Even in 2016, social inequality is still a major issue in the American workplace. According to the Institute for Women's Policy Research (IWPR), women earn 79 cents to every dollar earned by men as of 2015.
At the intersections of race, class, gender and other backgrounds, the situation is even more dire. The IWPR report found that white men tend to earn more than nearly every other demographic group: for instance, black and Latino women make less than 60 cents to every dollar earned by men. That number decreases further for transgender women of color, reports the Center for American Progress.
This research isn't only a comparison for those in similar positions and job titles, either. The above reports explain how cisgender, heterosexual men dominate administrative roles in the workplace and thus, maintain a steady amount of economic power as an overall demographic.
"[Research by Catalyst] on women in the S&P 500 companies shows that women comprise 45 percent of the total workforce, on average, yet only 25 percent of the senior leader roles," said Marcia Mueller, an executive career coach and the talent development practice leader at the IMPACT Group. "The number of women leaders drops significantly in technology, science and industrial service industries. So the first leadership challenge women may face, is finding an opportunity to be a leader."
Whether there's a leadership role you want at your current company or you're fighting to create your own, here's some inspiring advice to help you navigate your path as a leader from a marginalized background.
Find a mentor early
Mentorship can give any professional a leg up in a career, but entry-level professionals can benefit from having a strong workplace advocate. Although this person doesn't need to be someone within your company, an in-house mentor may be able to connect you with the right people in the organization or industry to further advance your career.
"Find a mentor who will guide and endorse you," said Paula Stephenson, director of marketing at Smoke's Poutinerie. "It's not enough to find someone who will give solid advice. You also need that person to spread good news about you."
Julie Burleson, founder and CEO of Young Chefs Academy, said to look for someone you work with who sets a great example for others. Make the effort to ask this person questions and develop a good relationship, she stressed.
"Seek wisdom and advice from trusted individuals and foster those relationships," added Madison Cork, founder and president of Cork Communications. "Doing so will give you a filtering system for unforeseen complications and shed light on your current shortcomings. Mentors ... become your biggest allies when you are ready to step into a new field or position. Share your sincere gratitude with those who are willing to serve in this capacity for you."
Know how to market yourself
Nasty Gal CEO Sophia Amoruso told CNBC that before becoming the entrepreneur she is today, she thought networking was invasive. However, once she met interesting voices and perspectives, she became more engaged with marketing herself to others.
"I've met so many people who are willing to help me out, or give me advice, or introduce me to someone who might be able to give me advice," she said.
Professionals also tend to turn to self-promotion when they're looking for a new business opportunity or position. However, networking within your current company is often overlooked.
"At work, you should develop a team of colleagues and allies — the people you can count on to help you navigate your professional journey," Cork said. "From finding the copy machine to navigating complex office politics, a strong network of co-workers will be as important to your journey as your closest friends or most trusted family members are to your world outside the workplace."
Establishing relationships with co-workers can help you even when you leave the company, because they can speak on behalf of your work. Once it comes to time for references and recommendations, it's beneficial to have several colleagues from different levels of a company, rather than only your direct supervisor.
Attend professional conferences
Depending on your prospective industry, you should consider joining professional organizations and networking groups. Often, these organizations offer conferences every year for days at a time. These are great opportunities to network with industry professionals in person. So don't forget to bring your business card and planner to schedule coffee meetings.
Leigh Stein created Out of the Binders, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting women and gender-nonconforming writers of all genres, to fight against gender inequality in the publishing industry. In an interview with the Courier, CEO Stein said, "We do two conferences a year that are professional development conferences. It's not how to write, but really how to make a career and how to make a living out of being a writer, how to fight sexism in the industry."
Some conferences offer fellowships, scholarships, travel stipends and financial aid. However, if you're unable to attend a conference in person, consider watching a live-stream. For this fall's conference in New York City on Oct. 29, BinderCon will host free live-stream events in major cities, such as Chicago and Los Angeles.
Use social media
Social media provides an easy way to connect with other entrepreneurs and professionals. In her book, "Girl Boss" (Portfolio, 2014), Amoruso said, "Technology has given people a platform to become entrepreneurs in a way that wouldn't have been possible in the past."
Social Media Examiner recommends connecting with people you already know and with those you want to establish professional relationships with in the future. Creating a new Twitter account or rebranding your existing one is a good time to pull out any business cards you might have from educators and other connections in your industry. At the same time, consider following entrepreneurs and professionals you admire in your prospective field. You might be able to grab a connection by replying to or retweeting their tweet.
Additional reporting by Nicole Taylor. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous Business News Daily article.