Are we raising girls not to be brave but ‘perfect’?

Girls Who Code founder Reshma Saujani thinks girls are the product of a 'bravery deficit' in society.
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Boys and girls are often treated differently growing up. Where boys are encouraged to rough and tumble, compete and strive, many girls are told to keep themselves nice, be polite and not bossy.

But this is something that Reshma Saujani says is ruining young girl’s chances in the workplace – as they’re socialised from an early age not to aim too high.

In her recent TED talk, Reshma outlines what happens when girls and boys are brought up this way.

“Most girls are taught to avoid risk and failure,” she told audiences.

“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.

“In other words, we’re raising our girls to be perfect, and we’re raising our boys to be brave.”

Reshma explains that the effects of this is fewer women in boardrooms, in government, in pretty much anywhere you look – and this isn’t down to a lack of ability.

Despite girls outperforming boys during their schooling, they are more likely, according to Saujani, to doubt their abilities.

“An HP report found that 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. 100 percent.

“This study is usually invoked as evidence that, well, women need a little more confidence. But I think it’s evidence that women have been socialized to aspire to perfection, and they’re overly cautious.”

Pretty worrying statistics, and ones that Reshma, who runs an education non-profit, wants desperately to change.

“We have to socialize our girls to be comfortable with imperfection, and we’ve got to do it now. We cannot wait for them to learn how to be brave like I did when I was 33 years old. We have to teach them to be brave in schools and early in their careers, when it has the most potential to impact their lives and the lives of others, and we have to show them that they will be loved and accepted not for being perfect but for being courageous.

“And so I need each of you to tell every young woman you know — your sister, your niece, your employee, your colleague — to be comfortable with imperfection, because 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.”

Check out Reshma’s non profit Girls who Code for more information.

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