‘Girls Who Code’ Founder Reshma Saujani Says Teach Girls Bravery, Not Perfection

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We love Reshma Saujani. She is a badass entrepreneur and changer of many girls’ lives. As the founder of Girls Who Code and author of a book every woman should read, ‘Women Who Don’t Wait In Line’, you know that this is one inspiring lady who doesn’t waste any opportunity to help other women.

Given that March is Women’s History Month in the US, it’s only fitting that she gave a TED Talk and addressed it to parents about an important aspect of raising daughters. With her expertise working with so many young women that participate in the Girls Who Code programs each year, Reshma knows a thing or two about what it takes to equip girls with the tools they need to succeed in areas where they are not necessarily the dominant force. We’re talking about STEM (science, tech, engineering and math).

While her TED Talk was specifically about how to ensure girls grow up with the same amount of confidence as boys, there are some major truth bombs that a woman of any age should and can identify with. The title “teach girls bravery, not perfection” was introduced with a personal story from Reshma’s career.

In 2010 she ran for Congress in New York against an woman who had held the seat since 1992. She spent millions of dollars on a campaign that failed quite notably. In her mind, she says in the video below, she wanted to disrupt the status quo, and make her mark on American politics as a young Indian American woman running a race with slim chances.

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For her it marked a change in her life, because at the age of 33, it was the first time she had done something “truly brave”, without the pressure of needing to be perfect. She says this is what many women do the same, gravitating toward careers they know they are going to be good at.

“Most girls are taught to avoid risk and failure. They’re taught to smile pretty, play it safe, get all A’s. Boys, on the other hand, are taught to play rough, crawl to the top of the monkey bars and then jump off head first,” she illustrates with a scenario many of us can identify with from our school days.

These traits become ingrained into girls and boys and carry on into adulthood as traits that can either limit or propel their chances.

“Whether they’re negotiating a raise or even asking someone out on a date, they’re habituated to take risk after risk,” she says referring to boys.

“In other words, we’re raising our girls to be perfect and we’re raising our boys to be brave.”

If you stop and think about all the articles you read discussing the psychology behind why so many men harass women on the street, catcall, abuse and even attack women, perhaps it harks back to what Reshma is talking about where as boys, these men have it burned into their subconscious that going out on a limb no matter that consequence is what they are “supposed” to do.

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She goes on to describe this as the “bravery deficit” where the economy and society is losing out on having girls operating at their full potential because of the way they are conditioned to asses their decisions differently from boys growing up.

“We’re not raising our girls to be brave. The bravery deficit is why women are underrepresented in STEM, in C-suites, in boardrooms, in Congress and pretty much everywhere you look,” she said.

Referencing ongoing research from Carol Dweck who studied 5th grade children between the 1960s and 1990s, Reshma points out quite a shocking and not-widely-discussed fact when it comes to motivating young children – praising their intelligence over their effort actually has an adverse effect. They see intelligence as something they are either inherently born with or not, whereas effort is something that is something every person can change in each situation.

Looking specifically at the gender breakdown, when girls were given an assignment that was too difficult for them, the higher the IQ of the girl, the more likely they were to give up. Boys, on the other hand, were more likely to double their efforts and take on the difficult assignment as an exciting challenge.

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Just like Carol Dweck found in her research, the presence of intelligence is not the key here, as girls are found to routinely outperform boys in math and science at a fifth grade level.

“The difference is in the way girls and boys approached a challenge,” Reshma pointed out. This is what gets carried all the way into an adult career. She referenced a report from HP which found when will apply for a job if they are 60% qualified, and women would only apply if they feel they are 100% qualified.

While some would cite this as women needing more confidence, it is more than that.

“I think it’s evidence that women have been socialized to aspire to perfection, and they’re overly cautious,” she said.

In the tech industry alone, there are over 600,000 computer science jobs not being filled because there are women not taking enough risks despite being qualified, Reshma says. It is one of the reasons she, after her failed run for Congress (but a successful attempt at breaking her own bravery deficit) decided to become an entrepreneur and create Girls Who Code in order to put a dent in the tech industry’s gender gap.

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The company’s mission is to teach girls to be brave, not perfect, and the fruits of this labor are already being seen in the next generation. Out of the GWC program, girls have created programs that are already making people talk. Two high school girls created a game called Tampon Run in 2015 in order to break down stigma around menstruation and sexism in gaming.

She underscores her message by saying there has never been a more urgent time to ensure don’t leave behind half the population by raising them to pursue perfection instead of bravery, and that she doesn’t want to see an entire generation of girls waiting until they are 33 to do something brave.

“We have to begin to undo the socialization of perfection, but we’ve got to combine it with building a sisterhood that lets girls know they are not alone…When we teach girls to be brave and we have a supportive network cheering them on, they will build incredible things.”

It is a great message for any woman to hear, but it is also an insightful and compelling reason to ensure to break down our subconscious gender bias when we raise our children in order for them to reach their full potential without limitations. Watch Reshma’s full TED Talk below, and if you are interested in enrolling your daughter in a Girls Who Code program, click here.


 

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