Empowering Model Citizens, Not Models

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Reshma Saujani has a vision. Though with one quick glance at her credentials, you may think that vision is to get more girls involved in STEM or to break the glass ceiling, in fact, her vision runs deeper than those both. Saujani wants to make America great by making half of its population braver.

Saujani begins her talk with a story about her first experiment with bravery – she ran for Congress. But in her eyes, this is a sad story, not sad because she did it, but sad because she was already thirty three when it happened. Is it that she lacked in confidence? Certainly not, if she ran a race she believed she could win against all of the evidence presented to her. Saujani has a different explanation,

“Most girls are taught to avoid risk and failure. 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….we’re raising our girls to be perfect, and we’re raising our boys to be brave.”

But what are the implications of girls aiming for perfection? Well for one, we all know that imperfection is unattainable so likely, setting that as a goal and repeatedly failing to reach it, would have an adverse effect on girls’ confidence and self-esteem. However, this has tangible socio-economic repercussions as well. According to Saujani,

“The bravery deficit is why women are underrepresented in STEM, in C-suites, in boardrooms, in Congress, and pretty much everywhere you look.”

The US is already lagging behind other countries in sciences and technology. By not supporting our girls and women to push boundaries, operate outside of their comfort zones and stay on par with their male counterparts, we are leaving behind one half of our population that could leave a lasting impact on not only on this country but on innovation worldwide. In Saujani’s words,

girl filling out job application“And so 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.”

So how to change this? Saujani says we need to start young. Encourage our girls to accept failure as a part of the learning and growing process, be positive when they show us their errors and be useful in helping them work to find their own solutions. Girls are just as capable as boys in every way, but we have to do a better job in letting them know.

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