Own and Celebrate Your Power. Accept all of your parts; the bold parts, the afraid parts, the hurt parts and even the parts that have been shamed. Own what makes you different and unique, love the heck out of it and see how your life transforms. Celebrate how it’s these parts that have given you the superpowers you have today. And celebrate the micro wins — because these steppingstones of small wins provide the fuel and positivity to keep doing the hard things.
Note: This is a republication of my interview with Ming Zhao.
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 a powerful woman.
As a part of this series I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Tosca DiMatteo.
Tosca is a Corporate Whisperer who founded TOSCA Coaching and Consulting after a 20+ year career in marketing working for Fortune 500 companies, including Unilever, Kimberly Clark, Pernod Ricard, Univision and Wegmans Food Markets. Her mission is to fuel a corporate culture revolution by serving organizations and individuals who dare to take courageous action to change their trajectory. Tosca knows firsthand how inner transformation is the catalyst for all change and is using her platform to empower others to drive impact from wherever they are.
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”?
Thank you for this invitation — I am truly honored to be invited to have this conversation! For me, the childhood back story really does begin at birth! You see, I was born with a very visible birth defect called cleft-lip-and-palate, which means I didn’t look like anyone else, from day one. I was told I was different (and it wasn’t with a good connotation), so I know what it feels like to be ‘othered’ and made to feel ‘less than’. I think my superpowers of empathy and tenacity grew out of these experiences, as did my passion for advocating for intentionally ignored communities. I carried these feelings, along with a lot of physical and emotional trauma. It wasn’t until I was in my 30’s that I started to understand what it took to transform myself, decondition from deeply embedded beliefs and truly own my magic and power. My experiences also made me look at the deeper level of how at a human level, it is our sameness that is so very magical.
My love of communication, commerce and brands led me to a career in marketing, all the while being very active in creating the kind of culture that lifted people up, even when organizations were not oriented in that way. Eventually, I decided to leave corporate life because my passion for helping individuals stand in their own power became undeniable. A lot of this also grew out of seeing the damage that toxic workplaces have on people and wanting to be a part of the solution. In my view, igniting the corporate culture revolution starts with individuals being able to unapologetically be who they are, which is also at the root of my story.
Can you tell us the story about what led you to this particular career path?
I have always cared about helping whomever I could along the way, because there was so much I had to figure out on my own. Whether it was getting into an MBA program, navigating corporate politics, or finding new jobs to expand my skills it always seemed that I was doing it ‘the hard way’. My orientation has always been to pay it forward and be of service so that others might have an easier path than I had. In fact, I always felt that I was being my best self when I helped others in this way — and it was so rewarding. However, it wasn’t until there was a possibility that my husband’s career could have taken us out of New York, that I started to imagine what else could be possible for my career.
This was the first time I was able to acknowledge what my heart truly wanted, which was to be free from boxes and linear pathways, so I could honor all of my skills. And the seed of possibilities was planted, even though I didn’t know what those possibilities might grow into. What I did know is that I wanted to become a certified coach, and enrolled in a program right away.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
Oooh, such a loaded question. Haha Well, I think one of the most life changing things that happened in my career was when one of my employers decided to hire a coach for me because of a challenging dynamic that was taking place with my boss. It was because of this coach, Kelley Amadei that I was able to truly begin my healing journey. I had never been to therapy of any kind and I had never acknowledged that I am a survivor of both physical trauma and emotional abuse. Because of Kelley, the trajectory of my life changed. At a very pivotal moment in my career, she helped me see a pathway to take back my power that I didn’t even know was possible. And truth be told, from the moment I met her, I knew that I wanted to be able to help others some day through coaching, but it would be years before I watered that seed, which was planted in my heart.
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?
Empathy is probably most instrumental to my success because it allows me to build relationships quickly, which is how I get things accomplished. One moment I remember vividly was when my boss and I had to go to a meeting that she was absolutely dreading. Her relationship with her colleague was extremely strained and she was stressed out about a difficult conversation she had to have with him. Right before the meeting I asked her to consider his position — he was being forced to lay off much of his team. As a result, she led with empathy and that changed the entire trajectory of the meeting.
