Katlyn Grasso: “The best way to manage a large team is to create a culture that values feedback”

Authority Magazine
Jun 13 · 8 min read

I had the pleasure to interview Katlyn Grasso. Katlyn is the CEO and Founder of GenHERation, a network that connects ambitious young women with companies nationwide. She created GenHERation Discovery Days, has developed original GenHERation webisodes, and has grown the GenHERation community to reach more than 250,000 young women. A graduate of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, Katlyn is one of the inaugural recipients of the Penn President’s Engagement Prize, which provides graduating seniors with $150,000 to develop innovative projects that have the potential to change the world. She is a frequent national television and radio contributor appearing on CNBC, Bloomberg, FOX Business, Yahoo Finance and SiriusXM Radio.

Thank you so much for joining us Katlyn. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

As a social entrepreneur, I have always been passionate about empowering young women and I wanted to create a business that provided an experiential learning platform for leadership. During the summer after my sophomore year at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, I received research grants from the Wharton Social Impact Initiative and Wharton Innovation Fund to study leadership development in high school girls. I interviewed more than 700 high school girls, 40 female executives, and 30 educators in all 50 states, 9 countries, and 4 continents to analyze the factors that influence girls’ perception of leadership. Using this knowledge, I founded GenHERation, which is a network where young women and companies connect. During my senior year, I received the inaugural President’s Engagement Prize from Dr. Amy Gutmann, which provides graduating seniors with $150,000 to develop projects with the potential to change the world. This was a life-changing award and I will always be extremely grateful for the support of the Penn community.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

GenHERation provides young women with access to the most innovative companies in America through our online platform and national events. We have empowered more than 250,000 young women and hosted 300 events across North America. The mantra I use to guide the young women of GenHERation is “If you can see it, you can be it.” Our mission is to connect young women with the resources they need to develop into the professionals they aspire to become. Once you are a GenHERation member, you gain access to events, inspiring content, job and internship opportunities, mentors, and an amazing community of young women.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the largest amount of good to the largest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

It is 2019 and women comprise only 5% of Fortune 500 CEOs and 20% of Congress. These statistics are not reflective of the incredible advancements women have made in the past decade, so it is imperative that we all work together to amplify women’s voices. I believe that by creating a network in which young women are encouraged to be ambitious and empowered at a young age, they will be more likely to pursue positions of power later in their lives to close the gender leadership gap.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

The best part of being an entrepreneur is that every day is a new adventure and my team and I work to make each day more interesting than the last. As an entrepreneur, I think it is important to embrace the “always moving forward” mentality because you constantly have to be thinking about how all the small things you do today will make a big impact on your business in the future. Being an entrepreneur has created a lifetime of interesting stories and a few of my favorites include, winning the President’s Engagement Prize, celebrating International Women’s Day in Australia, and my sister joining the GenHERation team.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

My team and I are getting ready for GenHERation Discovery Days 2019, which is a cross-country summer bus tour that provides high school and college women with the opportunity to visit the most innovative companies in America, meet female executives, participate in skill-building activities, and earn scholarships. More than 50 companies are participating, including Ernst & Young, Capital One, Greyhound, Expedia, DLL, Hartford Funds, NFP, Facebook, Netflix, Google, National Geographic, Nordstrom, Amazon, Microsoft, Twitter, LucasFilm, IBM, Pizza Hut, Fossil, Pixar, CBS, Viacom, AllSaints, Urban Outfitters, the Philadelphia 76ers, and the Los Angeles Lakers. Discovery Days has helped thousands of young women find their dream jobs, mentors, and lifelong friends.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Our Discovery Days tour has been recognized as the largest career exploration trip for young women in the United States since its inception in 2016. Discovery Days is my favorite time of the year because my team and I meet thousands of GenHERation members across the country and learn how our community can champion their personal and professional goals. Last summer, a recent college graduate, Ariana S., received her first job offer within a week of meeting a female executive on our bus in Los Angeles. I recently visited Ariana at her new office and it was great to see her working in an environment that nurtures her leadership potential. Our greatest strength is our ability to create experiences that provide meaningful connections on a massive scale.

What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?

Encourage your team members to ask questions. Curiosity is the root of innovation and the catalyst for organizational growth. I always encourage my team members to come to meetings with at least one question that will drive the conversation forward, such as, “How can we improve this process?” It is important to empower people from all levels of the organization to recognize the importance of questioning the status quo.

What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?

The best way to manage a large team is to create a culture that values feedback. As an undergrad at Wharton, many group projects involved 360-degree feedback, which includes one person sitting in the middle of the room and receiving direct feedback from all of her team members. When I started managing my own team, I knew that I wanted to create weekly check-ins that incorporated this feedback structure because it creates a level of honesty, transparency, and openness that allows everyone to use their voice to propel the goals of the organization forward. It doesn’t matter if you are a senior executive or an intern; everyone can benefit from feedback.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

My dad has been my mentor my entire life. He is the most persistent, resilient, and passionate person I know and every day he inspires me to be the best version of myself. He is the person who encouraged me to become an entrepreneur and has been the biggest fan of all of my ventures.

What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

From my experience, I have found that effective leaders are able to clearly communicate their ideas in a way that inspires others to take action. While many people think that only entrepreneurs prepare elevator pitches, all professionals should develop their own elevator pitches that clearly articulate their professional goals. Here are my 5 tips to create your own elevator pitch:

  1. Create a 3-sentence bio: Develop a short statement that explains who you are, what you do, and a goal you are working toward that can be used to frame the pitch. People usually respond with follow up questions, so you can provide additional information as needed. Remember, a pitch is a conversation, not a monologue!
  2. Customize your pitch to your target audience: Know your audience! You may want to highlight different goals based on who you are talking with, whether it be your boss, a coworker, or a potential employer.
  3. Create a call to action: You should always ask for something that you want in your pitch; you don’t know if you don’t ask! For example, if you are looking for a new job, you can ask, “Can you please recommend three people I can talk with to learn more about career opportunities in the tech industry?”
  4. Establish a timeline: After you present your “ask,” create a timeline to follow up on your request. It can be something as simple as saying, “I’ll send you my resume tomorrow so you can share it with your friend in tech,” or “I’ll reach out to you next month with an update.”
  5. Continue the conversation: If you think that you had a meaningful conversation with someone, be sure to stay in touch with them to provide updates on your progress. It doesn’t matter if it is one month, one year, or five years down the road.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson” quote? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My favorite quote is “energy and persistence conquer all things.” Spoken by Benjamin Franklin, this quote was etched into the bricks on Locust Walk at the University of Pennsylvania and I walked by it every day on my way to class. I have learned that the most successful entrepreneurs are simply the people who never gave up in the pursuit of their dreams. This quote reminds me that anything is possible if you do not give up.

Some of the biggest names in business, VC funding, sports, and entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them :-)

I would like to have lunch with Phil Knight, the founder of Nike. His autobiography Shoe Dog is my favorite book because it highlights the unwavering determination it takes to be a successful entrepreneur. Phil, I think we need a GenHERation sneaker!

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film, Sports and Tech. Authority Mag is devoted primarily to sharing interesting feature interviews of people who are authorities in their industry. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

Authority Magazine

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Authority Magazine is devoted to sharing interesting feature interviews of people who are authorities in Business, Film, Sports and Tech.

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film, Sports and Tech. Authority Mag is devoted primarily to sharing interesting feature interviews of people who are authorities in their industry. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.