There’s no doubt a woman can do a job just as well as any man, but women are still facing the challenge of under-representation, particularly in leadership roles.

While positive changes are happening in the workplace to increase the representation of women, women need to take the time to think about their career journey. Whether you’re a female graduate taking your first career steps, a working mother, or you’re returning to the workforce after taking a career break to focus on your family, making the right career choices is still important to building your profile and expertise.

Here are ten steps you can take today to accelerate your career.

1. Understand your goals

Be honest with yourself about what you really want from your career. Yes, a C-suite role can be a goal worth working towards but are you prepared to put in the long hours and wear the responsibility that goes hand in hand with senior leadership?

2. Draw up a career plan

Your career is too important to leave to chance, and simply hoping it will all work out makes it unlikely that you will arrive at your career destination. All journeys work best when there is a roadmap to follow, so map out a blueprint that outlines how you plan to reach the top of your organisation or specialise in a specific industry area.

Have your key objectives in mind when taking on more responsibilities or applying for training courses. It can help you stay focused on the end game.

3. Review your progress

Make a habit of evaluating your progress towards your goals. Don’t passively wait for workplace reviews to understand how you are tracking.

Self-reflection plays a vital role in understanding what you have done well, what you could have done differently, and where you could improve. Finding a mentor to work with can be a great way of keeping you motivated and inspired on your professional path.

4. Hone your leadership skills

If you choose to further advance in your career, soon your leadership skills will need to shine through. Leadership doesn’t come naturally to everyone, but it is a critical quality to help you forge ahead.

Observe the leadership skills of those around you. Consider tapping into the advice of leaders who you admire and who can share insights and advice. Leverage your strengths and be prepared to work on your weaknesses. Addressing any shortcomings can help you become a more rounded leader, who is equipped to navigate a variety of challenges.

5. Communicate firmly

Effective communication isn’t just about saying what you mean. The way you communicate can be just as important, and can be the difference between coming across meek versus assertive.

Speaking with confidence is a life skill and can take years to master (even for veteran professionals). But the sooner you start, the more likely you will be ready for occasions when sharing your voice matters. Taking active roles in team discussions, negotiating with stakeholders and putting your hand up for presentation opportunities are effective ways to build your communication skills.

6. Be brave

Leadership goes hand in hand with taking risks. It can be tempting to stick to the safest option because of the fear of making a mistake or damaging your professional reputation, but if you’re not open to trying new steps or strategies you are unlikely to achieve growth and innovation.

Of course, risks should be calculated, but taking carefully considered risks can progress your career.

7. Raise your hand

Put yourself forward – not just to be involved in exciting projects – but also to take on those tasks that others may be avoiding.

A strong professional goes the extra mile. By demonstrating that you’re prepared to tackle extra responsibilities, you have an opportunity to showcase your breadth of skills and can-do attitude.

8. Be proud to stand out

By definition, good leaders stand out from the crowd. This may mean there are times when you’re called on to make unpopular decisions, and it can take courage to stand apart from others.

However, working through challenges to prove yourself to your team is often what distinguishes those who build their profile and those whose career plateau.

9. Encourage your team to achieve their best

Developing a career isn’t just about being the best you can be – it can also involve bringing out the best in others. Taking an active interest in the development of your team or fellow colleagues will also help you shine.

Sharing your knowledge and expertise or suggesting training opportunities can set you apart as a professional who your colleagues admire and trust.

10. Develop a strong network

Building a strong network can support your career growth in a variety of ways. It’s an opportunity to learn about what’s happening in your own, and other, industries. It’s a means to stay on top of best practices and the latest innovations. And by discussing the wins and mistakes with others, your network can offer valuable lessons and be a source of inspiration.

To grow your network, check if your company or industry have a focus group. If none exist, consider making a proposal to start one. Your initiative could benefit many other women who are striving to build their careers.

The future of your career

Cracking the glass ceiling can be challenging, but it is not impossible.

The wealth of successful women around the globe who have reached the pinnacle of their careers are a testimony to this.

Harness your inner strength to achieve your goals, but execute those goals with grace, and you will be a source of inspiration to other women.