Diane Bryant has spent most of her career working for some of the best companies in the world – Intel and Google – often as one of the few women in the room.
When she first joined Intel in 1985, Bryant, now 60, tells CNBC Make It she had to quickly adopt the same habits as her males colleagues, like drinking scotch and swearing, to "fit in" at the office.
"I realized that the only way I'm going to get them to collaborate with me and be successful in this team is if I make these men more comfortable by embracing their direct, aggressive style," she says. "I thought, 'You either adapt or you die.'"
The California native spent 32 years at Intel serving in various roles including chief information officer and the group president of Intel's Data Center Group. After leaving Intel, Bryant spent a year as Google Cloud's chief operations officer and served as an advisor and board member to several smaller start-ups before joining NovaSignal, a medical device start-up, as chairman and CEO in 2020.
Many of these opportunities, she adds, have come from the mentors who rooted for her and invested in her success: A customer at the restaurant Diane worked at throughout college recommended her for her first internship at Aerojet, and when a colleague saw her struggle with a tough manager at Intel, he recruited her for a better role on a different team.
Below, Bryant shares the best piece of business advice she's ever received and her biggest career regret.
Loving what you do can help you be more productive and creative at work – but Bryant warns that letting your emotions guide your decision-making can quickly backfire.
Andy Bryant, the former chairman of Intel, passed this advice on to Bryant while she was still an executive at the tech company leading high-stakes negotiations with clients.
"He told me, 'there's no emotion in business,'" she says. "That applies to both positive and negative emotions: whether you're ecstatic or angry, they will drive you to make a wrong decision."
Bryant explains: "If you're overly engaged or excited, you'll likely compromise more, like giving to the other party in a contract negotiation, and if you're hostile, you might walk away from a good opportunity out of spite."
Next time you're in a heated, emotional situation at work – whether that's a tense conversation with a manager, or a passive-aggressive email chain with a client – Bryant recommends "getting up from your desk, leaving the room, taking a couple deep breaths and finding your composure."
Whether it's just getting a glass of water from your kitchen or taking a 15-minute walk outside, stepping back can help you clear your mind and better manage your emotions.
There's only so much you can do to cope with a job you can't stand. A toxic work environment, however, can be mentally and physically taxing, so don't ignore signs that it's time to move on.
Bryant learned this the hard way: Her biggest career regret is not leaving fast enough when she found herself in an organization that was "not conducive to women" (she didn't name the company).
"The vast majority of my managers over the decades have been motivational and supportive, but there have been a few that clearly felt more comfortable working with people like themselves: male," she says.
In that situation, Bryant's grit became a detriment to her success – she thought that her passion and perseverance would win over her manager, but he continued to offer better opportunities and higher compensation to her male colleagues at the same level.
Looking back, Bryant wishes she "recognized that the barrier was impenetrable and left the organization sooner."
The CEO says her new role leading NovaSignal, however, is "extremely fulfilling." NovaSignal uses artificial intelligence (AI), ultrasound and robotics to measure blood flow to the brain, which can help identify blood clots and other neurological abnormalities like strokes or dementia. According to Crunchbase, the company has raised more than $120 million in funding.
"It's great to have a job where you're not just continually driving top line and bottom line, but you're also doing something for the good of society," she says. "That feels incredibly rewarding to me."