Charlotte leaders advise other women to take professional risks

Female business leaders from Charlotte, including two high-ranking Bank of America executives, on Tuesday urged other women not to be afraid to take risks throughout their professional lives.

The four women were panelists at a “Power of Women” event held at the Westin hotel in uptown and organized by the Charlotte Chamber. The women said risk-taking and willingness to accept new responsibilities and challenges were key to shaping their career paths.

“When I look back on my own career, one of the things that’s important has been knowing the moment of risk, understanding it and not failing every time to take it,” said Cathy Bessant, chief operations and technology officer for Charlotte-based Bank of America.

Bessant said she went to work for a Bank of America predecessor company in the 1980s. She said she had to relocate multiple times across the country as she moved up in her banking career.

“I got so good at it – this is not a lie – that I used to call my real estate agent before I called my husband to tell him we were moving,” she said.

The four women all have ties to the Charlotte Chamber. Three are past chamber chairs: Bessant; Muriel Sheubrooks, past partner of Greater Carolinas Real Estate; and Pat Rodgers, CEO of construction company Rodgers Builders.

The fourth, Andrea Smith, chief administrative officer for Bank of America, will chair the Chamber in 2017.

A look at other advice and observations the women shared:

▪ Bessant said Charlotte is no longer a place where a handful of powerful leaders have outsized influence on its fate. But that change is necessary, she said.

“Decentralization of power and civic leadership is what a big-time city has to strive for,” she said.

▪ Smith said women must advocate for themselves in the workplace.

“Don’t assume people,” she said, “know where you want to go just because you’ve done well in your job.”

▪ Rodgers, who went from part-time receptionist to getting her contractor’s license to running the company, said she took advantage of opportunities as they came at her.

“My boss came to me and said, ‘Would you like to take flying lessons? We’re buying a plane.’ I went, ‘Sure,’ and I did,” she said.

“If you think you’re a minority, if you think you’re at a disadvantage, you will be at a disadvantage.”

▪ Sheubrooks, who in 1995 became the first woman to chair the Charlotte Chamber, said it’s important for women not be afraid to ask others for help in their careers.

“Without those people that you have around you that make you better, you’re not going to accomplish anything,” she said.