Over the summer, I viewed a Ted Talk by Reshma Saujani on teaching girls to be brave, instead of perfect. According to Saujani, the bravery deficit is the core issue surrounding women’s underrepresentation in all vocations, including technology. She stated that young girls are often praised for being “smart” or “good,” while young boys are often praised for “trying hard.” Many young girls who are given this type of feedback avoid challenges, try to look smart, and may give up easily if they can’t be perfect on the first try. Long term, girls stop raising their hands because they don’t want to be viewed as the one who doesn’t get it or who has a question. Ultimately, they stop taking risks.
I recently had the opportunity to attend the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing; I had never attended an event like it. The term “celebration” that accompanies the name of the conference is probably the simplest word I can use to encompass the experience. It was a wave of celebrations over the course of three days, growing and coalescing together, to form the experience that surrounded every woman in attendance. There were an overwhelming number of events to participate in, talks to listen to, and workshops to attend. One particularly impactful session was on algorithmic bias in AI, with Emily Chang, the author of “Brotopia”: She spoke of experiences interviewing the CEOs of Silicon Valley, and learning how to build a serverless application using AWS. There were so many ways to get involved and so many things to reflect on once I returned home.
Throughout my time before, during, and after the conference, one aspect of my experience that stood out to me. I had female friends come up to me and tell me how they wished they could go to a conference like Grace Hopper, but they didn’t think that they were qualified to go based on their academics. As a result, I remembered times when I have heard women say they avoided career fairs because they thought their resumes weren’t good enough, or when women shared their ideas privately to a group but not with the whole class because they thought the idea wasn’t perfect. It appeared that in the world that existed outside of Grace Hopper, there was always a chorus of women who doubted themselves because they didn’t deem themselves perfect.
I can relate – there have been times that I’ve felt that way in school or at work. I started my Computer Science major at Virginia Tech without any engineering or math training – and it has been intimidating to be in a group where you feel like you know the least. But while I was at Grace Hopper, I could feel a different energy. We were at a conference where attendance was coveted, not mandatory. People were excited to learn, and it seemed like everyone was willing to give and excited to take in as much as they could. The confidence was infectious, and it’s a feeling I wish I could share with every woman in tech.
Bravery requires confidence; confidence is something that is built. It’s important for young girls to have female role models and participate in groups where they feel comfortable. For this reason, I want to encourage you to be a mentors, and start support groups for women in your organization. I have already been motivated to start a group for women in tech at my university. Sure, there are a lot of groups already out there, such as Systers, Girls Who Code and Hackbright , to name a few. But we can’t let the statistics or stereotypes stand in our way when teaching other girls to be brave, which in turn prevents us from exercising bravery ourselves. It’s what we owe to each other as women – to show younger girls that they always have someone to turn to when they feel like they need it.
This post is the second in a series. “What We Owe Each Other: Bravery Instead of Perfection” was submitted by our 2018 Excellian Summer Associate, Tara Laughlin! Learn more about our Summer Associate Program – email us at [email protected].