For women, breaking the glass ceiling is only step one to conquering a male-dominated industry such as IT; breaking the glass walls often poses a bigger challenge, a panel of female executives told attendees at XChange '06 Tuesday afternoon.
To achieve continued success, women have to take the time to diversify.
"Women have a tendency to become very niche [specific]," gaining success in a particular area of the company but not expanding out to broaden their expertise, said Debra Thompson, vice president of channel management and marketing at IBM.
Of course, breaking out of any comfort zone requires a willingness to relinquish some control in exchange for professional growth.
"Thirteen years with IBM; another 15 with Lexmark; after 28 years, I'm still learning," said Sharon Brindley, vice president of U.S. channels at Lexmark. "You have to ask questions and listen. Based on that, you can make better decisions."
While seemingly specific to large corporate environments, the same lessons apply for women at smaller companies: No matter how long in the business, nobody has it all figured out.
"We don't have to have all the answers," said Laurie Benson, CEO of Madison, Wis.-based Inacom Information Systems.
Beyond staff, she recommends a solid board of advisers who can help evaluate opportunities for potential risk.
"People are so willing to help -- but we do need to ask. And be objective," Benson said. "If something isn't working, change it. You have the power to do that."
Of course, one of the biggest challenges for women in business is striking a balance between personal and professional priorities. For Thompson, that need rang clear with one comment from her daughter seven years ago: "You love your laptop more than you love me."
Immediately, she changed her own personal policy, putting a plan in place to take back her weekends and evenings and get work under control.
"People that become successful do so because they're good at doing something," Thompson said. "But once they [achieve that success], women have to be better at empowering others to do things."