Skip to main content

Reshma Saujani, Founder & CEO of the computer science educational group Girls Who Code, spoke at a Ted Talk conference recently, but this time the value of coding was just peripheral to her main point. Her point was that young boys seem to be socialized to embrace bravery, while young girls seem to be socialized to strive for perfection. This deviation in imparted values leads girls to shy away from challenges in which they doubt they’ll be able to attain a perfect result, argues Saujani, and is ultimately a huge disservice not only to young girls but also to the communities and businesses that may one day stand to benefit from their unhindered efforts.

“It was the first time in my life I had done something that was truly brave; where I didn’t worry about being perfect,” Saujani says of the decision she made to run for Congress at 33-years-old. “Most girls are taught to avoid risk and failure. They’re taught to smile pretty, play it safe, get all As. 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 head first. By the time they’re adults, whether they’re negotiating a raise or even just asking someone out on a date, they’re habituated to take risk after risk. They’re rewarded for it… We’re raising our girls to be perfect and our boys to be brave.”

Saujani goes on to quote a report conducted by the Harvard Business Review that showed that at Hewlett Packard, “men will apply for a job if they meet only 60 percent of the qualifications, but women? Women will apply only if they meet 100 percent of the qualifications.”

I happen to be an exception to these statistics. I’ve been underqualified for nearly every job I’ve ever had, the product of parents—and a father in particular—who took every opportunity to encourage me to try, try, and try again. I was told at every turn that I could be anything I put my mind to, that I was capable, and that the only unforgivable trespass was to fail to give my best effort. I wouldn’t have identified that as bravery at the time, but when I made the choice to leave my cushy job last year and venture into a “solopreneur” business, following a lifelong passion, it sure felt brave then. And I know that I can’t take all the credit for that bravery—I was taught that bravery.

“We have to socialize our girls to be comfortable with imperfection, and we gotta do it now,” says Saujani. “We have to show them that they will be loved and accepted, not for being perfect, but for being courageous.”

I could not agree more. May all girls grow up knowing that bravery beats perfection. And it’s a hell of a lot more fun, too.

Art Credit: Makers