The founder of Girls Who Code kept hearing the same story. In their first week of learning to code, the girls' screens would be blank. They said they were stuck and didn't know which code to write. Yet when the teachers pressed undo a few times, they found the girls had written code. But the girls had deleted it because it wasn't exactly right. If the code wasn't absolutely perfect, the girls felt they were doing it wrong.
Coding -- and long-term success in anything -- isn't about getting it right the first time. It's about trial and error. And about getting it mostly right until you can get it a little more right the next time.
This goes against how most girls are taught. Reshma Saujani says by teaching our girls perfection, we are doing them a disservice to achieving future success. Girls aren't socialized to be comfortable with failure. "We're raising our girls to be perfect, and we're raising our boys to be brave," Saujani says in her TED talk titled Teach Girls Bravery, Not Perfection. It's one of the most-watched TED talks of 2016.
How girls and boys are taught differently
We hear time and time again that path to success is paved with taking risks. Yet Saujani explains most girls are taught to avoid risk and failure, to play it safe. They're encouraged to pursue careers they know they will succeed in. Boys, on the other hand, are rewarded for being risk takers. For playing rough, swinging high and jumping off head-first.
Saujani says their whole lives girls are socialized for perfection. Boys are socialized for bravery. So when it comes time to negotiate that job offer or ask for a raise, it's easy to understand why men may be more likely to go for it. It's not that women are any less ambitious. It's that they have been primed to believe that if something isn't a slam dunk, they should perhaps perfect their technique until it's perfect.
The 60/100 comparison between women and men
This perfection versus bravery socialization manifests itself in how men and women apply to jobs. An often-quoted internal report from Hewlett Packard revealed that women only apply for jobs if they meet 100 percent of the qualifications. But men will apply if they meet just 60 percent of the qualifications.
"This study is usually invoked as evidence that, well, women need a little more confidence," Saujani explains. "But I think it's evidence that women have been socialized to aspire to perfection, and they're overly cautious." The difference is not in ability, she points out. It's in how each the potential job applicant approaches the challenge.
All kids should learn bravery and failure
Saujani believes to level the playing field for girls, parents and educators must do more than teach them how to code or crunch numbers. "We have to begin to undo the socialization of perfection," she says. Bravery is the secret weapon to any child's future success.
Saujani encourages her TED audience to help their children overcome the fear of not getting it right. The earlier girls learn to be comfortable with imperfection and taking small risks, the better they'll be prepared to take on bigger risks as adults.