What’s the recipe for success in navigating both a successful IT career and an equally fulfilling “real” life outside of the profession?

There’s no single correct path for anyone, but a panel of women IT executives discussed the unique pressures women face in the workplace. They emphasized on Jan. 14 that the most necessary ingredient is striving for “balance” borne of an honest assessment of needs and desires.

That was at the heart of the message delivered by Lisa Ayers, VP sales at Polycom, at HPE’s Women in Technology Sales Forum.

Ayers traced the outlines of her 25-year ascending career path through the high-tech sector and self-identified her many roles in life – including a wife, mother, hockey mom, dog mom, friend, and IT business executive.

That description, she said, “plays into the notion that you have it all,” but at the same time added, “that’s a dangerous assumption.”

Rather, Ayers said, “it’s a tricky balance.” And arriving at the correct balance, she said, has “by far been the single most challenging thing in my life so far.”

She advised her audience to rely on “making a conscious, knowing choice … between what you get and what you give up” when making work-life choices. And she emphasized she was “extremely fortunate” to have a supportive partner in her husband, Joe Ayers, public sector lead at HPE.

On many of life’s bigger questions – committed relationships, having children – that may alter or even interrupt a high-level career path, Ayers offered similar counsel. “You need to prioritize what’s important to you … If you know who you are and what drives you, embrace it!”

Other prominent women IT execs appearing at the HPE event largely agreed with those themes and offered more advice both on how to boldly pursue business success, but to also achieve that critical degree of balance between the business world and the rest of life.

“I try to be a mentor in anything I do in life,” said Kristie Grinnell, VP of global CIO, and chief supply chain officer at GDIT. “It’s really key to always be positive, and to have positive intent,” she said.

Katie Anderson, vice president of HR at HPE, said that part of the balance equation involves “seizing opportunities that you never thought you would have.” At the same time, she said, “what’s really important to me is giving back to the community.”

“Technology has given us more tools to improve work-life balance,” said Lisa Malloy, director of government affairs at Intel. She talked about how tech can allow her to leave the office in the afternoon to help direct a school play, and then get back to work online in the evening. That essential life balance, she said, is determined by “priorities, and being deliberate in your decisions.”

“Once you make your choices, don’t feel guilty about it,” added Chris Rother, senior vice president of integrated technology solutions at CDW.

“Be the best version of yourself that you can be, not the second best version of someone else,” offered Lynne Chamberlain, vice president, business development, public sector at Red Hat.

“One of the greatest things I have learned over time is the value of empathy,” added Anderson. And, she advised, “as you grow as a leader, you have to bring your real self to work, even if that’s not the super-hero that everyone thinks you are.”

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Kate Polit
Kate Polit
Kate Polit is MeriTalk's Assistant Copy & Production Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.