Here's the bad news: Female professionals can do all sorts of proactive things and still lag behind men in terms of career advancement. The good news: one strategy has been shown to help — and that would be tooting your own horn.
The Harvard Business Review reports on research by the international nonprofit Catalyst, which found that men who were more active in networking, seeking high-profile assignments, and the like were more likely to move forward in their careers than men who didn't use such techniques. But the same wasn't true of women — "doing all the right things" didn't necessarily get them the corner office. Prior research by Catalyst also shows that the gender gap in advancement still exists even if you control for factors like taking time off to care for kids. Christine Silva and Nancy Carter of HBR write, "with these most recent findings, yet another myth is busted: the one that says women fail to pursue their career goals as proactively as men. The truth is that women do, but even when they make use of the same strategies, they still don't get as far ahead."
This is depressing news no matter how you slice it, but the study authors did find one technique that was exceptionally effective for women. Silva and Carter write that "the women who did more to make their achievements known advanced further, were more satisfied with their careers, and had greater compensation growth." Translation: promote yourself. This can be tough for women, because more so than men, we are discouraged from bragging. But Catalyst's research shows that bragging might actually get us ahead. This is significant, since women sometimes find themselves in a double bind, expected to be aggressive to get ahead, yet punished for their aggression. Catalyst's research shows that, at least for the women they studied, being aggressive in terms of publicizing their own accomplishments had more benefits than risks.