It may be the 21st century, but women decrease in number among their peers advancing from entry-level slots to executive and board positions. A new report from The Korn/Ferry Institute offers strategies that can be useful in overcoming this sobering statistic. Top on the list: Think about where you’re going.

“Unless you gain insight and build a realistic picture of the destination role, whether that’s VP of marketing or CEO, you will be ill prepared for what awaits you,” Korn-Ferry summarizes in “Career Playbook: Practical Tips For Women In Leadership.”

Korn/Ferry recommends that women consult with people in those destination roles, and “seek out individuals knowledgeable about the industry or the function; and find informants who can help you identify the next series of experiences to get under your belt so you will be more qualified, better prepared, and have expectations based in reality.”

Why does a glass ceiling for women still exist? The report notes that there are no logical reasons for this dynamic to remain at companies of any size. And yet, according to a previous study cited by Korn/Ferry, women held only 3.6 percent of Fortune 500 CEO positions and 16.1 percent of Fortune 500 board seats in the U.S. as of 2011.

“Based on Korn/Ferry’s research, women are as qualified as men to lead organizations in top executive roles,” the report states. “They’re skills tend to be even stronger, and their leadership and decision styles well aligned to the best-in-class profile for C-level executive roles.” That said, the report notes that women and men use different leadership styles (i.e. women place more emphasis on stimulating work/friendly atmosphere, men prefer broad influence), and that women face higher standards than men. They also lack high-visibility experiences that male executives obtain “that prepare them for executive positions,” the report noted.

Still, the data from various research shows “a more balanced representation of women in top leadership positions is good for business” and can lead to better financial results, Korn/Ferry said.

Korn/Ferry’s report offers a number of observations and strategies to help female executives navigate through the politics and office environments that help perpetuate the glass ceiling.

Beyond thinking about where you’re going, Korn/Ferry’s recommendations for women in the workplace include:

Find advocates and mentors. The report argues that women struggle to promote themselves and highlight their own skills and achievements. And that’s where this can help.

“You need to be clear about what you want, understand your strengths, know what excites you about work, and be ready to make things happen for yourself. These are qualities that mentors, advocates and sponsors look for when they speak up for someone [on which] they are taking a risk,” Korn/Ferry writes.

Take the risk, get the experience. Women with goals of advancing in the workplace should embrace assignments and responsibilities that are both hard and uncomfortable, Korn/Ferry said, noting that the earlier this can be tackled in a career, the better.

“Explore areas you hadn’t considered before. Volunteer for assignments that offer something new and different even when it is not clear how they will help you,” the Korn/Ferry report states. “When you talk to women who are satisfied with where their careers have ended up, you will hear a common theme … they kept following interesting work and challenging opportunities and … they arrived somewhere they couldn’t have anticipated ahead of time.”

Advocate for yourself. The Korn/Ferry report concludes that it is ideal for women executives on the rise to get comfortable speaking for themselves, asking for what they need, delegating tasks to their team when needed and to set boundaries that allow work that suits both goals and values.

“Make sure that you will be considered for that next job. Build the right skill set, project the proper confidence and develop a voice that shows you can be influential to the business,” the report states.

Korn/Ferry also recommends that women seeking to break through the glass ceiling seek real feedback, let go of perfectionism, and negotiate-wisely.

Source: The Korn/Ferry Institute