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Get ready for more female CEOs says Morgan Stanley's Carla Harris

Janet Yellen's confirmation as chair of the Federal Reserve was historic because no woman has ever served at the helm of the 101-year-old central bank.

Related: Janet Yellen: Focusing on her gender sets a "dangerous precedent" says Heidi Moore

Mary Barra, the newly appointed chief executive of General Motors (GM), has broken barriers in the auto industry as the first female CEO of any major automaker. More women are leading Fortune 500 companies than in previous years -- take for example Marissa Mayer of our parent company Yahoo (YHOO), Meg Whitman of Hewlett-Packard (HPQ), Indra Nooyi of Pepsi (PEP) and Virginia Rometty of IBM (IBM). Sheryl Sandberg, the No. 2 at Facebook (FB), has made it her mission to help more women succeed in male-dominated industries, writing a book and starting an organization to help young women "lean in" and realize their professional goals and aspirations.

There has been some progress for women in the upper echelons of the business world yet women account for just 18% of top leadership positions across all sectors according to Take the Lead, a nonprofit that is committed to helping women attain equal and fair leadership positions by 2025. That percentage has remained relatively unchanged in the past two decades. Moreover, women hold only 17% of Fortune 500 board director seats and under 4% of CEO positions; they also earn 77 cents for every dollar a man earns in the same role.

Carla Harris, a 25-year veteran of Wall Street and chair of the National Women's Business Council, says she is optimistic that women will continue to ascend to the highest levels of management at Fortune 500 companies. Women have to realize that their level of success depends on many factors, the most important being the relationships developed in the early stages of one's career, she explains.

"You can't do it alone on your hard work ethic, experience and intellect," she tells The Daily Ticker.

Related: Morgan Stanley's Carla Harris: I'm very bullish on this market

Harris outlines 10 strategies for thriving in the workplace in her book Expect to Win.

Harris acknowledges that she did not understand the importance of relationships when she began working on the Street. Now, she urges young women to form connections with sponsors -- individuals who will "spend capital on you behind closed doors." Women should also seek out male sponsors as they develop and grow in their professional lives.

Related: Mrs. Moneypenny's career advice for ambitious women

"There was absolutely no question that I needed a sponsor along the way to get to every promotion level," Harris says. "Make sure you're investing in relationships, not just the performance."

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