Think about the following sentence for a minute:
We're raising our girls to be perfect, and we're raising our boys to be brave.
Is it true? Reshma Saujani thinks so. And as the founder of Girls Who Code, she's hellbent on changing it.
Saujani spoke at a recent TED conference about the importance of teaching young girls to be imperfect and take risks. And to drive the point home, she recounted her own experiences learning to be brave while running for Congress in 2010.
"A few years ago I did something really brave," she began. "Or some would say, really stupid. I ran for Congress."
"For years I had existed safely behind the scenes in politics," she continued. "As a fundraiser, an organizer. But in my heart, I always wanted to run.... In my mind, this was my way to make a difference. To disrupt the status quo."
Saujani recalled that her pollsters told her that she was crazy to run. That there was no way she could win. She ran anyway. "I swore I was going to win," she said. "But on election day the polls were right, and I only got 19 percent of the vote. But this is not a talk about the importance of failure. Nor is it about leaning in. I tell you the story of how I ran for Congress, because I was 33 years old. And it was the first time, in my entire life, that I had done something that was truly brave."
It was an eye-opening experience for Saujani, one that made her realize there's what she calls a "bravery deficit" when it comes to raising girls. "Most girls are taught to avoid risk and failure," she said. We're taught 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 just jump off, headfirst. And by the time they're adults, whether they're negotiating a raise or even asking someone out on a date, they're habituated to take risk after risk. They're rewarded for it. Our economy, our society, we're just losing out because 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."
So in 2012, Saujani started Girls Who Code in order to try to level the playing field. "Coding, it's an endless process of trial and error," she explained. "Of trying to get the right command in the right place, with sometimes just a semicolon making the difference between success and failure. Code breaks and then it falls apart, and it often takes many, many tries until that magical moment when what you're trying to build comes to life. It requires perseverance. It requires imperfection."
But even that, Saujani said, isn't enough. "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 that they are not alone," she said. "I can't 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 is struggling. When we teach girls to be brave and we have a supportive network cheering them on, they will build incredible things. And whether they become coders or the next Hillary Clinton or Beyoncé, they will not defer their dreams."