I’m also a cheerleader; rooting people on, empowering others and showing support is another way I build relationships authentically and inspire people to be their best. One of my clients who was in salary negotiations for a new job said that as she stood up for herself, my voice was in her head. She was always good at advocating for others, but not for herself. The genuine potential I see in others and the passion in which I share it, helps them to own their power. This is one of the traits that allows me to be such a transformational coach. I’m always humbled when I see the effect that truly believing in others can have on their own journey of self-acceptance and confidence.
Tenacity is another trait that has been absolutely critical to getting to where I am today. Tenacity is what helped me deal with rejection after rejection when I sought a brand marketing internship while pursuing my MBA. No internships were assigned at Michigan State University. I could either play it safe and opt for a company that recruited at MSU, which, at the time would have meant something in supply chain, or I could stick to my guns and take my chances at getting an internship in the field I wanted. While many of my peers were getting internships in November and December, I went hard after what I wanted and landed a role in May at Fisher Price Inc.– right at the edge of possibility! Tenacity continued to be important as I embarked on an extremely competitive career as a brand marketer in consumer-packaged goods, in an extremely competitive place; New York City. Tenacity is what made me get up each time I was knocked down by rejection — and trust me, it happened a lot. My passion for what I believe in is palpable and it fuels my tenacity, which is also grounded in understanding the realities of how the world works.
Fast forward to the past few years and I can tell you that entrepreneurship is not for the faint of heart. It takes courage and a whole lot of tenacity to discover the course that is in alignment with my own values, and not fall into the trappings of looking at well-traveled roads for the answers I seek. Tenacity has been paramount to walking the path that is uniquely mine, even when I can’t see the destination or receive external validation that I have chosen wisely. Most certainly, my tenacity is what continues to enable me to lead a revolution.
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?
I love it! Let’s just get right down to it, shall we? To truly be able to answer this question, I think we have to look at history. We have to look at what has been handed down from generation to generation, because this discomfort is deeply embedded. Now, I’m not versed in the bible at all, but look at the story of Adam and Eve. What does that say about women who are curious and want to explore?
I know that women are powerful, and I think that women of color are the epitome of strength — no one talks about that, and I think we need to. Who has endured more than the black and brown women in this world? And when you consider how little people try to understand those that are different from them, who have different experiences and hardships, well then that can easily create discomfort or even fear.
Let’s not get it twisted either, this entire conversation goes for men and women. It’s also related to the false paradigm that we can’t all win. That if I raise up my sister, it means I might lose. Especially when you consider how hard it has been for women to climb the corporate ladder and how little room there is for error. This has created the fear that if a woman at the top places her chips on someone behind her, and she is wrong, then her reputation, and perhaps even her future, is on the line.
So when we are talking about anyone in a position of power, I think it’s easy for them to feel uncomfortable with strong women, because they’ve been conditioned to protect their own interests and power. The discomfort stems from feeling intimidated and threatened, but in reality, this is an internalized belief from the messages we’ve absorbed consciously and subconsciously over a lifetime. And really, if we dig down, you will see that most people struggle with their own worth in some way, shape or form, because our society has not encouraged or embraced differences as the superpowers they are. Society on the whole encourages and rewards the status quo. Essentially, this means that if an individual is not comfortable and secure in their own power, they’ll never be comfortable and secure standing beside a strong woman. So, to me, being uncomfortable around strong women indicates that you have not fully owned your own power.
Without saying any names, can you share a story from your own experience that illustrates this idea?
