Build your tribe: Surround ourselves with successful people in the roles we are pursuing. Create a group of mentors to guide and support our personal development. Limit the negative people in our lives and surround ourselves with people that hold us high and accountable.
How does a successful, strong, and powerful woman navigate work, employee relationships, love, and life in a world that still feels uncomfortable with strong women? In this interview series called “Power Women,” we are talking to accomplished women leaders who share their stories and experiences navigating work, love, and life as powerful women.
As a part of this series, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Danielle Cobo.
Danielle has gone from clothes stored in trash bags to leading a team for a Fortune 500 company.
With over 14 years in corporate America, including seven years in leadership roles, Danielle is a highly sought-after career coach. Danielle supports professionals with career acceleration, sales performance, and company culture.
Danielle earned a Bachelor of Arts in Communications with a minor in Psychology from California State University, Fullerton. She is a published author, speaker, host of the “Dream Job with Danielle Cobo” podcast and featured on FOX News, ABC World News, and Good Morning America. Danielle is also a devoted military spouse and mother to 4-year-old twin boys.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood “backstory”?
At the age of 2 years old, my mom kidnapped me from my father. I grew up thinking my father abandoned me and chose another family. I spent most of my life doubting myself. I told myself I wasn’t worthy of unconditional love. I wasn’t smart enough or pretty enough. My mother suffered from bipolar disorder, and most of my upbringing felt like a roller coaster. My mom climbed the corporate ladder in corporate America and led a very successful career on the outside. Behind closed doors, she often suffered from depression and irrationality. At 17 years old, my mom kicked me out of the house, and I spent the second semester of my senior year with my clothes stored in 4 trash bags and living with a variety of friends while working full-time. At a young age, I learned to be resilient and perseverant.
Can you tell us the story about what led you to this particular career path?
In many ways, I aspired to be my mom. She was a single mother, working full time, attending college to achieve her bachelor’s degree, and raised a 5-year-old, all at the same. I watched her career flourished in corporate America. Her career was in pharmaceutical sales, and she was highly successful, earning multiple top performers awards. She broke through the glass ceiling as a female in a leadership position in the ’90s. I always had a passion for sales and started at 16 years in retail sales, then transitioned into the restaurant industry to spend 15 years in medical sales.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
A pivotal moment in my career was interviewing for a sales representative role, and during the interview, the hiring manager asked, “Have you considered management?” I had no direct management experience and was new to the organization. The interview for the leadership role included a three-hour presentation with six of the executive leadership team. I learned sometimes others believe in us before we believe in ourselves. To say “yes” to opportunities and learn as we go.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
- Perseverance: Our biggest challenges are our greatest strengths. The obstacles we overcome in life shape us into who we are today. I believe every challenge is an opportunity to lean into discomfort, stretch, and grow. I think when we lean into discomfort, that’s when we grow the most. I’ve experienced success and failures throughout my career. I always learn, grow, and persevere.
- Resilience: I’ve experienced challenges throughout my life, like many of us have. Resiliency has helped me in both my personal and professional life. Throughout my career, I’ve changed jobs and roles. While work for companies, I experienced change management and corporate restructuring. Resiliency gives us the ability to withstand adversity and bounce back stronger.
- Passion: The reality is we spend more time at work than we do at home. We must know our “why” and pursue our passion. Our vision in life evolves over time and through life experiences. Check-in with ourselves frequently and ask, “Am I passionate about what I am doing today?” If we answer “no,” then write down what makes us happy and create the job and life we want.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. The premise of this series assumes that our society still feels uncomfortable with strong women. Why do you think this is so?
With anything in life, society is resistant to change. Until 1960, when women entered the workforce, some generations were still stuck in the past. As new generations enter the workforce, the mindset will evolve, and women will continue to break the glass ceiling. When the “normal” becomes a balanced workforce, then we will see a shift in comfortability.
Without saying any names, can you share a story from your own experience that illustrates this idea?
