I struggled to raise my hand in class, even when I was 100% sure I had the right answer.
At the mere thought of raising my hand, my stomach would tighten while my heart pounded so loudly I would swear my classmates could hear it.
I’d silently practice what I wanted to say out loud, but I’d never have the guts to say it.
This continued throughout high school, college, and eventually in the office. So many good ideas were left unsaid during meetings because of fear—fear of making a mistake, of being wrong, of being embarrassed, of not being perfect.
And now as a new mama to two little girls, I so desperately, whole-heartedly do not want that for my daughters.
And luckily, neither does Reshma Saujani, founder and CEO of Girls Who Code and author of Women Who Don’t Wait In Line.
Reshma recently gave an inspiring TED Talk about teaching girls bravery instead of perfection which (not surprsingly!) quickly gained over 750,000 views. We got to chat with the brilliant attorney, activist, and women’s leadership advocate Reshma on all things bravery: for us, for our daughters, and for our economy.
So how do we teach our daughters to be brave, instead of perfect? (Who needs perfection, anyway?)
We spoke to Reshma about how we can cultivate bravery in our daughters—and ourselves.
On the risks women and girls need to take—
Reshma told Motherly: “I’m enormously regretful of being so risk-averse early on in my career. I stayed in jobs I hated for far too long because I was afraid of the uncertainty that came with leaving. I was afraid of failing and afraid of disappointing my family.
“I was 32 when I ran for Congress. I say this because we’re taught it’s ok to take these big career leaps when we’re in our 20s, but we cast an unfavorable light on those who take big risks later on in their careers or when they start families.”
“Yes I lost the campaign but out of it came Girls Who Code. If I hadn’t taken that leap I wouldn’t be where I am today. I hope through sharing my failure stories I can show women of all ages it’s never too late to follow your dreams.”
On opt-ing in to risk—
In Reshma’s TED talk she explains that when it comes to applying for jobs, men will apply for roles where they meet 60% of the qualifications—whereas women will only apply if they meet 100%.
Reshma told Motherly: “Those stats are really eye-opening. There were so many times I didn’t apply for a job I really wanted because they asked for a specific skill or expertise I didn’t have. Yet how realistic is it they we can check every box? You can also think of it this way: If you are able to check every box, what do you left to learn? I think this desire to make sure something is a ‘sure thing’ before we even try has caused us to be so overly cautious. It causes us to miss out on opportunities for real growth.”
On cultivating bravery—
Reshma: “I think it’s important to see bravery as something not outside of our girls but something that can be cultivated within them.”
“It’s so important to encourage girls to take risks (however small at first!) early on. As parents it’s our role to nurture her adventurousness and exploration in her day-to-day, and reward her for taking risks in the same way we reward her for being ‘good’. Allowing girls to explore new interests in their own time is really important.”
On teaching your children by your own actions—
Reshma: “We know as parents and caretakers we play a huge role in how we shape our kids’ values and outlooks. An obvious way would be to encourage our girls to take on the same risks we encourage in our boys, and to reward hard work in the same way we reward accomplishments. But let’s not forget that so much of what our kids’ learn is through observation. Kids are always listening, watching, and they pick up on subtle cues about what’s acceptable and unacceptable.”
“We have an amazing opportunity to teach our girls to accept imperfection by encouraging and embracing it in our own lives.”
On why we should praise bravery—
Even if as women we have been “socialized to be perfect,” Reshma explains, now is our time to change that within ourselves. To throw perfection out the window and explicitly model bravery for our daughters.
Reshma: “Awareness is the first step. Noticing how we’re encouraging our girls to play it safe rather than being bold and courageous is powerful. Adjusting our behavior accordingly is the next step. It’s about finding the right balance between making sure our kids feel safe and supported and giving them the space they need to explore, fail, and get back up again.”
“As parents we’re hardwired to want to step in and protect at all costs. It requires not just a lot of patience but living with a certain amount of discomfort.”
“But know that that patience and discomfort is an investment into your child’s future. And the future of our economy.”
So when can our daughters start learning to code with Reshma?
Reshma: “When it comes down to it, coding is all about building and problem-solving. There are tons of resources for kids as young as 1-2. We’re big fans of GoldieBlox. It’s never too early to start introducing girls to these resources, developing skills that will help them in life whether they decide to pursue computer science or not. Our Girls Who Code Clubs program teaches girls beginning 6th grade, when girls’ interests in math and science begins to drop off.”
As Reshma explains in her TED Talk, “Those 600,000 jobs that are open right now in computing and tech? Women are being left behind. And it 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. For the American economy, for any economy to grow—to truly innovate—we cannot leave behind half our population. We have to socialize our girls to be comfortable with imperfection, and we’ve got to do it now.”
So let’s not wait for our daughters to figure this out themselves. Let’s teach them together; let’s show them the way. Raise your hand. Speak up. Apply for that job. Build startups. Push boundaries. Take risks. Go outside your comfort zone. Big, great, amazing things are going to happen. ?
Reshma Saujani is the Founder and CEO of Girls Who Code, a national non-profit organization working to close the gender gap in technology. Through its Summer Immersion Programs and Clubs, Girls Who Code is leading the movement to inspire, educate, and equip young women with the computing skills to pursue 21st century opportunities.
Started in 2012, the organization has grown to reach 10,000 girls in more than 40 states. In 2016, Girls Who Code will run more than 80 Summer Immersion Programs and 500 Clubs. The results speak for themselves: 90 percent of alumnae have declared or intend to declare a major or minor in computer science.
Reshma began her career as an attorney and activist. In 2010, she surged onto the political scene as the first Indian American woman to run for U.S. Congress. During the race, Reshma visited local schools and saw the gender gap in computing classes firsthand, which led her to start Girls Who Code. Reshma has also served as Deputy Public Advocate for New York City and ran a spirited campaign for Public Advocate in 2013.
Reshma is the author of the groundbreaking new book, Women Who Don’t Wait In Line, in which she advocates for a new model of female leadership focused on embracing risk and failure, promoting mentorship and sponsorship, and boldly charting your own course — personally and professionally. She is a graduate of the University of Illinois, Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, and Yale Law School. She’s been named one of Fortune’s 40 under 40, a WSJ Magazine Innovator of the Year, one of the 50 Most Powerful Women in New York by the New York Daily News, CNBC’s Next List, Forbes’s Most Powerful Women Changing the World, Fast Company’s 100 Most Creative People, Crain’s New York 40 Under 40, Ad Age’s Creativity 50, Business Insider’s 50 Women Who Are Changing the World, City & State’s Rising Stars, and an AOL/PBS Next MAKER.