I want to use myself as the example here, because I really want to illustrate that if we can own our magic and power and fully step into it, then we can be more comfortable around other women (and the range of gender identification) who are successful. As I mentioned before, because I was not born meeting society’s standard of external beauty, I felt less than not only as a kid, but well into adulthood. Because I could not see or acknowledge my own power and magic, every time I walked into a room filled with women, I was intimidated — even if I didn’t show it. Seeing their magic made me uncomfortable because I did not yet recognize that I had the same magic. I couldn’t own that my difference was my power. I couldn’t create the narrative in my mind that I could be seen as equal among powerful women. Now this doesn’t mean that I sought to bring these women down, quite the contrary. The destruction I caused was to myself. The impact was on my own ability to rise and take up space and own that I am here and I matter. I know now that when I stand in my truth and own my power, others around me can see it, appreciate it and even be inspired by it. And those that can’t see it — well they’ve got their own issues. HAHA
What should a powerful woman do in a context where she feels that people are uneasy around her?
She has to shine her light even brighter. Full Stop. Never, ever, ever dim your light for others. It’s that freaking simple. You do not have to make other people feel comfortable — it’s not your job!! Other people’s discomfort is not your burden to carry. Period. Keep shinning and find places and spaces that will lift you up and appreciate your light.
What do we need to do as a society to change the unease around powerful women?
I think we have to help each other feel seen and heard and valued at the soul level. We have to help everyone feel empowered and safe to be exactly who they are. And, we also have to do the hardest work of our lives, which is to be comfortable in our own power and our internal world. The more we are tuned into ourselves, the more we can see our unease with clarity. Only then can we look at the moments we are triggered as opportunities to learn more about who we are, what we desire, and what we see in others that we are not owning in ourselves.
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?
Years ago, at a time when I was starting to own my passion for shifting mindsets, I put a small postcard in my office that said, “The Future Is Female”. Mind you, I was on an all-female team at the time, but not long after, a senior male leader asked that my postcard be removed. I don’t think there are a lot of CIS-men out there that have been asked to hide parts of themselves at work, to cover up their values, or know what it’s like to be silenced in this way. It was uncomfortable to be asked to take down the postcard and, more importantly, to make a choice about when and how to stand up for myself. I think this also speaks to the dissonance that is created when we are in situations where we have to go against every fiber of our being in order to ‘survive’ in our work environments.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women leaders that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
I think women face feedback that has to do with who they are as a person — which is perhaps the most damaging and devastating. As women, we’re often told we are too ‘this’ or too ‘that’ and we are asked to tone things down and to be more agreeable — all of these things that society tells women they cannot be or should not be. I don’t think men get that kind of feedback at nearly the same level. Women also have to endure feedback about their looks, how they dress and all these external things, while men don’t get that kind of scrutiny. Women have to be so strong to not internalize these types of comments. But perhaps more than sheer strength, women need to have an awareness of and access to the tools needed to stay the course of being their authentic selves and reject feedback that truly doesn’t serve them.
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?
The short answer is YES, it has always been difficult to feel that I can fit all parts of my life in a way that makes me feel fulfilled. Even as someone who has chosen not to have kids, the struggle has always been there for me because I value this one life we are given and have always wanted to live it to the fullest. Because society over-values the ‘doing’ and the ‘career’ aspect of life, I fell into the trap pretty early on of placing way too much value on the career part of my life. This was exacerbated by my personal traumas and wounds, where I ended up seeking so much of my validation from my career. Even now, as an entrepreneur I have to combat the urge to overdo and let my mission take over my whole life. I have to really be intentional about integrating my life and making sure that I make time for things that matter to me and bring me joy, especially those things that aren’t attached to validation or proving my worthiness. Said a bit differently, it is a constant journey to unhook from the identities that are most valued by society and live life in a way that brings me peace and contentment. I’m careful not to fall into traps such as; bonding over ‘being so busy’ and wearing that like a badge of some kind. The kinds of questions I grapple with now are are; Am I following the path that brings me joy? Am I operating in alignment with what’s important to me? And I think that by asking myself these questions, I am able to find more ease in the integration of all of my identities and parts of my life than ever before.
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?
