Bestselling author and nonprofit founder Reshma Saujani gave the final UA Distinguished Lecture of the semester Dec. 4, calling on girls and women to practice everyday courage.
During a Q&A session at the Wallace W. and Jama M. Fowler House and a public lecture at the Fayetteville Town Center on Nov. 4, Saujani discussed the ways she thinks society conditions girls not to take the same risks as their male peers, both in the technology field and elsewhere.
Saujani is the founder and CEO of Girls Who Code, a non-profit organization that provides free computer science training to American girls in an effort to close the gender gap in technology careers. She was inspired to found the organization, which has taught 185,000 girls, after her unsuccessful campaign for the U.S. House in 2010, she said. Saujani said she was moved by how few girls she saw in computer science classrooms when she visited public schools during the campaign, she said.
Saujani thinks differences in messages society sends to young girls and boys contribute to gender disparities such as those in the tech field, she said.
“We raise our girls to be perfect, and we raise our boys to be brave,” Saujani said.
Saujani thinks the perfectionist mentality ingrained during childhood makes many women afraid to take risks in their careers, fearing they will be judged if they fail. As a result, most women will only apply for a job if they meet 100% of qualifications, while men will do so if they meet 60%, Saujani said.
“We think we have to have a degree to do something, and that’s just not true,” Saujani said.
The solution to overcoming societal pressures is for women to “retrain their brains” and learn to embrace the possibility of failure, like Saujani did when she founded Girls Who Code after having never coded before, she said. Practicing everyday bravery by applying for a long-shot job, taking up a new skill or speaking up when a male coworker says something offensive can slowly change a woman’s mindset, Saujani said.
Regan Harper, a senior, said she was excited to come to Wednesday’s lecture because she saw a TedTalk Saujani presented, and her message of anti-perfectionism resonated with her.
“I think a lot of the times, being a woman, we feel like we have to try a lot harder, and so it’s important that I remind myself that I’m still good enough,” Harper said.
After attending Saujani’s lecture, Harper felt inspired to apply for a job working with one of Girls Who Code’s school-based programs that she had previously thought she was not qualified enough for, she said.
Stephanie McKoy, a first-year doctoral student, was impressed with the way Saujani broke bravery down into simple steps that women can take, she said. Saujani’s focus on self-confidence and avoiding people-pleasing behavior made McKoy realize the subtle ways that she sometimes undermines herself.
“I see myself as being a brave person, and not being afraid,” McKoy said. “And yet I still apologized to her when I had my picture taken for flubbing up the question I asked her during the Q&A. And she goes, ‘See, you’re apologizing!’”
McKoy, who teaches Introduction to Education at the UofA, said she will use what she learned at the Q&A and lecture to have a discussion with her students about technology, perfectionism and empowering female students.
The three most important everyday steps that women can take to become braver are to “practice imperfection, do something you suck at and just start,” Saujani said as she concluded her speech Wednesday. It is critical that women not talk themselves out of trying something new or challenging before they have even begun, she said.
“By talking yourself out of it, you’re not only denying yourself what could be your biggest joy,” Saujani said. “But you’re probably also denying the world of something powerful that you could create.”