Reshma Saujani

'Brave, not perfect'

Saujani seeks to empower women—and change our culture—through technology.

June 18, 2019

Reshma Saujani is on a mission.

The founder of Girls Who Code, she wants to reduce the gender gap in technology and to change the image the collective world conjures up when they think about programmers.

Saujani spoke during Tuesday’s general session at America’s Credit Union Conference at Walt Disney World® Resort in Florida.

She’s already been successful. Girls Who Code has reached 185,000 young women to date, and alumnae of the program have chosen to major in computer science at 15 times the national average.

But just as importantly, Saujani wants to change the overall culture for women. As she describes, boys and girls are typically raised with an implicit set of different expectations. Specifically, girls are socialized to be perfect, while boys are socialized to be brave.

“We’re constantly coddling and protecting our girls, and it often begins because we want to protect them from physical harm or to protect their feelings,” Saujani says. “With boys we’re raising them to be fearless. We’re raising them to be risk takers, and this isn’t something we do intentionally.”

She offers advice for practicing bravery every day:

  1. Practice imperfection. “Bravery is like a muscle,” Saujani says. “It is a muscle that you have to constantly practice and exercise. Just like weight loss, you will go on and off the wagon.”

    Saujani says parents should let their girls tinker, take apart things and put them back together, and have them help fix broken appliances around the house. “Don’t let them walk away from a challenge when they get frustrated,” she says. “That’s practicing imperfection.”
  1. Do something you suck at. Saujani says men are great for enjoying activities they haven’t mastered (golf anyone?), while women “won’t even go to spinning class until we’re in shape.”

“We very much confuse the things that we’re good at with the things that we like,” she says. “We have to start this idea of figuring out the things that we like. It makes life more enjoyable.”

  1. Just start. When Saujani started Girls Who Code, for some reason she told everyone she encountered about her new “movement,” even though she had scheduled just one session with 20 girls in a single conference room.

    “Most of you have a fantasy, some dream that you’ve talked yourself out of,” Saujani says. “I think it’s important to live a life of no regrets. I want everyone in this room to take one step toward your aspiration and don’t talk yourself out of it.”

Saujani says that bravery will bring about a change in culture—one girl at a time.

“I am one of the most hopeful people you will ever meet, because I surround myself with girls,” she says. “I believe the girls of America will save us, they will heal us, they will lead us.

“If we want more empathy, compassion, and humanity in society, we not only have to teach girls how to code, we have to teach them how to be brave, not perfect.”

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