I think a huge tipping point for me, quite frankly was when I decided to quit my corporate job in 2018. I knew that I needed to get back to ME and discover what it was that I needed to be the best possible version of myself. As much as I tried to discover that while I was operating within the 9 to 5 environment, I was very much entrenched in my own limiting belief pattern. Time away from those systems, expectations and predominant ways of thinking is what has enabled me to detach my value from the ‘doing’, and allowed me to explore what it means to see value in simply being. To me, coming back to who I am being (versus what I am doing) is the starting point of finding equilibrium — which I think looks different depending upon the season I’m in, and also the day and even hour!
I also think that perfectionism is a huge barrier to equilibrium for a lot of people, including myself. To know when enough is just right and where the point of diminishing returns truly is. This is an ongoing process for me, because it takes time to unravel the conditioning and rewards for overdoing. It also takes time to see the truth of what’s possible when things are not forced, and when courage and progress become more important than perfection. Even if we take my own marketing efforts for my business as an example — I have had to draw the line in a much different place than if I had a team of 5 helping me out. I’ve had to set expectations for myself that truly serve me and my purpose. Because if I overdo on things that don’t really drive impact then what I’m doing is missing opportunities to do those things that could actually change lives.
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 of an 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?
Oh man, for me this is such a loaded question, given what you know now about being shamed for my appearance from the day I was born. I have thoughts on this that may seem like a paradox, but to me it’s truly an ‘and’ conversation.
For me, at this moment, the emphasis I place on my appearance is based on honoring how I want to FEEL. I am always looking to honor what is authentic for me and give myself permission to show up that way. And I do show up in a very visual way on my social platforms — doing interviews, simply talking to the camera and getting in front of large audiences. There are days when I want to feel powerful and strong and bright, so I use fashion and makeup as tools for self-expression and tap into my internal desires. Then there are days where I don’t want to do all the fuss and I just want to show up as me and be comfortable looking at myself without makeup. This is really important to me — getting comfortable with loving myself exactly how I am — without conforming to societal pressures and expectations. In fact, I have plans to put a fun color in my hair for the first time EVER. Part of why I want to do that is to break up old beliefs about what’s ‘appropriate’ to do as a professional. However I choose to show up, I want others to see that you don’t have to play by any rules — that you can just honor what’s true for you and own it. Showing up in these ways is authentic to me and that resonates with people. I think it’s also refreshing for people to see what’s possible. I want to show others (and myself to be honest) that it’s actually your energy that matters more than anything. Your energy and intent is EVERYTHING and whatever actions come from that place is what will be in alignment for you — and that means whatever you are trying to manifest will be even more potent.
To directly answer your question, I think beauty can be superficial if you come from a place other than your internal compass. The best way I can articulate how much I believe in this is when I was literally on an operating table waiting for a rhinoplasty surgery at the age of 21. It was supposed to be the second to last of about a dozen surgeries I had in my life (all of which were functional up to that point). I had so much fear and anxiety that I was ready to get up from the table and walk out the door. But I stuck it out and while waiting there, I realized that all my life I had this idea in my head that if I just looked like everyone else, or could just blend in and not be different, then I would be loved and could also love myself.
In that moment I knew, without a doubt, that no cosmetic procedure would bring me closer to loving myself. I decided that surgery would be my last because loving myself and feeling good about myself was going to have to come from a much deeper place. I didn’t know what that exactly meant at that time, but I knew that the real work to be done was an internal job.
I think it’s important for people to see that as a powerful woman and leader you don’t have to talk about your workout routine or look ‘perfectly polished’ to show up. You don’t have to post bikini pictures and glam shots to express what it looks like to be a powerful woman. What I want to show people is what it looks like when you stand in your power and your truth, because makeup or not, that is true beauty.
How is this similar or different for men?