I recently experienced a man that spoke over and interrupted people, controlled conversations, and took over meetings. He publicly tried to humiliate, shame, reprimand, and bash women in the group. In a meeting in front of our peers, he told one woman she was not a leader, lacked focused, and was aloof. He told me I was disengaged, not a leader or team player, and late on tasks. Several of the examples he provided were inaccurate, and I felt my integrity was challenged in front of my peers. I was grateful one of our team members stepped in and said, “Danielle is a supportive and engaged leader.” He believed he was holding people accountable; however, he was chauvinistic and disrespectful to the women in our group. In a call with the men, he said, “there is too much female energy in our group, and we need to stick together.” In addition, he sent me a private text, “I truly hope one of these days you are not triggered by me. Until then, I will have at it.” My experience is that he is insecure and threatened by a strong woman so that he would lash out.
What should a powerful woman do in a context where she feels that people are uneasy around her?
Be honest, authentic, and transparent. Vulnerability is an opportunity to deepen our connections with others.
What do we need to do as a society to change the unease around powerful women?
To change the unease around powerful women, we need to shift the negative mindset that powerful women don’t need a man. I acknowledge there is a lot of women who can do own their own. We also benefit from diversity in the workforce. Women in decision-making roles support inclusion and company culture.
In my own experience, I have observed that often women have to endure ridiculous or uncomfortable situations to achieve success that men don’t have to endure. Do you have a story like this from your own experience? Can you share it with us?
Earlier in my career, I worked in a male-dominated industry. Among the 100+ sales representatives, I was one of seven female sales representatives. I wanted to fit in and be included in the “Circle of Trust.” Frequently, the men put me in several uncomfortable situations. On President’s trip, I met the wives of my male co-workers; however, on business trips, the men brought their mistresses around. On one end, my initial friendship was with my male co-workers; however, I believe infidelity is among the most disrespectful acts you can do in a marriage. I acknowledge cheating is not gendered specific. In other situations, male customers proposition me to go on dates with them to earn their business. Whether with a co-worker or customer, I committed myself early in my career to not mix business and pleasure.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women leaders that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
Have you ever heard “big boys don’t cry?” or “No crying at work?” One of the biggest challenges female leaders face is society’s view of women crying in the workplace as a sign of weakness. We all release emotions differently. Some people get angry, lash out, confirmational, or disengaged. At the same time, others cry to release their emotion. In a study by a clinical psychologist, Vingerhoest, Women cry 30 to 64 times a year, whereas men cry just 6 to 17 times per year. Women are more likely to cry, and many men view crying as a sign of weakness.
Women also face career assumptions post-kids. When I became pregnant with twins, people asked me, “Are you planning on returning to work?” or “Are you going to find a job with less travel?” My husband infrequently receives these types of questions. While interviewing for an internal position, I was surprised when the male hiring manager asked me, “How are you going to do this job with kids?” I was more than qualified for the position. My tenure included five years, and my region spanned across five states. I had a proven track record of success, leading the historically lowest-ranked team to #1 in the nation. The position was a lateral move, and the travel would reduce from five states down to one state.
Let’s now shift our discussion to a slightly different direction. This is a question that nearly everyone with a job has to contend with. Was it difficult to fit your personal and family life into your business and career? For the benefit of our readers, can you articulate precisely what the struggle was?
Yes, like many of us, our life changes when we become parents. My boys were born six weeks premature; as a result, their immune systems were compromised, and frequently sick. In 2019, my husband served a year deployment, our twins were 1.5 years old, and I led a team for a Fortune 500 company with 60% overnight travel. It was a struggle working during the day and caring for sick kids throughout the night. Often, my boys required breathing treatments every 4 hours throughout the night- I was exhausted!
What was a tipping point that helped you achieve a greater balance or greater equilibrium between your work life and personal life? What did you do to reach this equilibrium?
