There’s no doubt a woman can do a job just as well as any man, but women are still facing the challenge of under-representation, particularly in leadership roles. In 2020, women held just 12% of executive leadership roles with profit and loss responsibility within the ASX Top 200, according to a Chief Executive Women census.

While positive structural changes are happening in the workplace to increase the representation of women, there are also significant steps females aspiring for leadership can take to accelerate their career journey.

Whether you’re a female graduate taking your first career steps, returning to the workforce after taking a career break to focus on your family, or simply an aspirational professional ready for the next stage of their career development, informed professional choices can supercharge your profile and create stronger pipeline for female leaders following in your path.

Here are ten steps you can take today to accelerate your career.

1. Understand your goals

Be honest with yourself about what you really want from your career. Yes, a C-suite role can be a goal worth working towards but are you prepared to put in the long hours and wear the responsibility that goes hand in hand with senior leadership? Alternatively, does leadership look like mentoring a specific team or taking ownership of the development of specific skills within the company?

Assess what you aspire to achieve in your career, and devote yourself to this path.

2. Draw up a career plan

Your career is too important to leave to chance, and simply hoping it will all work out makes it unlikely that you will arrive at your career destination. All journeys work best when there is a roadmap to follow, so map out a blueprint that outlines how you plan to reach the top of your organization or specialize in a specific industry area.

Stay focused on the end game by keeping key objectives in mind and using this to guide the additional responsibilities or training opportunities you pursue. An aspiring leader and a leader are only separated by a clear career plan and hard work.

3. Review your progress

Make a habit of evaluating your progress towards your goals. Don’t passively wait for workplace reviews to understand how you are tracking.

Self-reflection plays a vital role in understanding what you have done well, what you could have done differently, and where you could improve. Finding a mentor to work with can be a great way of keeping you motivated and inspired on your professional path.

4. Hone your leadership skills

If you choose to further advance in your career, soon your leadership skills will need to shine through. Leadership doesn’t come naturally to everyone, but it is a critical quality to help you forge ahead.

Observe the leadership skills of those around you. Consider tapping into the advice of leaders who you admire and who can share insights and advice. Leverage your strengths and be prepared to work on your weaknesses. Addressing any shortcomings can help you become a more rounded leader, who is equipped to navigate a variety of challenges.

5. Communicate firmly

Effective communication isn’t just about saying what you mean. The way you communicate can be just as important, and can be the difference between coming across meek versus assertive.

Speaking with confidence is a life skill and can take years to master (even for veteran professionals). But the sooner you start, the more likely you will be ready for occasions when sharing your voice matters. Taking active roles in team discussions, negotiating with stakeholders and putting your hand up for presentation opportunities are effective ways to build your communication skills.

6. Be brave

Leadership goes hand in hand with taking risks. It can be tempting to stick to the safest option because of the fear of making a mistake or damaging your professional reputation, but if you’re not open to trying new steps or strategies you are unlikely to achieve growth and innovation.

Of course, risks should be calculated, but taking carefully considered risks can progress your career.

7. Raise your hand

Put yourself forward – not just to be involved in exciting projects – but also to take on those tasks that others may be avoiding.

A strong professional goes the extra mile. By demonstrating that you’re prepared to tackle extra responsibilities, you have an opportunity to showcase your breadth of skills and can-do attitude.

8. Be proud to stand out

By definition, good leaders stand out from the crowd. This may mean there are times when you’re called on to make unpopular decisions, and it can take courage to stand apart from others.

However, working through challenges to prove yourself to your team is often what distinguishes those who build their profile and those whose career plateau.

9. Encourage your team to achieve their best

Developing a career isn’t just about being the best you can be – it can also involve bringing out the best in others. Taking an active interest in the development of your team or fellow colleagues will also help you shine.

Sharing your knowledge and expertise or suggesting training opportunities can set you apart as a professional who your colleagues admire and trust.

10. Develop a strong network

Building a strong network can support your career growth in a variety of ways. It’s an opportunity to learn about what’s happening in your own, and other, industries. It’s a means to stay on top of best practices and the latest innovations. And by discussing the wins and mistakes with others, your network can offer valuable lessons and be a source of inspiration.

To grow your network, check if your company or industry has a focus group. If none exist, consider making a proposal to start one. Your initiative could benefit many other women who are striving to build their careers. If you are reading this and you are yet to join the Commonwealth Businesswomen Network Nigeria, consider this opportunity to stay connected with women from diverse professional background.

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