4 Important Steps Women Can Take Toward Leadership

“Work the hardest and excel at what you do,” Sexton told Business News Daily. “Fight for what you believe is right and have confidence in your ability to succeed despite adversity.”

Modern women have learned that career success is not about adjusting to the male-dominated status quo. It’s about changing that status quo by embracing what makes diverse perspectives unique, and overcoming the doubts that keep you from reaching you full potential.

No matter where you are in your career, follow this advice from successful female business leaders to help you get ahead.

Angie Hicks, co-founder and chief marketing officer of Angie’s List, was an introverted college graduate with aspirations of being an actuary when she was approached about starting the now-national customer-review service.

“My biggest challenge was combating the fact that I was really shy and quiet,” Hicks told Business News Daily at the inaugural American Express OPEN CEO BootCamp in 2013. “In starting a business, you have to get out and talk to people. I was doing door-to-door [subscription] sales, which was the last thing I ever thought I would do.”

Working outside of her comfort zone allowed Hicks to take advantage of opportunities that never would have arisen otherwise. Some women hold themselves back due to their fear of the unknown, but Hicks urges entrepreneurs to take that leap.

“Don’t miss out on opportunities that come your way,” she said. “Put yourself in a position to have those opportunities, know when one is facing you and take it.”

Fear is consistently one of the biggest challenges women say they face in the workplace. These fears, whether it’s about being taken seriously, being inadequate or balancing work and family, often lead to a lack of confidence.

Sabrina Parsons, CEO of Palo Alto Software, said women will try to compensate for these feelings by over-apologizing — a habit that not only betrays their fears, but also shows a tacit acceptance of “the way things are.”

“Women shouldn’t feel the need to apologize for who they are and the skills they bring to the table,” Parsons said. “We need to come together and demand that we are given the flexibility to excel in our jobs. Confidence — and embracing being women, rather than apologizing for being women — is what will help women rise to the next level and climb the corporate ladder.”

Shattering your career inhibitions starts with the right attitude. Marygrace Sexton, CEO of Natalie’s Orchid Island Juice Co., said it’s important to embody self-assurance and professionalism in all that you do.

“From your wardrobe to your attitude, exude confidence,” Sexton said.

Taking risks in your business or career can be intimidating since there is no surefire guarantee of success. However, if you aren’t willing to push yourself — whether it’s in a corporate setting or as an entrepreneur — you’ll never get off the ground.

“You have to be realistic, but you also need blind faith that it’s going to work,” said Mally Roncal, founder and CEO of Mally Beauty. “Get out of your own head, and listen to your gut.”

Many women have felt the effects of the gender gap during their careers, whether it was a pay dispute, a lost promotion or just a snide comment from a co-worker. Even if your work environment champions equality, you probably know people who have faced some kind of discrimination, subtle or not, because of their gender.

It’s difficult to think this way when cases of gender inequality are talked about in the news and on social media every day, but if women want to be viewed as equal in the workplace, they must stand their ground and demand the respect they deserve — and it starts by behaving as if the gap has been closed.

“I have noticed that if you act like there’s equality in the workplace, then there will be,” said Paula Stephenson, director of marketing at Smoke’s Poutinerie.

That’s not to say that people should pretend inequality doesn’t exist. Acknowledging the need for change is important, but more important are your actions and attitudes in the workplace. To this end, Sexton reminded leaders that their gender should never be an excuse to settle or not achieve their goals.