Event Recap: The Power of Grit For Women in Innovation


Hello WIN women! We loved seeing so many of you at R/GA Venture Studios in partnership with WomanUp last week for our first event of 2018. Our panel on the Power of Grit for Women in Innovation featured four incredibly inspirational female founders. Our panelists shared how they’ve overcome challenges in entrepreneurship, setbacks, and fears by embracing their inner grit to become the business leaders they are today. Dive into five themes that emerged from the discussion below.

Meet our panelists:

Sarah Sheehan, Co-Founder of Bravely, a company that matches employees with coaches who help them navigate workplace issues.

Jenna Arnold, Co-Founder of ORGANIZE, a startup that aims to end the organ shortage crisis and a national Women’s March organizer.

Danielle Kayembe, Founder of GreyFire Impact, a social impact consulting and advisory agency.

Clara de Soto, Co-Founder of Reply.ai, a customer automation platform that helps companies reach their customers.

Meet our moderator:

Marysharon Owens, Group Director at R/GA and Co-Founder of Artistic Executive.


From left to right: Our moderator Marysharon Owens, and panelists Sarah Sheehan, Jenna Arnold, Danielle Kayembe, and Clara de Soto.

From left to right: Our moderator Marysharon Owens, and panelists Sarah Sheehan, Jenna Arnold, Danielle Kayembe, and Clara de Soto.



Grit is Different for Every Woman.

Each of our panelists interpret and live “grit” differently.

To Clara, “grit is about persevering even when there isn’t a rule book.” Sarah’s definition is similar: “I can outwork any man, I can get up, I can put my brain to work, but it’s overcoming my own fears around having a seat at the table, telling myself I belong here...that’s what defines grit for me.” Jenna, on the other hand, prefers not to define it strictly, “You can’t define these kinds of words and these kinds of life experiences because they mean something different to everybody….What I rely on more is when I’m at the most difficult moments, whether it’s despair, frustration, disappointment in myself or disappointment in a colleague, where is it that I’m going to for strength?”

Grit is a Tool for Empowerment.

The world, as Danielle pointed out, is designed “with male as the default”. Whether it be common objects like large iPhones too big to fit in the average woman’s hand, heavy doors designed for the tensile strength of the average man, or standard office thermostats based on the average man’s resting metabolic rate, we live in a world with coded patriarchy.

Rather than harbor anger over how the world has been designed not for women, Danielle emphasized that we should translate this frustration into productive action. In other words, summon our grit to resolve these fundamental design problems. Moreover, these pain points come with immense opportunity for women to design products with women’s unmet needs at the center. As women innovators, we’re uniquely positioned to understand and solve for a better and more inclusive default design.



Grit Should Be Used to Elevate Others.

In the past year, women across the world have put grit at the center of a movement that demands better standards for women (think the Women’s March, #MeToo, and Time’s Up). Women are coming together to determine exactly what kind of world they want. Jenna pointed out that using your voice to help other women—especially women from a position of privilege—is required. She emphasized that particularly white women must be allies to all women and use their grit to “persevere a little harder” and “block and tackle for our sisters of color.”

Danielle recommended joining networks with diverse women, and lifting those new friends up (note to self: email WIN friends for coffee after reading this blog post). As obvious as it is, there is huge value in connecting with women of different backgrounds, passions, focuses, industries, viewpoints, and experiences—its an opportunity to enrich one’s own perspectives, participate in new dialogues, and enjoy the opportunity to support and be supported by a group of passionate women.

Outside of women’s groups, women can take the initiative to mentor and sponsor another woman’s growth. Sarah shared a strong example: when she was just founding Bravely, another female founder who had successfully raised capital took Sarah under her wing. She supported her through every step of the fundraising process, even texting her line-by-line scripts for angel investor pitches. Sarah’s experience solidified the importance of mentorship to her, and she pays it forward by supporting other female founders today (—imagine if everyone did this.)

Fuel the Tank to Stay Gritty.

The modern woman balances a lot. On top of excelling in a day job, taking care of children, managing a household, nourishing side projects and hobbies, maintaining wellness, fighting the patriarchy, enjoying fulfilling relationships, AND being gritty, self-care is crucial. Each founder emphasized the importance of allowing space for recovery in their schedule—it often makes the difference between a breakdown and breakthrough. Sarah noted that when she starts to feel overwhelmed, she takes a moment to pause, breathe, and reset—sometimes 20 times a day—to acknowledge and appreciate her positive impact through her work at Bravely to date (note to self: do this daily and don’t forget!)

According to Danielle, her creativity drives her success in business. She makes an effort to replenish her mind by travelling, going to museums, concerts, and watching live flamenco. Clara recharges by surrounding herself with positive influences. She believes fueling the tank means choosing fun and finding the time for joy without guilt.



We Need to Bring Men to the Table.

When the panel took questions from the audience, one of the biggest topics of interest was how to bring more men to the table and encourage them to support women’s leadership. Sarah stated that while “gritty women get things done”, men often make up the majority of senior leadership at a company, and therefore must join the conversation as they have a lot of power to make an impact. Marysharon offered a day-to-day approach that she has seen help: she and her female coworkers often openly discuss women’s issues at work, which encourages men to engage with them on these topics as they become less “off limits”.

Though there was a lot of interest in this topic, we didn’t land on a meaningful conclusion. We’d love to hear from you on how we can bring men into this conversation in the right way.

To Conclude...

Don’t underestimate your own grittiness. A member of Women in Innovation recently shared this lovely line that sums it all up: “You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” —A. A. Milne

We’d love to hear from you on this topic. Attend the event and want to add a key takeaway? What are your thoughts on grit? Specifically, how do you define grit? How do you bring your grittiness into your everyday life? How do you maintain your grit? And how can we help other women do the same? Email us at team@womenininnovation.co or share your thoughts in the private Facebook group here.

You can access the activity we conducted on our public WIN drive here.


Written by Katie Burwick, Christina Clark, Emma Anderson, and Ilse Paanakker

Photos by Katie Burwick


WIN: Women in Innovation Copyright (c) 2018 All rights reserved. This blog post may not be reproduced or repurposed without written permission from WIN: Women in Innovation (501(c)3). This blog post is provided for your personal use only.