Grit. The word is dry and grainy on my tongue, like the inevitable lining of sand that is left in your mouth after eating a sandwich on the beach: unavoidable; uncomfortable; the touch of grey permeating any silver lining. Grit is the particle in your eye that forces you to rinse out your contact. Also defined as “courage and resolve; strength of character”, grit is a mission-critical characteristic if you are going to have a successful career as a woman in tech.

I’ve been pondering grit the past few weeks, in preparation for a panel I am moderating at the second annual WITness Success conference in Denver. Our session title, Grit? Hell, yeah. You won’t survive without it, speaks directly to what is needed to “make-it” in this industry. You guessed it: the not-so-secret ingredient is grit.

I’m looking forward to guiding three badass women as they share salient stories about their personal and professional history. It’s an all-star cast of authentic, candid, unfiltered, often hilarious, hard-working women, including Sara Chieco, Ashima Saigal, and Angela Adams.

Between the four of us, we’ve experienced our share of pitfalls, scars, barriers, and dead-ends. We’ve been rejected, misinformed, underpaid, undervalued, and misunderstood. And I can say personally that I have experienced a few near misses, during which, without community support, I might have slipped backwards without recourse. It hasn’t all been bad, but the struggles are very tangible, and the lessons are often only clear in retrospect.

To be clear, we won’t be telling the story of success and progress sailing in on a silver bullet.   Instead, ours are journeys are authentic; raw; gritty. Although each of us (myself included) has a unique path, we all have something in common: we’ve made it this far. Some define success through fame and recognition, but I believe success is demonstrated through perseverance. We’ve persevered.

Through extensive contemplation and self-examination, my definition of grit has changed over time:

  • THEN. The grit of my career past included extreme self-sacrifice, including sleep-deprivation, late pick-ups from daycare, saying yes all the time, prioritizing work over friendships, exercise, and parenting. It seemed like the gritty and necessary thing to do at the time. In retrospect, yes, it was being tough, but I was also subscribing to a somewhat dated equation for success: put your head down, work really hard, fit into a “man’s world”, and you will be rewarded. Somewhere along the line this progression was so deeply ingrained in me that I’ve fallen back on this pattern repeatedly during hard times. Over and over. Did it work? Sometimes. Do I still believe in hard work? Yes. Is it the best/only way/smartest way to achieve career goals, even if it means you are making other sacrifices? No.

  • NOW. The grit of my career present is different than that of the past. Working hard is necessary, but working smart is also important. After watching not only my own career unfold, but also that of many others, I’m 100% certain that hard work alone does not necessarily lead you to the top of the ladder. Career paths are scaffolded by strategy, enhanced through relationships and self-promotion, and often are a reflection of one’s own sense of self-worth. *Mic drop.* That’s right. I’ve seen smarter, more qualified, harder working folks get passed up for promotions because a) they didn’t ask and b) they didn’t think the deserved one. Yours truly included. Somewhere deep within the “mid-career” years, I’m starting to ask for what I want. That’s grit-present lesson #1: speak up! For some of us it is awkward, and uncomfortable. Speaking up for yourself takes a different kind of grit than keep your nose down to the grindstone. I’ve also been taking a HUGE step back, as often as possible, and looking at my little career in the bigger scheme of things. Beyond my need for an income, what really matters? And the answer is clear, lesson #2: I need to leverage whatever power and wisdom I have to boost others. In the end, this is all that matters. So, in addition to speaking up, I’m trying to pay it forward. And lesson #3: boundaries! I’m trying to be more thoughtful about how I use my time, be more aware of how I influence others, and to create boundaries, then redraw and reshape those boundaries as my personal needs change. The boundaries are in essence fluid, but I am the boundary master.

  • ASPIRATIONAL. The grit of career future: I don’t know. It is hard to predict that changes that will come along with more wisdom. But I can say with certainty that it can only get better.

If you are coming to Denver for WITness Success, please do join our session on July 28th at 11:15 AM.


Author: Marisa Lopez - Director of Account Management, Social Impact, Presence - President, Amplify

Marisa is a results driven leader in the dynamic world of Nonprofit Technology. She self-defines as an innovator; social entrepreneur; technology therapist; Salesforce evangelist; mom; and an outdoor enthusiast. She is passionate about leveraging her career creatively to elevate underrepresented voices in tech.

Joni BryanComment