An Inspiring Trio

Grit, Grace, and Guts- An Inspiring Trio

In the last 20 years, I’ve been privileged to work with exceptionally talented men and women, some of whom were managers, teammates, mentors, or clients. I’ve also had the opportunity of working for corporations consistently focused on treating men and women fairly, assessing talent for the sake of the success of an organization, not for a claim to diversity alone.  However, despite those trends, females comprise a small percentage of positions at the executive levels.  So, when I meet women whose brains, skills, panache, and courage rival that of any CEO, male or female, I know I’m in the company of talent not often seen.

An Inspiring Trio

As an entrepreneur growing my own business,  I’ve had the privilege of meeting three exceptional women whose business skills and talent demonstrate something rare- not just among women, but among men as well.   These women haven’t been held back by stereotypes or the odds.  They work in the male-dominated worlds of manufacturing, finance, and venture capital.   Each is undeterred by being the minority.  Given their elegant styles, their professional successes, and their complete confidence, I wanted to explore with them their experiences to share. Each woman in this series has a unique story to tell, but each has grit, grace, and guts- a refreshing combination, in any industry.

But, first, why is the existence of this talent rare in the fields of Math, Science, and Engineering?   Some context.

Our workforce:

  • Women comprise 50% of the U.S. workforce.[i]
  • Mothers are the primary breadwinners or co-breadwinners for nearly 2/3 of American families.[i]
  • Women-Owned-Businesses themselves produce employment for 16% of the workforce, or 23MM people.[ii]
  • Among the self-employed, women comprise 35% of the market (as of ’08).[ii]
  • Women-owned-businesses have a direct ~ $3 Trillion effect on economy [ii] vs. the US’s 2008 GDP estimated at $14.44 Trillion. [iii]

Looks pretty good, right? Well, women don’t earn 50% of the income.

Though women earn 57% of all the degrees given, it’s in the lower-paying occupations.  Women dominate in the following:

  • 91.7% of all registered nurses and  81.6% of elementary/middle-school teachers
  • 97.8% of preschool/kindergarten teachers

VS. in the highest paying occupations:

  • 36.5% of lawyers and judges
  • 31.8% physicians and surgeons
  • 25.4% dentists
  • 11.8% civil engineers
  • 7.8% electrical and electronics engineers
  • 3.4% aircraft pilots and flight engineers
  • 62% of biological & biomedical science undergraduate degrees go to women…


The data are clear-  women choose lower paying degrees.  But not the three women I’m highlighting. Their track record sets an excellent example for anyone.  What could they share that could improve my business or negotiation skills, especially with clients in their fields or in general?  Did being a female negatively or positively affect their careers?  How do they keep their composure under enormous pressures?

Each of them has a different answer and perspective.  In my own experience, I find that gender bias is either non-existent or so subtle I don’t see it.  Nonetheless, even the smartest of people are sometimes unaware of how they themselves may reinforce socialization factors that affect women and their choices and the paths they take.

For example, the former President of Harvard, Lawrence H. Summers, in an attempt to be provocative for a conference’s audience, named 3 plausible causes that may keep women out of the highest levels of science and academia:  1) women with children are not willing to work 80 hours a week 2) the innate differences in abilities (suggesting men are better) and 3) discrimination.

Yes, in 2005, he actually suggested that perhaps women aren’t as good as men in the sciences.  To be fair, he has defended himself by stating he was referring to the conference’s research and intended to spur discussion.  What he didn’t consider, as an economist, is the data of his own record.  According to the Boston Globe, each year in which he was president, the % of women hired in faculty positions in the sciences declined.[iv]


If the President of Harvard could verbalize such a disturbing, possible bias, it’s hard to fathom what doubts lurk silently in the minds of the general population- in both women and men.   So, just a few more facts, lest you think he may be right about an “innate skill difference”:

  • In ’04, (as in ’98 and ’00) female graduates were more likely than male graduates to have completed some advanced science coursework (71 vs. 65 percent).[i]
  • In  ’04, female graduates were more likely than male graduates to have completed some advanced mathematics courses (e.g., trigonometry, precalculus, or calculus).[i]
  • About 1/3 of all US citizens who have received Ph.D.’s in mathematics recently are women, according to the Assn for Women in Mathematics.
  • There is documented proof that during childbearing years, women do not reach tenure in Academia due to motherhood. [i]

The Bottom Line.

Choices in education matter.  It’s not everything, but it contributes a great deal to options for men and women.

When I started to speak to each woman about my inspiration to share their stories, it was because I greatly admired how they didn’t view themselves as unique among their peers.   When I researched the data of women in the worlds of Science and Math, I better understood how these women are even more accomplished than I had first realized.  The women, however, just like what they do because they are good at it.  They never assumed they wouldn’t be.

Each of them is also backed by the accomplishment of secondary degrees from Harvard, Wharton, and Vanderbilt.  They go head-to-head in skills with their equally talented counterparts.  However, they are but a small percentage of their market places.  They are unique:  not among women, but among us all.

Stay tuned for more on these gals with Grace, Grit, and Guts.    These women shouldn’t be unique.  Their gender, competencies, and refreshing attitudes in what today are male-dominated fields should be the norm in our future.


[i] The Shriver Report, A Woman’s Nation Changes Everything

[ii] Center for Women’s Business Research, October, 2009 and the National Women’s Business Council’s report, Economic Impact of Women Owned Businesses in the United States, 10/09



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