May 19, 2020

Five challenges women leaders are more likely to face

women leaders
Women in Leadership
Top Tips
Claire Dale and Patricia Peyto
6 min
Five challenges women leaders are more likely to face

Claire Dale and Patricia Peyton Fortune 100 and FTSE 100 leadership coaches and authors of Physical Intelligence, discuss five challenges women leaders face.

While women have clearly made significant gains, any list of challenges faced by women leaders must acknowledge the gender gap. Women still typically have to work harder and perform better than their male colleagues in order to be viewed as equally competent. In addition:  1) US women do almost 2x more unpaid care work than men, and 2) there is one incident of sexual violence for every two women in the US.  Viewing challenges women leaders face through that lens, helps clarify why women struggle to shatter that glass ceiling and bring other woman along.  

Addressing the gender gap is a complex sociological issue that requires time and sustained effort.  In the meantime, women leaders face other challenges that are wholly within our power to address – by using our brains and bodies – the answer is rooted in neuroscience. 

You’re familiar with IQ and EQ.  How about Physical Intelligence? Hundreds of chemicals (hormones and neurotransmitters) racing through our bloodstream and nervous system dictate how we think, feel, speak and behave.  Yet, most of us operate largely at the mercy of those chemicals, experiencing thoughts, reactions and emotions without realizing that we can strategically influence them.  Physical Intelligence is the ability to detect and actively manage the balance of certain key chemicals through how we breathe, move, think, and communicate in order to stress less, achieve more, and live (and work) more happily. Simple techniques, applied consistently, have transformed countless lives, while increasing business results. 

Of the 100 Physical Intelligence techniques – these will help address typical challenges women leaders face:

Strength: being assertive without being aggressive, developing vocal strength (not stridency) and holding your ground

Women start out at a disadvantage because they have less testosterone and are more sensitive to changes in testosterone levels than men – levels that drop even further during menopause. Testosterone (along with dopamine, the reward chemical) drives our desire to achieve and compete, enables risk tolerance and confidence and is vital for feeling empowered. To compensate:

  • Perfect your posture.  It impacts how we and others feel and perceive us.  With good posture we feel empowered, stronger, more present, and at ease.  Open, expansive posture projects confidence and indicates leadership; (be careful not to take over the space). 

  • Paced breathing helps us manage our response to demanding situations.  Use it for at least 10 minutes daily to release acetylcholine (counteracting adrenaline):  breathe diaphragmatically, smoothly and regularly, measuring the length of each in- and out-breath; find comfortable counts for you (in and out counts can be different).  

  • Strengthen your voice.  Vocal strength often emerges naturally with open expansive body posture and paced breathing. A strong voice reflects authority and builds the highest levels of belief and confidence in others; people tend to listen to our ideas and trust our opinions. Cortisol constricts vocal cords when we’re most in need of vocal strength.  If stressed, immediately start paced breathing.

Centering and grounding yourself puts things in perspective, boosting confidence and inner strength.  Feel the weight of your body on the ground/in the chair – rooted rather than ‘uptight’. Continue paced breathing, release tension throughout your body; place your center of mass where you need it (move your body forwards, sideways, and backwards to find the optimal point); breathe down to below the navel (to your center of gravity), and focus.  Repeat three times: Balance, Breathe, Focus.


Flexibility: managing tension and freeing your mind for more creativity and innovation

Research shows that low reward, role ambiguity, and job future ambiguity manifest as neck, shoulder, elbow, forearm, hand/wrist complaints. Taking on too much responsibility and role conflict appear as lower back complaints. Guilt (e.g., associated with working full-time while children are still young) can create stomach complaints.  Improving physical flexibility lowers cortisol and improves mental and emotional flexibility, loosening the grip of those stressors. Raising self-awareness, moving more and understanding the underlying causes help prevent complaints from becoming serious conditions – which supports your ability to think more creatively and drive innovation, crucial for leadership success. Enhancing Flexibility involves reducing cortisol and boosting oxytocin, dopamine, DHEA and serotonin by doing the following:

  • Stretch to release ‘hot spots’ where you hold tension.

  • Shake out your arms and legs.

  • Twist at the waist 2x/day.

  • Spark creativity by taking a walk or looking at beautiful objects in art/nature.

  • Promote convergent and divergent thinking across teams.

Resilience: bouncing back from adversity and increasing comfort with conflict

Women are programmed to try to do it all, and often end up depleting their energy reserves.  Being held to a different standard can take a toll. Resilience for female leaders is about reducing longer-term fear levels (and cortisol), pressing forward repeatedly despite setbacks, (e.g., when you hit your head on that glass ceiling again), and adopting an optimistic, learning mindset.  Women are not predisposed to being comfortable with conflict (neither are men but evidence suggests it’s particularly true of women), whether it’s a difficult work conversation or conflicts at home. Dealing with disappointment and conflict is draining. Build resilience before you need it. 

  • Write the word ‘REST’ (Retreat, Eat [healthy], Sleep and Treat) in blocks in your calendar; guard those windows.

  • Revisit a setback or mistake you’ve made. Use visualization to zoom in and see a ‘close-up’ of yourself. Remember the intensity of feelings at the time. Zoom out, hover in wide angle over the scene, including contributing elements past and present. Know that you’re not alone and others have experienced/are experiencing similar situations. If you’re dwelling on something, talk to someone you trust about it, then commit to letting it go.

  • Leverage your Strength, Flexibility, and Resilience reserves to have those 'courageous conversations'.

