The Struggles and Strength of Women Leaders

Is it a fact or fallacy that women leaders have unique struggles compared to their male counterparts? Let’s delve into the insightful interview with Dana Mahina, a prominent figure in the corporate world and the woman behind the Work Life Harmonise show and podcast. Dana has spent decades as a coach, speaker, and leadership expert, offering valuable perspectives on the unique struggles faced by female leaders. While her experiences shed light on challenges specific to women, her insights are equally relevant for leaders of all genders. 


Three women discussing - women leaders


Women’s Struggle in the Corporate World

One significant struggle Dana highlights is the persistent lack of equality in corporate environments. Women, especially those of color, often face disparities in pay and opportunities. Dana, acknowledging her own privilege as a white woman, emphasises the importance of being an active ally and encourages women to support each other rather than fall into the trap of comparison. In male-dominated settings, there’s often pressure for women to conform to masculine norms to succeed. 


“I’ve given up on equality”

She shares a personal turning point during the Black Lives Matter movement, where her daughters inspired her to take action for diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) by passing on training opportunities to friends, particularly women of color. This event also inspired her to take action for diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) by deciding to stop doing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) training altogether. She felt it wasn’t right to speak on these topics. Instead, she decided to refer these opportunities to friends, especially women of color. 

The underlying message here is to take action. It’s not enough to turn a blind eye to inequality or pretend it doesn’t exist. We all harbor biases, whether conscious or unconscious. The important thing is to acknowledge them and actively work towards creating a more equitable and inclusive environment. 


Everyone can perform, everyone can belong, and everyone can reach their potential. That’s what I mean when I say inclusion. – Dana Mahina


What can we do to help women achieve equality in the workplace?

Dana shares the impact of a male mentor, Ron, who took the effort to really understand Dana and recognize the challenges she faced. Ron led by example and his actions inspired her to change her behaviour, which also influenced the women on Dana’s team. That was the start of Dana’s journey to achieving a better balance between work and personal life.

In life, not everyone gets the chance to have a mentor, but we can have good leaders in the workplace. As leaders, it’s crucial to see people for who they are, regardless of gender, race, or any other factor. Understanding what drives individuals and recognising their humanity can make a significant difference in how we lead and support them.

As for the younger people entering the corporate world, assessing company culture and aligning values with practices is important. Overlooking cultural factors, like how an organisation deals with inclusivity, can lead to missed opportunities. Dana advises a “trust but verify” approach, akin to the vetting process, where individuals should thoroughly assess not only the company but also the people they will be working with or for, including if they’re in a leadership position.


“It’s not a confrontation, it’s a conversation”

Dana advocates for confronting issues assertively yet non-aggressively, viewing confrontations as conversations aimed at fostering understanding rather than conflict. While many people shy away from confrontation and strive for harmony, women should be more comfortable with addressing issues assertively yet non-aggressively. However, achieving this balance requires considerable time, effort, energy, and nuance. 

For those who are reluctant to confront, Dana reassures them that it’s more about engaging in dialogue than initiating conflict. She suggests using what she calls the “six-socratic questions” (who, what, where, when, why, and how) to open up discussions without putting the other person on the defensive. By starting with a question, it fosters curiosity and openness, leading to more productive dialogue and less tension.


A little bit of time and getting to know people, not just at work or not just about them professionally, the whole person, it goes such a long way and it also sends a message it’s okay to reveal yourself, to be your full, true, authentic self, and today’s culture is desperate for that for sure. – Dana Mahina


What do women bring to an organisation?

Dana believes that women bring unique strengths to organisations, such as intuition and emotional intelligence. She references Dan Pink’s book “A Whole New Mind,” which explores the importance of combining logical thinking with creativity in today’s work environment. Historically, women’s roles as gatherers may have contributed to this intuition, although in modern times, women often juggle multiple responsibilities and have a multidimensional nature. However, she acknowledges that men can also possess these qualities.

Women are disrupting traditional corporate structures by challenging norms and making space for new opportunities. They empower themselves by pursuing side hustles, launching businesses, and actively choosing paths that align with their values. And witnessing this empowerment both as a coach and observer is something Dana finds deeply inspiring. However, despite progress, Dana acknowledges the persistence of patriarchal structures hindering women’s empowerment. Meaningful change really requires a more diverse mix of individuals with high emotional intelligence, intuition, and representation from various backgrounds, including women of color and men of color.


Have you read: A Whole New Mind by Dan Pink


Women Leaders Lead By Example

Dana’s latest book, titled “B Is for Burnout, not Bitch – From Overdrive to Thrive,” takes readers through the alphabet, each chapter focusing on a different concept related to overcoming burnout and achieving success. From authenticity to confidence, and ultimately to self-love, Dana offers practical tools, personal stories, scientific insights, and inspirational quotes to guide women away from the cycle of overwork and burnout.

Although primarily aimed at women, Dana acknowledges that men can also benefit from the book’s insights. Having shared excerpts with her husband, she realized that men, too, could find value in learning about these topics. However, the book is a dedicated resource for women who aspire to lead fulfilling and productive lives without succumbing to burnout.

Her goal is to empower women to recognise the signs of burnout, prevent it from occurring, and recover if they’ve experienced it before. By sharing her own journey and strategies for success, she hopes to equip readers with the tools needed to thrive in both their personal and professional lives.


Have you read: B Is for Burnout, not Bitch – From Overdrive to Thrive by Dana Mahina


Dana attributes her growth to learning from mistakes, curiosity, and personal transformation. She emphasises the importance of leading by example, prioritising facts, and recognising the strengths of others in fostering effective leadership.

What is your takeaway from this blog? Let us know in the comments.

You can also listen to the full The Struggles and Strength of Women Leaders podcast episode here or watch the interview on YouTube.

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