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 your full potential.
"Once I heard that I shouldn't expose my feelings at work, because this represents weakness, especially coming from a woman," said Mayra Attuy, a marketing head at Oath. "I see emotion, passion and compassion as valuable assets, not things to be ignored or hidden."
The importance of leaving your comfort zone
A commonly cited Hewlett-Packard study on internal hiring practices found that men often apply for a job when they meet 60 percent of the qualifications, but women apply only if they meet 100 percent of them. Reshma Sujani, founder and CEO of Girls Who Code, said that while girls are taught to play it safe, smile pretty and get all A's, boys are taught to play rough and swing high.
"In other words, we're raising our girls to be perfect, and we're raising our boys to be brave," she said in a TED talk. Even when women are ambitious, the socialization of perfection often leads them to risk aversion, Sujani said.
Devoreaux Walton, owner of Distinct Personal Branding, believes success is found outside of one's comfort zone, but is often hindered by the fear of the unknown.
"Every successful entrepreneur and business leader did what they were afraid to do instead of just letting the fear rule in their personal and professional lives," she said.
She recommends the best way to overcome fear is to acknowledge it; recognize it's there, but do it anyway. If you're too rigid, you could miss one of those serendipitous 'aha' moments that could inspire a creative solution or force a different approach.
Angie Hicks, co-founder and chief marketing officer of Angie's List, had to face her fears when she was approached about starting the now-national customer review service as an introverted college graduate.
"My biggest challenge was combating the fact that I was really shy and quiet," said Hicks 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."
Leaving her comfort levels paved the way for Hicks to take advantage of opportunities that never would have arisen otherwise.
"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."
Seeing equality as a reality
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, it's not uncommon to encounter 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. However, 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, said Paula Stephenson, director of marketing at Smoke's Poutinerie.
"I have noticed that if you act like there's equality in the workplace, then there will be," Stephenson said.
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.
"Being a working mom in the corporate world is a daily challenge," Attuy said. Despite the struggle to find balance, Attuy considers her most proud professional moment when she returned from maternity leave. She believes that the fulfillment of her simultaneous personal and career success has made her a stronger marketer.
For women just entering the workforce, Attuy recommends leading by example while being open, supportive and collaborative with others. With advancements like the #MeToo movement, discussions have been ignited, but there are still many barriers to overcome.
"The big challenge is to keep our perspectives top of mind in conversations at the corporate level, and also among family and friends, so the mindset shift can happen," Attuy said. "Be resilient that change will come."
Additional reporting by Nicole Fallon. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.