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9 Ways to Become a Woman Influencer Close the gender gap one leader at a time.

By Zeynep Ilgaz Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

I'm about to throw some numbers at you, but don't be scared.

There were an estimated 8.3 million women-owned businesses in the United States in 2012, and women earned 60 percent of the master's degrees, according to 2010 testimony by Catalyst to the U.S. Joint Economic Committee. What's more, the number of women-owned firms with $10 million or more in revenue has increased by more than 50 percent in the decade that ended in 2012.

Clearly the business world is no longer a "men's club" and it shouldn't be. Women entered the corporate management world in the late 1980s and have continued to climb the ranks ever since. But unfortunately, the glass ceiling still exists, and women are still facing challenges that men do not when advancing their careers.

In fact, among Fortune 500 companies, women make up less than 3 percent of the C-suite positions and hold roughly only 15 percent of board seats, according to Catalyst. The fallout from this ratio trickles down from the executive and board levels into every area of business and politics.

As leaders and influencers of future generations, women must actively fight the gender gap. And men should help in this battle, too. And for the women of the future to thrive, women today need to start thriving ourselves. Here are nine ways women can become industry influencers:

Related: Microsoft CEO Criticized for Suggesting Women Not Ask for Raises

1. Speak up.

The more women speak up about their ideas, their areas of expertise and leadership, the more normal it will become to hear bold female voices in business. And by speaking up, women encourage the next generation of women to do the same.

2. Take more risks.

No one becomes an influencer by playing it safe, but women at work often fall behind when it comes to risk taking. By leaving that fear of failure on the doormat, someone can push forward as a confident leader and achieve her highest ambitions.

3. Find mentors.

One of the best ways to become a great leader is by learning from others who have been there and done it. A mentor can guide a woman through her career path and might even be able to open doors that could lead to senior leadership positions.

4. Network.

To meet those invaluable mentors, new friends, other inspiring women and potential brand ambassadors, give networking a go. Attend social events, women's networking groups and conferences of particular industries. That business card picked up at an event could represent a new opportunity just waiting to be pursued.

5. Accept feedback.

Whether it's from colleagues, mentors or friends and family, thoughtful feedback can help guide someone away from mistakes and toward success. A positive and constructive attitude can turn obstacles into opportunities and encourage others to adopt a similar attitude.

6. Be a publicist.

Publicity isn't just for celebrities. By spreading the word and launching ideas with passion and panache, a businesswoman can make herself known, spur on the journey to leadership and show others that they can use their voices, too.

7. Project a professional image.

This doesn't mean trying to look tough or wearing particular garb. It just means that letting inner confidence show. Confidence garners respect, and that's a big step toward becoming a person of influence.

Related: Why It Is Important to Teach Girls About Entrepreneurship

8. Work together.

Strive to create a world where more young women can grow up to be influencers and have their voices heard. Everyone needs to work together, the whole community of men and women. Just as Emma Watson recently urged in her speech as ambassador for the United Nations HeForShe campaign, the time is now.

9. Use your talents.

Some women are great at multitasking and problem solving. These qualities are great tools for leadership positions, so use them.

By working together and using their voices powerfully women can become better leaders -- leaders that young girls can look to and say, "She achieved her goal, so I can achieve mine."

And then maybe it'll be a little bit harder to find those disheartening numbers to illustrate the gender gap. Wouldn't it be nice just to see the good numbers? Or to not see any numbers at all?

Related: You'll Never Guess Where Female Entrepreneurship Is On the Rise (Infographic)

Zeynep Ilgaz

Entrepreneur, Co-Founder and President of Confirm Biosciences and TestCountry

Originally from Turkey, Zeynep Ilgaz and her husband immigrated to the United States with two suitcases and the drive to dive into entrepreneurship. They co-founded Confirm BioSciences and TestCountry in San Diego. Ilgaz serves as president of both. Confirm BioSciences offers service-oriented drug-testing technologies.

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