Dr. Angela Duckworth Brings Grit to Women@NERD

Dr. Angela Duckworth, MacArthur Fellow and New York Times bestselling author of the book, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, recently visited NERD to explain why this simple, yet powerful concept is the most significant contributor to high achievement. Hosted by Microsoft’s New England R&D leaders and the Women@NERD, Dr. Duckworth spoke to a room packed with more than 160 Microsoft employees and women in the Kendall Square High Tech Women’s Forum.

Grit is a measure of one’s perseverance through challenging work toward a singular passion. Dr. Duckworth emphasized that “however gritty you are today is not how gritty you may be tomorrow. Grit is something you develop and grow.”

One key to grit is understanding your interests and, ultimately, your purpose. Purpose links one’s efforts to the benefit of others.  It helps to provide that drive to continue despite the obstacles, failures and challenges along the way.

Grit also requires a growth mindset, where intelligence, talent and abilities are gained through an open, learn-it-all approach. Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s CEO, fully embraces and encourages a mindset and workplace where employees continuously seek to improve. Dr. Duckworth says that she likes to follow Nadella’s  journey and talks “because he seems to enjoy sharing an element of his personal success: that anyone can learn and grow.”

Richard Barnwell, a Microsoft Partner Engineering Manager, said that his main takeaway from the day was, “how grit and growth mindset complement each other and reinforce the empowering message that our ability to be better is something we have significant control over.”

After the talk, Dr. Duckworth met with about 25 women and male allies from the Kendall Sq. High Tech Women’s Forum.  The women discussed how they needed grit to survive and then thrive in an industry where men often comprise 80 percent  or more of the workplace ,and where they are often the only woman on a project team. One female engineer commented, “I loved hearing confirmation and proof that hard work counts twice as much as talent or skill. I’ve worked really hard to get to where I am today and pride myself on that ethic, but I often feel like an impostor because I still don’t always feel like I have the ‘talent’ which is what people too often give praise about.” Dr. Duckworth discussed that we love to call people “naturals” because we are attracted to that concept; however, we rarely see the hours of mistakes, failures and learnings it took for that person to get to where they are.  

One of the male attendees said, “I appreciated the fact that she put pictures in the presentation of women whose names I know but whose faces I didn’t recognize: Dr. Curie was perhaps the best example. While I know her work, I couldn’t have picked her out of a lineup. Something which I could do for many male scientists. It was a good reminder of some of my blind spots.”

At the end of the session, every attendee received a signed copy of Grit to continue their path of honing their passion and perseverance, and encouraging their colleagues to do the same.

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