Over the next decade, the impact of women will be as significant on the global economy as the billion-plus populations of India and China. I’m glad more women will be stepping up. The old order simply doesn’t work – a mere 4.2 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs are female. So how can more women advance into leadership roles? How can we create new opportunities to succeed?

Much of success comes down to hard work and talent. But there’s a third piece to the puzzle−Strategy. I’ve been in finance and accounting for over 10 years. As a Controller on track to a CFO role, here’s what I’ve found is common among top women in leadership:

Reach and Risk

I believe that change equals opportunity. I made a leap in my career by looking out for news of company changes, then reacting effectively. When I was a staff accountant for a major Internet and cable communications provider, I found out the company was acquiring a regional provider over the next year. I consistently expressed my interest in working on new projects during the transition. Eight months later, I was moved to the integration team charged with working through the acquisition. A year later, I had proved my skills and competency on the new assignment, and I was rewarded with a promotion and pay raise.

When management contemplates how they will handle a change, that’s your time to speak up, show you’re a team player and demonstrate your value. Whether you are a junior or mid-level professional, or already at a senior level, prove your leadership ability by taking on “reach” assignments and opportunities. Men tend to do this naturally, while women often pass up roles for which they don’t think they’re qualified. Calculated risk-taking is essential to getting ahead, and women in leadership roles accept that challenge.

Sponsors are Impactful

A majority of women (62 percent) end up in staff jobs – jobs that don’t lead to an executive or leadership position. To overcome the status-quo, it’s essential to have someone senior in your organization rooting for you. Active champions directly lead to promoting women.

Sponsors come in unlikely forms. The most effective sponsors will not necessarily be part of your function or group, but they will give you broader organizational exposure. For example, if you’re in operations, talk to your marketing department about overall strategy and how you can better implement changes into your area. Meet new folks by introducing yourself in the break room or the elevator.

Also, learn to listen and take advice. If a VP is taking the time to speak with you about the business, make sure to research those points and be well informed. Follow-up and ask questions. It shows that you are interested in what they have to say and will further bind your sponsor’s investment in you.

As we approach the next decade, the impact of women leaders will be powerful. But this is not a time to sit back. We must plan strategically to take advantage of the new opportunities globally. I couldn’t be more excited to see more women in leadership!

What’s worked for you in your career trajectory? Let me know!


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