There are many ways to advance a career. Some say make a plan and work the plan. Others say it’s mostly luck—being in the right place at the right time. I believe it’s both.

Especially for women, the road upward is not a straight path. Sometimes we take a circuitous route, leaving the workplace to have children and delaying career advancement. At other times, we’d like to go for the executive suite, but are not sure how to get there.

Even with the progress women have made, there’s still a gap in the speed and frequency at which women advance to top jobs. How do we change that? Consider these suggestions:

  • There is no substitute for preparation. If you have the credentials and aspire to a higher level, look around. Who is in the job you want? What training and education does he or she have? Do you understand finance and how the business works? There’s an axiom that “a manager is a manager,” implying managerial skills are portable. Whenever possible, get experience to supplement education so you will be ready when the big opportunity comes.
  • Women are team builders. We can be tough, but we tend to balance toughness with compassion. Use those inherent qualities to leave your mark. Never forget or abandon those who supported you along your journey. Call on associates for advice, and give counsel when asked.
  • Accept assignments out of your comfort zone. Taking risks and learning from failure are important elements of growth.
  • It may seem obvious, but do what your boss asks. You might be surprised at how often this is ignored or rationalized: “He (she) didn’t really mean for me to do that.” “Maybe I misunderstood.” “That’s crazy.” Take that stance at your own peril.
  • Experience “otherness.” It’s human to gravitate toward those who look and think like us, but we lose opportunities for creativity, growth, and enrichment if we surround ourselves with mirror images.
  • Sell, sell, sell! We’re all sales people. In business, everyone must do more with less while keeping customers happy. Show your peers and supervisors that you add value to the product or service … and do it cheerfully.
  • Keep your sense of humor. Be serious about serious matters, but laugh at every opportunity—particularly at yourself. It humanizes you with coworkers, and can help you get through the day!