main reasons women leave a corporation.
1. There was a lack of role models (which is changing, more women are coming into leadership roles and taking mentoring roles).
2. Difference of pay between men and women, for some this gap is closing but this has a long way to go to be fully transparent.
3. They don’t feel included. Now this last one needs to move, I’ve felt this myself in some of my earlier corporate roles where I felt as though some people didn’t include me and my ideas that I brought to the table and this cultural or bias barrier doesn’t help anyone at the table, men or women.
Again, a workplace that promotes collaboration and ideas benefits everyone at the table, makes everyone feel empowered and engaged and ultimately benefits the corporation as a whole. Due to globalisation we have many more choses in where we work, for whom we work and for what cause; why not create an environment that is all welcoming to people with a strong ethical base.
There is much more from our talk; please take a moment of your day and watch and listen to this chat. You will benefit from the insights and spunk of both of these women. They have paved their path over the past 40+ years and are trailblazers, listen to what they have to say and put some of their insights into practice for yourself. Empower yourself to succeed.
If you like what you hear and want to hear more, subscribe now to the Happiness Platform and listen to this interview with Robert Greene, 5 Times International Best-selling author of “48 Laws of Power” and “Mastery”.
Also, get in touch with me on which role model inspires you, I would love to hear about who influences your life to succeed and where you go for your inspiration. I look up to Mahatma Gandhi for what he stood for, his virtues and values has always resonated with me for the greater good.
As the CEO and founder of Populis, I work with organisations to help them build strong people and businesses alike. Through our revolutionary programs including the Happiness Platform™, Sales Mastery, The Leadership Framework™, we help you realise your potential. If you’d like to discover how Populis can help your business and your people to thrive, please feel free to contact me on +61404049613 or at email@example.com, or visit www.populis.com.au for more insights.
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