Women had another successful year in 2015. According to the Fortune 500 list, 2015 tied the record set for the highest number of female CEOs in America's largest companies by revenue. Twenty-four women, including Mary Barra of General Motors, Meg Whitman of Hewlett-Packard and Ginny Rometty of IBM, made the list.
Although women make up 45 percent of the labor force and only 5 percent head Fortune 500 companies, women are making greater strides than ever before. For example, in 1998, just one woman led a Fortune 500 company, according to Pew Research Center.
Certain traits could help propel successful women to the top. Here's a look at some of the ways female professionals can overcome professional hurdles and make their mark.
• Be passionate about what you do. Women who maintain passion about their careers are more likely to overcome any challenges and stand out in the workplace. If your profession is not stoking any passion, explore alternate career opportunities.
• Recognize your strengths. Today's professionals are less likely than their predecessors to stick with one company or line of work for their entire working lives. But just because you change jobs or career paths does not mean your past experience is useless. Successful women know what they do best, whether it's public speaking, writing or making sales pitches. Apply those strengths when looking for a new job or career.
• Know when to ask for help. Even the most accomplished women have limitations. Asking for help when you need it can help you overcome those limitations. To be good at what you do, you first have to learn from others. Sometimes the smartest way to overcome an obstacle is having several hands on deck to provide a boost. Thinking that the work is better left to you alone could be a mistake. Enlist help when you need it and never hesitate to ask for another perspective.
• Make time for exercise. A sluggish body can make for a sluggish mind. Successful people need to be sharp, and exercise can help them maintain their mental focus. According to John J. Ratey, Ph.D., a clinical associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, muscles send hormones rushing to the brain where they mix with a substance called brain-derived neurotrophic factor, or BDNF. BDNF plays a role in brain cell growth and learning. Without it, brains can't absorb new information or grow and learn. Exercise also helps relieve stress, which can make resolutions easier to see and make tasks less overwhelming.
• Go easy on yourself. While many successful people strive for perfection, achieving perfection is unlikely, if not impossible. Successful people often admit to being their own worst critics, but don't beat yourself up if you endure some trial and error. Mistakes can be a great teacher, so use any you make to your advantage.
• Don't be afraid to take risks. Successful women are not afraid to take risks. Many may have decided they don't fit a specific mold and want to affect change. However, calculated risks are different from reckless decisions, and it is important to recognize the difference. A calculated risk may involve starting your own business after learning the ropes in a specific field and testing the waters. Reckless behavior would be opening that business with no relevant experience.