Reshma Saujani: Don’t Raise Your Girl To Be A ‘Perfect’ Woman But To Be ‘Brave’ One!

reshma saujani

Reshma Saujani, an Indian American is the founder and CEO of Girls Who Code. Her aim in life is to encourage women to believe in themselves. Reshma and her efficient team teach girls basic computer-science skills. They also introduce them to role models in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math fields to make them feel they too can have a successful career in the sciences.

Reshma Saujani has a background in law and politics. In 2010, she became the first Indian American woman to run for U.S. Congress by competing for a seat in the House of Representatives. She served as the Deputy Public Advocate of New York City.

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Reshma observed that though bright in academics, girls generally avoid studying science subjects as they are afraid of taking the risk. They want to be perfect; they never want to fail. Boys on the other hand from their childhood are trained to take risks, learn by their mistakes and don’t take failures as something to be ashamed of. So to in order to inspire and empower girls, she decided to teach girls basic science and computer and think freely like boys. With this aim in mind, she founded Girls Who Code.

Reshma Saujani observed that,“Most girls are taught to avoid failure and risk. To smile pretty, play it safe, get all A’s. Boys, on the other hand, are taught to play rough, swing high, crawl to the top of the monkey bars and then jump off head first. By the time they’re adults and whether they’re negotiating a raise or even asking someone out on a date, men are habituated to take risk after risk. They’re rewarded for it. It’s often said in Silicon Valley that no one even takes you seriously unless you’ve had two failed startups. In other words, we’re raising our girls to be perfect and we’re raising our boys to be brave.”

Reshma says she is worried about bravery deficit in girls. In her view, we’re losing out on our economy and society as we’re not raising our girls to be brave. According to Reshma, ‘The bravery deficit’ is the reason why girls are not to be seen in huge numbers in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths, in boardrooms, in Congress, and all other areas requiring the use of intelligence.

facebook/Reshma Saujani

Reshma in one of her TED Talks, told her audience that, in the 1980s, psychologist Carol Dweck looked at how bright fifth graders handled an assignment that was too difficult for them. She found that bright girls were quick to give up. The higher the IQ, the more likely they were to give up. Bright boys, on the other hand, found the difficult material to be a challenge, they found it energizing. They were more likely to redouble their efforts.

Reshma also observed that at the 5th-grade, girls are better than boys in every subject, even in math and science. So, it’s not that girls are inefficient. The difference is in how boys and girls perceive a challenge. She quoted an HP report which found that men will apply for a job if they meet only 60% of the qualifications. But women will apply only if they meet 100% of the qualifications! This study proves that women need a little more confidence. Reshma feels that it’s evidence that women have been socialized to aspire to perfection and are overly cautious. This socialization of perfection has caused women to take fewer risks in their careers.

So, there are millions of jobs available in computing and technology, but unfortunately, women are not applying for them. This, Reshma says, means our economy is being left behind on all the innovation and problems women would solve if they were socialized to be brave instead of socialized to be perfect.

In 2012, Reshma Saujani started a company to teach girls to code. She found that by teaching them to code, she socialized them to be brave. Coding often takes many attempts until the moment when what one is trying to build comes to life. It requires patience and imperfection.

Facebook/ Reshma Saujani

Reshma sees in her program girls fear of not getting it right, of not being perfect. But finally, it turns out that girls are really good at coding. But it’s not enough just to teach them to code. Reshma’s friend Lev Brie, who teaches intro to Java at Columbia University, tells her a story about his office hours with computer science students. The guys who struggle with an assignment come in and say “Professor, there’s something wrong with my code.” But the girls come in and say, “Professor, there’s something wrong with me.”

Reshma says,‘We have to begin to undo the socialization of perfection — and we have to combine it with a sisterhood that lets girls know that they are not alone, because trying harder is not gonna fix a broken system. I cannot tell you how many women tell me, “I’m afraid to raise my hand. I’m afraid to ask a question because I don’t want to be the only one who doesn’t understand, the only one who’s struggling.”

When we teach girls to be brave and support them, they do incredible things. Girls should be socialized to be imperfect, to keep trying, and learn perseverance. Whatever career they choose, they will not defer their dreams.

In Reshma’s words, “We have to teach them to be brave in school and early in their careers when it has the most potential to impact their lives and the lives of others. We have to show them that they will be accepted and loved — not for being perfect, but for being courageous.”

Reshma Saujani encourages us all  to be comfortable with imperfection. In her view, when we teach girls to be imperfect, and we help them leverage it, we will build a movement of young women who are brave and who will build a better world — for themselves, and for each and every one of us.

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