Ready to Move Up: A Director Gains Key Insights into the Dynamics of Power
A conversation with Kristina Alvarez about her experience in the Executive Program in Women’s Leadership
Kristina Alvarez has worked in the male-dominated tech industry for nearly three decades and currently serves as the global head of HP Inc.’s alliance with Zoom Communications. Frustrated by the lack of leadership opportunities for women and people of color, and her inability to find executive sponsorship, Alvarez attended the Executive Program in Women’s Leadership (EPWL) to improve her executive presence and gain insight into the dynamics between dominant and marginalized groups.
What drew you to EPWL?
I have been in high-tech sales for about 30 years, primarily in business development; I’ve held a lot of middle management roles, but I have struggled to find executive sponsors willing to mentor me. I’ve always felt that my gender and lack of cultural capital – I’m Mexican – have prevented me from advancing. I don’t see many people like myself in leadership roles and because I don’t share a common culture with most executives, I think they have trouble relating to me and viewing me as a senior leader. I wanted to learn how to improve my executive presence and my communication to overcome these perceptions.
How did looking at workplace dynamics through the lens of being a woman change your view of it and yourself?
I knew that a program for women developed by women would offer a different perspective; I didn’t expect it would completely change how I view myself as a leader. The business programs that I’ve taken before were mostly from a male viewpoint.
To have female faculty who have studied the behavior of business leaders validate and demonstrate how women can be better leaders was extremely empowering.
How did this perspective differ from other business programs you’ve taken?
Professor Deborah Gruenfeld’s sessions on power made the entire course different from others. We spent a lot of time discussing how speech, tone, and body language influence how people perceive you. We also analyzed how men and women present themselves and how that impacts others’ reactions. It was really impactful to see that some of the things you subconsciously do may send a message that you lack confidence and are incapable of leading others.
Was the program’s approach to negotiations new to you?
Most of what I’ve learned in sales I’ve learned from men, including my negotiation skills. I’ve always been coached to use more of a competitive negotiation style to maximize my gain. Professor Margaret Neale’s sessions helped me to realize that a good negotiation is not a competition at all because it’s not just about getting the deal. In fact, it’s probably more similar to parenting, where you try to find a resolution to a problem that potentially allows both parties to gain. I had never viewed negotiating as a problem solving exercise, but doing that and really assessing the needs and values of my counterpart, allows me to find better solutions, which leads to a better deal.
Did anything surprise you?
Yes: The sessions with Professor Baba Shiv about neuroscience and decision-making as a leader made me realize leadership is much deeper than trying to mimic great business leaders or project more confidence. It’s internal. Putting the neuroscience together with the sessions on power made me more aware of how my emotions and mindset impact my presence and decision-making. I see how important managing your body and mind is for negotiations and tough business decisions.
What was the learning atmosphere of this program like?
The great part about the program was that we were all women. Nothing is better than being in an environment with other women who are in the same position as you. You don’t realize what a gift that is until you get into that environment. There is so much to gain from that sense of camaraderie and community.