Let’s face it—as a woman, they odds are most likely stacked against you in your career (and also your personal life). All over the world, on average, women earn about three-fourths of what men do according to a report by catalyst.org. While that figure is much better in the more developed countries, it’s still true that only a small fraction of executive seats at the world’s top companies are filled by women.
These facts hold true for pretty much any field, be it the film industry or the government. Women just aren’t given the same opportunities to grow that men are. However, there’s a lot you can learn from those women who have managed to overcome every hurdle and push on to succeed in their own right.
1. Go the distance
The glass ceiling, gender roles, social constraints—there are a series of walls that may seem insurmountable. If there’s one thing that every successful woman has in common, it’s been the determination to keep on going no matter the odds.
“Whatever women do they must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good. Luckily, this is not difficult.” – Charlotte Whitton, feminist
“Always aim high, work hard, and care deeply about what you believe in. And, when you stumble, keep faith. And, when you're knocked down, get right back up and never listen to anyone who says you can't or shouldn't go on.” —Hillary Clinton, politician
Man or woman, if you aim to achieve greatness, passion is vital. Pick something that truly excites you and strive to excel at it. The passion rule, however, applies doubly for women—drawing on the previous point, there’s no way you can maintain your focus and efforts if you aren’t passionate about your work.
“Passion is energy. Feel the power that comes from focusing on what excites you.” – Oprah Winfrey, TV celebrity, philanthropist
“I did not have the most experience in the industry or the most money, but I cared the most.” —Sara Blakely, founder of Spanx, youngest self-made female billionaire in the US according to Forbes
3. Make yourself heard
All too often, you can end up holding yourself back when you don’t speak your mind. To be fair, in a male-dominated setting, where women’s views are frequently just disregarded, there’s pressure to just shut up and sit down. Don’t let it get to you though—nobody ever got to the top by cowering down.
“A lot of people are afraid to say what they want. That’s why they don’t get what they want.” —Madonna, singer
“The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.” —Alice Walker, writer
4. Balance is an option
This is the tricky one. Can you balance your work and your personal life? This question applies to everyone, but is most often directed at women, given the context of the roles traditionally assigned to women—mother, wife, caretaker of the home, etc. You don’t, however, have to be any of these things if you don’t want to any more than a man does. But then, there’s nothing wrong if you do either. It will be tough, splitting your time between multiple roles, and there’s no easy blueprint to follow. But that hasn’t stopped many of the world’s most successful women, and it doesn’t have to stop you.
“I was surrounded by plenty of working moms, including my grandmother, a pediatrician, and my mother, a writer and producer…I just thought, Well, that’s what moms do. But I’m finding out that it’s complicated. It requires a lot of thought and planning and I haven’t figured it out yet.”—Maggie Gyllenhaal, actor
“Any woman who understands the problems of running a home will be nearer to understanding the problems of running a country.” —Margaret Thatcher, former prime minister of Britain
5. Always try to improve
It’s all too easy to become complacent once you’ve achieved a modicum of success. No matter what it is you do and how far you’ve come, rest on your laurels only if you want to be left by the side of the road (or, you know, when you retire).
“I learned to always take on things I’d never done before. Growth and comfort do not coexist.” —Virginia Rometty, CEO, IBM
“No matter how senior you get in an organization, no matter how well you’re perceived to be doing, your job is never done.” —Abigail Johnson, president and CEO, Fidelity Investments