While statistics show that gender inequality still exists in the professional world on several levels, being a woman has never held me back in my career or made me feel like I was missing opportunities. However, there were important factors that helped me clear hurdles along the way, beginning with my education.

A strong education provides a solid foundation from which to grow in one’s career and the number of degrees earned by women compared to men clearly illustrates that women understand this. My education certainly helped prepare me for the road ahead and shape my career path. But to me, it’s not just about what you achieve in the classroom, it’s how you apply the lessons learned.

Education is an important cornerstone, but growing a career comes from real life experiences. Women should not be afraid to take on a new, challenging role or project. Taking chances gives you the new experiences you can draw on as you continue to build your career.

Another key success factor for me was building a strong professional network and finding trusted mentors to help guide my career. I find that women don’t do enough advocating for themselves. Speak up and be your own advocate. Show the members of your professional network what you have to offer and they too will begin to be an advocate for you.

Many women with families may find it hard to get ahead in their careers. I’ve learned that, as a working mother, it is important to look at the big picture. I have three children and there were periods during my career when my family took precedent over my job and there were times that the job came first. What’s important is that I was able to take care of my responsibilities as a mother, while continuing to make significant contributions at work. It’s a balancing act, and you can’t be afraid to do what works for you, even if you have to take some risks along the way.

I have been very fortunate to work in organizations that recognize the importance of workplace equality, but the reality is that others are not as lucky. Hard work is imperative; however I strongly believe that if you can be your own best advocate, successfully leveraging your education and the relationships you’ve built along the way, you’ll be able to overcome many obstacles.