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For women, it can often be intimidating to pursue leadership positions, especially in male-dominated fields. Sadly, sexism in the workplace is a real and complex issue. Gender roles can condition female workers to keep their heads down and work quietly instead of self-advocating and speaking up. In this video, Kristi Ross, co-CEO and president of Tasty Trade, sits down with Acquirent manager Agata Will in Chicago to speak about her experience in finding success as a woman in leadership.

Your Biggest Obstacle: You

As a woman in the workforce, often the biggest obstacle you run into is yourself. Try to get out of your own way by allowing yourself to explore new and unknown areas—you never know what will be a good fit until you try. Ask someone to explain an unfamiliar concept for you. Take on a project you’re not sure how to do and figure it out as you go along. Use all the resources available to you to explore opportunities and make your mark. In the end, nobody is holding you back except for you.

Another large obstacle women face when attempting to climb the corporate ladder is the inclination to keep silent. It’s easy to assume people are thinking the same thing you are, but don’t take that for granted. If you have an idea, share it with someone. That small act of contributing a thought or opinion can set in motion possibilities that are hard to foresee. If someone doesn’t know what you’re thinking, you won’t be able to have interactions with them. Without voicing those ideas, you won’t be able to grow—or get what you need.

Creating opportunities by having a voice is one of the best things you can do as a woman in business. Share opinions and create conversation around your own narrative, little by little. This habit will make you a more active participant in the workplace and in your career, whether you work on an outsourced sales team or at a restaurant. All those great opportunities can turn into obstacles if you don’t actually use your voice and put yourself out there. Overcoming that fear comes from within. And, hard as it may seem, it requires action and engagement on your part.

Starting Out Strong

For young women just starting out in their careers, two key habits to get into are identifying fears and building confidence. Are you not chiming in at meetings because you don’t have anything to contribute? Or is it because you’re nervous about speaking up? Pinpoint the tasks at work that make you feel uncomfortable and examine why that’s the case. Identifying fears and anxieties is the first step to overcoming them, so dig deep and lean into that uncertainty.

Building confidence is something that comes with practice. Once you’ve spoken up in a meeting or volunteered for a challenging task, it becomes much easier to do again. By making choices and trusting your inner compass, you can show your coworkers and superiors that you value and take what you do seriously. When you invest time and energy into a project and aren’t shy about advocating its merits, others will take note. Working hard and staying positive are valuable—do those things as well. But in the end, having a voice and projecting confidence is what earns you a seat at the table.

Cultivating Mentorship

When getting on the path to success, finding a mentor is a pivotal step in the right direction. For Kristi Ross, finding a mentor was a collaborative effort in the workspace. By asking a lot of questions, she got the attention of someone in her workplace who helped lift her up and invite her in to have a seat at the table. Using your voice to advocate for your opinions and ideas can often begin relationships that will pay dividends in years to come. When looking to create opportunities for yourself, it starts with you. At the same time, it’s always helpful to have someone willing to lift you up and sponsor you and allow you to learn and participate in decisions being made.

Having been a mentee from many years, Kristi Ross also acts as a mentor in the Chicago community with a number of younger members of the work force, both men and women. These relationships foster continued growth on both ends and can be cultivated across the span of a career. There’s something to be gained from each and every meeting with a mentor or mentee. At Acquirent, every new member of one of our outsourced sales teams is paired up with a more experienced employee to foster that mentorship process. Both mentors and mentees learn from the mentorship process along the way, making it truly something to be celebrated.