These quotations are taken from a May 18, 2012, Wall Street Journal article by John Bussey, “How Women Can Get Ahead: Advice from Female CEOs,” but they apply universally.

Jack Welch, the famed former CEO of GE, recently sparked controversy when speaking at The Journal’s Women in the Economy conference. Welch said that the key for women to get ahead was to “focus laser-like on performance.” This offended some who believe that a glass ceiling exists for women and and that the “old boy network” prevents advancement.

The Wall Street Journal reached out to the eighteen female CEOs in the Fortune 500 (a record, but still only 3.6%) and asked what it took to get ahead in business. By and large they agreed with Welch: “It’s performance that counts.”

“Accountability, performance and external benchmarking.”  — Ellen Cullman, President, Chair, and CEO of E.I. du Pont

“I had a very strong work ethic and was willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done. There is simply no substitute for hard work when it comes to achieving success.”  — Heather Bresch, CEO of Mylan Inc., maker of generics and specialty pharmaceuticals

“(P)erformance is the ticket to the dance,” says Frontier Communications’ CEO Maggie Wilderotter. “Unless you’re delivering value, there is no right to move forward.”

“The most important factor in determining whether you will succeed isn’t your gender, it’s you. Be open to opportunity and take risks. In fact, take the worst, the messiest, the most challenging assignment you can find, and then take control. I have stepped up to many ugly assignments that others didn’t want.”  — Angela Braley, CEO Wellpoint

Other key points

– Look for opportunities to stand out from the crowd, take calculated risks.

– Know what you want, ask for what you want.

– When you hit a goal, speak up! Don’t wait to get noticed.

– Pursue new skills relentlessly. Change jobs after you’ve mastered the current one. Be willing to tack sideways on the career track, or even backward, to pick up key expertise.

– Have a plan:  “I developed a strategic process for my career plan that set the final destination, developed the career track, identified skills to build, took line positions to gain experience, and sought leadership and management training on the job.”  — Denise Morrison, CEO, Campbell Soup