Super Bowl 50 heralded 2016 as the year for women, as the NFL witnessed their arrival in the traditionally masculine world of coaching and refereeing.
While we still have a long way to go, Super Bowl 50 represented a huge step in not only institutionalizing gender equality, but also spreading awareness by making women's rights a trending topic of conversation.
With more organizations following the NFL's example, I'm excited to see more women step into leadership roles. It's a huge step forward to have men by our side, but the job isn't finished yet.
How I Took Control of My Career
Once, I worked with a sexist client who referred to all the women in meetings as "honey" or "doll." I was offended and annoyed, and so were the other women in the room. We ultimately chose to take our business elsewhere.
Early on, I decided I wasn't going to allow my gender to determine my success. Thanks to some amazing mentors and a lot of practice in speaking up, I found myself earning respect and influence by being true to the woman I really am. Gender discrimination exists, but I didn't let it decide the kind of human or professional I was going to be.
Whether you're a budding young professional or a seasoned female leader, the following tips can help you make the most of your feminine contributions to the workplace:
1. Leverage Your Authentic Skills
As women, we have unique skills and talents. We're intuitive and empathetic. We have a knack for problem-solving and understand leading by example. But too many women try to downplay those strengths in favor of more stereotypically masculine traits.
I've seen many women attempt to talk over others or boldly dominate the conversation. Instead of coming off as intelligent and courageous, they become obnoxious and, quite frankly, very rude.
Instead of trying to fit the mold designed for men, embrace the authentic strengths you have. Speak up when it feels right, and listen when you believe it's time to stay quiet. Stay true to who you are.
2. Know It, Show It, and Share It
Women have a reputation of trying to please others, but this habit doesn't allow you to bring your skills to the table. Get to know your business and industry better than anyone else, do the work, and confidently share your opinion.
Odds are you won't see eye to eye with everyone. But that can't stop you from speaking up. Share your thoughts, and lean into the conflict.
[Read more: How I Made Peace with not Being Liked by Everyone]
3. Create a Reputation of Action
After you've done your research, take that knowledge and get to work. Add value to the business, and let your contributions speak to who you are. Look for ways to make a significant impact and create a reputation of thoughtful action.
Others will take note of your achievements and work ethic; however, be careful not to work yourself past a healthy point. You can't provide value if you run yourself into the ground.
4. Secure Supportive Male Mentors
This point is crucial, so pay attention. Having mentors, especially male mentors, is one of the best ways to add more value as an employee. The differing perspectives and encouragement are vital when things get rough.
My father was my first mentor. He taught me the importance of a good work ethic at an early age and bestowed upon me advice I remember to this day: "Sarah, if it were always fun, they wouldn't call it a job." He gave me a solid foundation and never once let me question my abilities as a strong woman.
When I joined Walmart, I was hired by Jay Allen, the senior vice president of corporate affairs. He spent time getting to know me and relentlessly encouraged me to pursue a multifaceted life. He gave me challenging assignments in which I could make a difference and do bold things. Both of these men were instrumental in molding the woman I am today.
5. Be the Woman You Admire
As you gain experience and influence, keep in mind the example you set for women behind you. Are you promoting a healthy work-life balance? Are you exemplifying integrity? Are you perpetuating or destroying the myth of women being the weaker sex?
Take a cue from P&G's Always commercial and become a positive influence. Inspire young women to never buy into the idea that girls can't run or boys can't cry; show them we're all in control of our destiny.
With the world paying attention to women's rights, now is the time to step forward. Staying authentic to who we are as women, speaking up with confidence, and partnering with powerful men will move us all closer to a world of equal treatment.
[Read more: How to be an Indispensable Leader]
Sarah Clark is the president of Mitchell, an award-winning public relations firm that creates real conversations between people, businesses, and brands through strategic insights, customized conversations, and consumer engagement. The agency is headquartered in Fayetteville, Arkansas, with offices in Chicago and New York City.
Ellevate Network is a global women's network: the essential resource for professional women who create, inspire and lead. Together, we #InvestInWomen.