Gender diversity remains a contentious topic in the modern workforce, especially in leadership roles. Although women have put in a lot of work to get where they are, many still struggle to be recognized as the smart and equally capable leaders they are.
"The gender pay gap, occupational segregation, unequal distribution of household labor and an increasingly apparent lack of political representation are all very real issues," said Katie Ann Rosen Kitchens, co-founder and editor-in-chief at FabFitFun.
According to a 2015 Women in the Workplace study, for every 100 women promoted to manager, 130 men are promoted. As a result, fewer women end up on the path of leadership, the report said.
"It is my experience that women are held to higher standards than men and need to do more to prove themselves," said Soulaima Gourani, an author and lecturer. "Prejudice can be a contributory factor when fewer women than men take control of their career. Some food for thought is that in 2016, women only make a small percent of the board members in listed companies."
"There is a persistent stereotype about a woman's role, and I think that plays into something as high level as the presidency all the way to any woman trying to reach her highest level of career," Rosen Kitchens added.
It's important for women to recognize their leadership potential and embrace their unique perspectives and leadership styles. Based on advice from leadership experts, here are three steps that current and aspiring female leaders can take to blaze a trail for career success. [See Related Story: 6 Challenges Women Entrepreneurs Face (and How to Overcome Them)]
Overcoming a challenge is satisfying, undeniable proof that you can weather a storm. It's important to acknowledge that your career will not always be smooth sailing, said Frances Albán, CEO of Albán Communications.
"Adversity really does make you stronger," Albán said. "It builds character and resilience. "The key is to not let your ego interfere with your ability to stay afloat during hard times."
The challenges may come in many forms — you may have to take a client or project you feel you have outgrown, learn a new skill or ask someone above you for help. But stay humble and agile, and soon enough, you'll rise above them, Albán said.
It's never too late for women to seek mentorship to help boost their career. A study from Development Dimensions International found that mentoring helps retain the practical experience and wisdom gained from longer-term employees. The exchange of knowledge and experience that informs protégés also helps put mentors in touch with other parts of the organization. Businesses also benefit from their employees' professional development.
"I think mentorship is incredibly important," Rosen Kitchens said. "I have made a real effort to learn from leaders in my industry, and it has really helped me grow. I have learned from both their successes and failures. This kind of knowledge is real power."
Even if you don't have a formal mentor, just having coffee or lunches with people who inspire you can be incredibly helpful, Rosen Kitchens said.
"It's so amazing to be able to pick the brains of successful people in your field," she said. "You want to align yourself with people you respect. It will only help you in the long run."
Give it your all
Above all, working hard and recognizing your own talents will yield success.
"[Building] a successful career ... is like being an athlete," Gourani said. "Find your talent and see your own potential. Take yourself seriously. Make sure your job is at the right company, at the right level and path."
Rosen Kitchens noted that a former boss told her she would never be successful if she tried to make everyone happy. It was jarring to hear, so early on in her career, she eventually realized that her boss was encouraging her to take chances.
"Don't be afraid to stand out, be fearless and don't just lean forward, but plunge ahead," said Rosen Kitchens. "Playing it safe doesn't lead to real success."