Endurance: establishing a strategic track record of success

Indra Nooyi, former CEO of Pepsi, advises women to "Embrace tough assignments" because “nobody notices when you do an easy job well...better to challenge yourself by…working to solve problems that no one else has been able to solve...(to) become a trusted leader." That takes strength and endurance, as does simply balancing a leadership role with commitments at home.

  • Set daily and long-term goals and milestones.  Visualize achieving them. To generate energy to drive forward, firm/flex your muscles; say out loud, “Come on!  You can do this!” (boosts dopamine). Celebrate achieving each milestone (boosts dopamine and testosterone).

After enhancing your own Strength, Flexibility, Resilience and Endurance, start developing physically intelligent teams and organizations:

  • Strength:  Have the courage of your convictions – lobby for incremental gains in your own workplace.

  • Flexibility:  Engage in divergent and convergent thinking, sparking creativity and identifying innovative solutions to gender parity.

  • Resilience:  Rebound from inevitable disappointments and support the success of other women.

  • Endurance:  Keep gender parity top of mind by focusing on the long game, establishing your own interim milestones (e.g., hiring, promoting, advocating for, mentoring women).

When you succeed, the world will be better for it.

For more information on business topics in the United States, please take a look at the latest edition of Business Chief USA.

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Jun 13, 2021

Marketing matters: from IBM to Kyndryl

Kate Birch
5 min
Former CMO for IBM Americas Maria Bartolome Winans was recently named CMO for Kyndryl. Maria talks about her new role and her leadership style

Former Chief Marketing Officer for IBM Americas, and an IBM veteran of more than 25 years, Maria Bartolome Winans was recently named CMO for Kyndryl.

Prior to joining Kyndryl as Chief Marketing Officer, Maria had a 25-year career at IBM, most recently as the tech giant’s CMO where she oversaw all marketing professionals and activities across North America, Canada and Latin America. She has held senior global marketing positions in a variety of disciplines and business units across IBM, most notably strategic initiatives in Smarter Cities and Watson Customer Engagement, as well as leading teams in services, business analytics, and mobile and industry solutions. She is known for her work with teams to leverage data, analytics and cloud technologies to build deeper engagements with customers and partners.

With a passion for marketing, business and people, and a recognized expert in data-driven marketing and brand engagement, Maria talks to Business Chief about her new role, her leadership style and what success means to her.

You've recently moved from IBM to Kyndryl, joining as CMO. Tell us about this exciting new role?

I’m Chief Marketing Officer for Kyndryl, the independent company that will be created following the separation from IBM of its Managed Infrastructure Services business, expected to occur by the end of 2021. My role is to plan, develop, and execute Kyndryl's marketing and advertising initiatives. This includes building a company culture and brand identity on which we base our marketing and advertising strategy.

We have an amazing opportunity ahead at Kyndryl to create a company brand that will stand apart in the market by leading with our people first. Once we are an independent company, each Kyndryl employee will advance the vital systems that power human progress. Our people are devoted, restless, empathetic, and anticipatory – key qualities needed as we build on existing customer relationships and cultivate new ones. Our people are at the heart of this business and I am deeply hopeful and excited for our future.

What experiences have helped prepare you for this new opportunity?

I’ve had a very rich and diverse career history at IBM that has lasted 25+ years. I started out in sales but landed explored opportunities at IBM in different roles, business units, geographies, and functions. Marketing and business are my passions and I landed on Marketing because it allowed me to utilize both my left and right brain, bringing together art and science. In college, I was no tonly a business major, but an art major. I love marketing because I can leverage my extensive knowledge of business, while also being able to think openly and creatively.

The opportunities I was given during my time at IBM and my natural curiosity have led me to the path I’m on now and there’s no better next career step than a once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity to help launch a company. The core of my role at Kyndryl is to create a culture centered on our people and growing up in my career at IBM has allowed me to see first-hand how to prioritize people and ensure they are at the heart of progress in everything Kyndryl will do.

How would you describe your leadership style?

I believe that people aren't your greatest assets, they are your only assets. My platform and background for leadership has always been grounded in authenticity to who I am and centered on diversity and inclusion. I immigrated to the US from Chile when I was 10 years old and so I know the power and beauty that comes from leaning into what makes you different from other people, and that's what I want every person in my marketing organization to feel – the value in bringing their most authentic self to work every day. The way our employees feel when they show up for themselves authentically is how they will also show up for our customers, and strong relationships drive growth.

I think this is especially true in light of a world forever changed by the pandemic. Living through such an unprecedented time has reinforced that we are all humans. We can't lead or care for one another without empathy and I think leaders everywhere have been reminded of this.

What’s the best leadership advice you’ve received?

When I was growing up as an immigrant in North Carolina, I often wanted to be just like everyone else. But my mother always told me: Be unique, be memorable – you have an authentic view and experience of the world that no one else will ever have, so don't try to be anyone else but you.

What does success look like to you?

I think the concept of success is multi-faceted. From a career perspective, being in a job where you're respected and appreciated, and where you can see how your contributions are providing value by motivating your teams to be better – that's success! From a personal perspective, there is no greater accomplishment than investing in the next generation. I love mentoring younger professionals – they are the future. I want my legacy as a leader to include providing value in work culture, but also in leaving a personal impact on the lives of professionals who will carry the workforce forward. Finding a position in life with a job and company that offers me a chance at all of that is what success looks like to me.

What advice would you give to your younger self just starting out in the industry?

I've always been a naturally curious person and it's easy for me to over-commit to projects that pique my interest. I've learned over years of practice how to manage that, so to my younger self I’d say… prioritize the things that are most important, and then become amazing at those things.

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