I think that a lot of men have the privilege of not focusing or spending resources on their appearance. As a result, their time and financial resources are freed-up, all of which are incredibly valuable. At the same time, I think that men also deal with body shaming and other types of internal scrutiny; from weight to hair to skin. In some ways I think they can struggle even more because it’s even more taboo for them to acknowledge it or even talk about it. That said, I do think that the level of external scrutiny men face in the corporate environment is at a much different level than women.
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.)
- Own and Celebrate Your Power. Accept all of your parts; the bold parts, the afraid parts, the hurt parts and even the parts that have been shamed. Own what makes you different and unique, love the heck out of it and see how your life transforms. Celebrate how it’s these parts that have given you the superpowers you have today. And celebrate the micro wins — because these steppingstones of small wins provide the fuel and positivity to keep doing the hard things.
- Celebrate and Lift Up Those Around You. Embrace the notion that when those around you are succeeding, you are as well and help others to also celebrate. Especially lift up those folks who have been intentionally ignored, dehumanized and devalued, including women of color, those who identify as LGBTQIA and those with disabilities just to name a few. Be a co-conspirator for their success. Thriving is about realizing we have a shared humanity, and there is power and joy that can come when we allow group success to also be our success. I created “Talk About It Tuesday” a show on my Instagram account to celebrate and provide a place for people of all backgrounds to share their stories and be heard and seen. It brings me great joy to be of service in this way, and to me that is thriving!
- Hold Boundaries. Recognize who or what is not serving you and hold a firm line; regardless of the title they hold. We give our power away every time we don’t hold the boundaries that we need to honor ourselves. And oftentimes, it’s the people closest to us that we need to set boundaries with. The energy you carry in your heart is THE key to forward movement — so let go of anything that is draining your life force. As just one example, I once worked for a person who liked to talk down about other people, which was out of alignment with my integrity. My coach helped me realize that I had a choice to not engage, so in this case my boundary was to not give her any response to her gossiping. By doing this, I was able to be in integrity and over time she learned that she wasn’t going to get a reaction from me, so she stopped doing it altogether. Really and truly, holding boundaries will change your life.
- Question the Status Quo. Be aware of the beliefs we have, as well as the systems and structures in place that are not serving us. Because the ones we have in place were not necessarily created to help women thrive and succeed — quite the opposite actually. With this awareness we then have to take courageous and bold action to create a new reality. I did this when I was evaluating whether or not to continue on my path in corporate. I had to ask if a scarcity mindset was keeping me there, if this was the route that would make me truly happy and if this path was ever going to lead me to feeling fulfilled. I had to question all the messages that were deeply embedded inside to discover my truth and when I did take action, it changed the trajectory of my life to one that was far better than I could have ever imagined.
- Do the Real Work. The real work meaning the willingness to look at ourselves to peel back the onion over and over again so that we can discover who we really are and identify how we want to define success for ourselves. To do that we have to get to know who we are at our deepest levels and also understand that how we show up has an impact not only on ourselves, but on others — and that matters. For myself, I see inner work as a spiral staircase; I keep coming back to the same themes over and over again for deeper and deeper healing. And as frustrating as it is, and as difficult as it can be, this is what enables our freedom — and I believe that deeply understood freedom choose our own path is at the core of what enables us to thrive.
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.
There are two people that immediately come to mind. The first is Brené Brown because her work is so profoundly helpful and in alignment with my mission and would just love to share my thoughts with her and get her take!! Maybe we could even play pickleball afterwards so I can understand what all the fuss is about!
Having lunch with Tom Hanks has always been on my bucket list. I’ve always had such profound respect and appreciation for him — not just for his talents but for his integrity and humanity. His decency and courage (for example in taking the role in Philadelphia) gave me hope that I could find a partner that would be a truly genuine good guy (and I did!). I want to have a regular conversation with someone I see as being his authentic self even at super stardom status, and see what magic comes of sharing fries together!
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.
For the original publication on Authority Magazine, see it here.
Additional content you may be interested in:
What About Resilience? A Conversation with Lina Clavijo
Staying Centered In Uncertain Times