CTech Book Review: A Call to Raise Our Children Without Gender Constructs
Title: “Brave, Not Perfect”
Author: Reshma Saujani
Format: Audio book
According to social research, some of the differences between men and women are biological, but many more are the result of social constructs that revolve around us from an early age, perhaps even from birth. “Brave, Not Perfect” author Reshma Saujani – who is the founder and CEO of the Girls Who Code nonprofit, aimed at closing the gender gap in tech – talks about the fundamental difference in how boys and girls are brought up, and how it affects our performance in the business world as we grow up. Essentially, Saujani is saying that while boys are taught to take risks, to try and fail, girls are raised to be just perfect. The impact of these different ways of educating on the way we function is much more significant than you might imagine.
Saujani begins the book by recounting how in 2009, after a few years behind the scenes in the political arena, she decided to make a crazy move – to run for Congress in New York. She was seen as a rising political star, fundraising from everyone she knew to a total of over a million dollars, being covered in major newspapers as a promising candidate for diversity – but never eventually reached only about 6000 disappointing votes and, understandably, lost the race. Although the failure was humbling, it made Saujani realize that this experience at age 33 was the first time in her entire life that she had done something truly courageous. Where she didn’t care about being perfect.
Saujani tells this story because it also made her realize that she was not alone. She also realized that so many amazing and talented women around her would only do careers that they believe they would be perfect in, that are in their comfort zone. This is what started the “Brave, not Perfect” movement. “Most girls learn to avoid risk and failure, smile nicely, play it safe, get all A grades,” Saujani writes. “Boys, on the other hand, learn to play rough, swing high, crawl to the top of the monkey bar, and jump headfirst. By the time they’re adults while negotiating a salary or even asking someone out on a date, they’re used to taking risk after risk. They are rewarded for it. »
The book was recommended in a women’s network that I belong to, and something about the title struck me right away. Listening to Saujani’s words (I highly recommend the audiobook narrated by the author herself) reminded me of how the decisions I was most proud of in my life were the ones I, or the people around I considered courageous. Like changing industries and roles with little to no experience or preparation. Or jumping headfirst from the monkey bar into a start-up roller coaster, leaving behind a 9-year career as a journalist in which I had already made a name for myself.
What I learned :
“We raise our girls to be perfect, and we raise our boys to be brave.” The most important lesson of this book made me examine the powers and influence at play in how we raise boys and girls and how this influences their future. I think about the impact that must have had on the way I was raised, and on the strong, successful women around me. In memory of the girls at school who didn’t want to play in the mud so as not to get their dresses dirty or who refused to jump in the swimming pool so as not to get their hair dirty. I also remembered the good job my parents had done, when they convinced me to go to a group sports class and play tag when I was 4 or 5 years old, even though I had literally been terrified of being in the losing group every time.
Saujani says the “bravery deficit” is a big reason why women are underrepresented in politics, in the C-Suite, on corporate boards and just about everywhere you look. Women have been socialized to strive for perfection, which makes them overly cautious and tends to escape potential failure. As a woman in the startup world, it’s a painful realization, especially knowing that failure is what happens to most startups. In fact, the common belief is that in Silicon Valley, no one even takes you seriously unless you have two failed companies under your belt.
A surprising fact to discover is that research shows that smart girls are more likely to give up on a task when they feel they’re not going to do it perfectly. The higher the IQ, the more likely they are to let go. Bright boys, on the other hand, relish the challenge and work harder. It’s not about ability – in school, girls regularly do better than boys, but it’s because the rules are clear and defined – there’s a grading system, and the path to get the perfect score is simple to describe and depends on dedication. However, once we enter the business world, there is no clear path to success, and nothing is ever perfect.
In the real world, bravery is rewarded. You know the clichés: aim big or go home. Fortune favors the brave. Giving up on something you are not yet good at will get you nowhere. This is why men apply for a job when they only meet 60% of the criteria, and women, on average, only apply when they meet 100%. Since reading this book, I find myself quoting parts of it to friends who have daughters, to colleagues and members of my team, and often to myself when I wonder if I should take a risk that would push me out of my comfort zone. Being perfect sounds nice on paper, but you’re very unlikely to get anywhere.
So how do we build our bravery muscle? Here is another great lesson from Saujani: “Surround yourself with rejection. One way to rebuild our resilience and eliminate the sting of rejection and failure is to normalize it. Proudly display your rejections, they are the mark of your bravery.
While I agree that a lack of experiences of failure and bravery is part of the reason women are underrepresented in tech and in many other industries and positions, it wouldn’t be fair, or rather simplistic, to reduce the problem to this one problem. Social constructs impact men and women in so many different and hidden ways that even when women, or other underrepresented voices, choose to take a risk and participate, they are not always welcome. and invited, or do not have the capacity to do so.
It’s also worth noting that while the lessons in the first half of the book are very meaningful, the second half can be somewhat repetitive and doesn’t provide many groundbreaking new ideas like the first part does. So if you’re short on time, feel free to skip part two, you’ll still have the core.
Who should read this book:
I strongly recommend that women in tech, but also other women or men, read the book in order to better understand the forces that operate to make us who we are and impact our risky behaviors. I sincerely believe that reading equips us with an important lens, to ask ourselves whether we should be more aware of our own decision-making processes, and more aware of what we say to our children, understanding that it may well influence in the future.