I recently had the chance to interview a lot of women who made it to the C-Suite. In doing so, I found myself reflecting on how their journey compared to my own. While our industries and personal paths may have been very different, there were some common themes in our rises to the top. Here are the five most prevalent things I’ve observed thus far regarding what women need to do to make it to the C-suite:
Early on, job one is to get noticed and stand out. You won’t get the best mentors or opportunities if nobody at higher levels knows who you are. You need to find a way to differentiate yourself. The most common way is to take smart risks by raising your hand for assignments others won’t or can’t take on—like working on a turnaround project, or in my case, moving to countries few 25-year-old American females wanted to go back in the early 1990s, including Singapore and Russia.
Make a difference
Once you land one of these high-risk/high-reward opportunities, you need to deliver, and you need to ensure people know that you’ve delivered. So, understand early on what it is your organisation defines as “success.” Then, set yourself up to succeed by asking the right people for help and pulling together whatever resources you can get your hands on. Once you’ve got that, you have to go all in. You have to forget about having a plan B this early on in your career and just work your butt off (there’s no way around hard work). But with the right people, a clear, flexible plan, and loads of persistence, I’ve found almost anything is possible.
Ask for what you want
Once your organisation has begun to recognise your unique value (your performance reviews are stellar, people you don’t necessarily even know start seeking you out, others start asking your advice, etc.), you have earned the right to begin to ask for what you want. So, hone your negotiation skills. There is no way to succeed in work or life without becoming a good negotiator, so don’t shy away from this—embrace it. Then, build your case for why what you want is right for you and why it’s good for your employer. You have to do your homework. You have to be clear. You have to set priorities and boundaries (what’s a must-have vs. what’s negotiable). And, you have to be willing to walk away if your non-negotiables aren’t met.
Believe in yourself
We’ve all heard it: Women tend to be less confident in the workplace. We are less likely to raise our hands and we are more likely to apologise, self-denigrate, and publicly second-guess ourselves. All of this erodes not only our self-confidence but the confidence of those around us that we can do the job. So what should you do instead? As one of my former colleagues used to say, “Fake it till you make it.” And while that may sound disingenuous to many, I think it’s largely true. No one ever took a job being 100% certain they could succeed. But lots of men walk into new roles acting as if they are certain. So in this case, we need to learn to act more like men: Stop doubting and just start doing.
Ignore the unfair scrutiny and distractions
While I wish it were otherwise, those of us who have been there know that all the way up the ladder, people are going to look at you differently, treat you differently, say or do inappropriate things, etc. They’re not bad people; they just don’t always recognise the biases they carry. So, be ready for people to criticise your look or style. Be ready for them to question your parenting decisions. Be ready for them to assume things about you that aren’t accurate. Be ready because it’s going to happen. But also remember, to paraphrase one of my favourite Eleanor Roosevelt quotes: It’s not what happens to you that defines you; it’s how you react to it. So, be ready to brush off that which truly doesn’t matter, but also be ready to deal intelligently with those things that simply can’t or shouldn’t be ignored. And trust that you’ll know the difference when it happens.
This article previously appeared on Fortune.