02/09/2021 CHRC

True Grit

By Lisa Aggarwal

Commonwealth HR Consulting is a firm composed of women who love math. So perhaps it’s not surprising that the movie Hidden Figures resonates with several of us. 

We are told from a young age that we can do hard things. “Things” have certainly been hard lately. Who better to learn from than women who looked hard in the face and told it to try harder.

One of the most amazing things about this movie was that no embellishments were needed to tell the stories of these female African-American “human computers” whose work and dedication was critical to the space race. This, at a time when WHO they were (African-American and female) was an inherent obstacle to their own success…still to this day. 

Instead, they were pioneers who charted their own courses. Katherine Goble Johnson became the best known of this group when she received the Presidential Medal of Honor; she calculated the trajectories of the Apollo 11 and Space Shuttle. Mary Jackson was the first female African-American engineer at NASA. Dorothy Vaughan was the first African-American supervisor at NASA … because she taught herself FORTRAN. 

 “Their path to advancement might look less like a straight line and more like some of the pressure distributions and orbits they plotted, but they were determined to take a seat at the table.” – Margot Lee Shetterly 

How was their world altering success accomplished, against all odds? GRIT.

There are many ways to describe grit: being resilient, having a strategic mindset, continuously striving for self-development. It is a competency, or innate behavior. You can sometimes develop it, but it is usually a part of a person’s make up.  Without leverage, without a voice, the heroines of Hidden Figures demonstrate so many aspects of grit, then out-prepare and then out-perform their peers.  It is a muscle that they have been using their whole lives.

The easy path is rarely the most rewarding. Invest your time in someone you see has potential, or in yourself. Sometimes, in order to get some traction, you need to put some grit down on that slippery slope and see where it might take you.