The tipping point for me to create a life of balance at home and work was preparing for my husband’s deployment. I knew it would be challenging juggling work and kids. Before his deployment, I dedicated time to research how to create a morning routine and create balance in my life. I shifted my mind from “I can’t” to “I can approach life one day at a time,” from “I have to” to “I get to.” I created a morning routine enjoying breakfast with my kids and brought toys in the bathroom while getting ready. After work, my boys and I transition from work to nighttime routine by enjoying a walk together. At night, I prepared for the next day. On the weekends, I meal prepped for the week. Furthermore, household chores became a family event. We gardened side-by-side, and grocery shopping was an opportunity to practice colors and counting- anything to make tasks feel like fun adventures.
I work in the beauty tech industry, so I am very interested to hear your philosophy or perspective about beauty. In your role as a powerful woman and leader, how much emphasis do you place on your appearance? Do you see beauty as something that is superficial, or is it something that has inherent value for a leader in a public context? Can you explain what you mean?
I believe the most beautiful aspect of a woman is confidence. I tell my boys to find a confident, beautiful woman inside and out.
When you believe in yourself, others will believe in you. I dress the way I want to feel. If I want to feel sporty, I throw on a pair of leggings, workout top, and ball cap. If I want to feel sexy, I slip into a form-fitting dress and heels. If I want to feel powerful, I put on a power suit. I love dressing up and playing with make-up. I appreciate how aging has helped me gain confidence within myself, and I feel confident rocking my natural beauty. I invest in facials, massages, lasers, and injectables. I don’t believe in changing our appearance; I think in replenishing the volume we lose as we age.
How is this similar or different for men?
I believe it depends on the person. Some men and women dress up and invest in aesthetic treatments, while other men and women don’t. According to the latest statistics published by the American Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (ASAPS), 8.9 percent of all those undergoing non-surgical aesthetic procedures last year were men, compared to more than 91.1 percent women. I’ve found that men are scared to do aesthetic treatments because they don’t want to look like they’ve had work done. The reality is neurotoxins smooth wrinkles and provide a rested and youthful look- not to make anyone look different.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your opinion and experience, what are the “Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Powerful Woman?” (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Shift your mind from self-doubt to confidence: When my husband shared with me he was deploying, I almost quit my job. I doubted myself whether I could balance overnight travel and kids. I shifted my mind from self-doubt to taking life one day at a time.
- Set Boundaries: Our time is our most valuable asset. Setting boundaries is essential for our mental wellbeing and earning the respect of others. Learn to say “yes” while also setting boundaries. If we are unable to attend an event, we can say, “Thanks for the invitation; I have a commitment on that day.” If a coworker requests your support with a project and you don’t have time, you can say, “I am happy to support you with the project, I have a time-sensitive project I am working on now, can we start next week, or can I recommend someone that can support you now?”
- Ask for help: People have a hard time asking for help. Not asking for help is selfish. We are stripping someone the opportunity to experience the positive feeling of “helpers high.” Giving leads to connection and quality relationships. Happiness expert Sonja Lyubomirsky, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Riverside, asked people to perform five acts of kindness each week for six weeks. She found that giving activates lifted participants’ happiness. During my husband’s deployment, it was all hands on deck. My in-laws and nanny helped with weekly overnights. My parents flew in when I was traveling for extended periods.
- Speak-up: Several people assumed I was too busy when my husband was serving overseas. My experience was a decrease in special projects given to me by my company. I could not have said anything or speak-up and provide a perspective that assumptions can be departmental to personal development and company culture. I approached my manager and requested to get involved in special projects. I enjoy feeling valued and believe special projects accelerate career development. Women often feel talking about their accomplishments is narcist; however, men have no problem sharing their achievements. For women to thrive in their careers, we get to talk about our successes and failures. If we want something in life, we get to speak up!
- Build your tribe: Surround ourselves with successful people in the roles we are pursuing. Create a group of mentors to guide and support our personal development. Limit the negative people in our lives and surround ourselves with people that hold us high and accountable.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
I would like to have a private conversation with Valorie Burton. Her book “Successful Women Speak Differently” helped amplify my voice and create my seat at the decision maker’s table. Valorie’s message is powerful, and I want the listeners of my podcast “Dream Job with Danielle Cobo” to hear her nine habits that build confidence, courage, and influence.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.