By Dustie Mercer, Vice President of Student Journey
Nothing has made me more mindful about the ways I have been raised differently as a woman than raising a daughter myself. Here’s one example. When my daughter Baylor, now age 8, was 4, she was climbing on the outside railing of our loft. I yelled for her to stop out of fear, and her face filled with fear too. She froze.
As I gently coaxed her back to safety, I acknowledged to myself that I would not have had the same reaction for my son. Sure, I still might have told him to stop. But I would not have been as full of fear. And I would not have transferred that fear of taking risks to him in that moment.
We are raising our girls to be perfect, and we’re raising our boys to be brave.
This is encapsulated in my favorite TED talk by Reshma Saujani. One bombshell she drops: did you know the brighter the girl, and the higher her IQ, the more likely she is to give up quickly? For girls, brightness and tenacity do not go hand in hand. This starts as early as fourth or fifth grade and informs behavior for a lifetime.
People say this is because women need more confidence. It’s up to women to fix themselves. But what about our socialization? Women are left behind because we aren’t socialized to take risks. To some extent, this is intended to keep us safe in a world where at least 81% of women have experienced sexual harassment or assault. But just like with the argument about women’s confidence, socializing women to be perfect—and afraid—puts the burden back on us, instead of motivating the change that is needed for a better culture.
Don’t worry too much—Baylor is definitely growing up fearless. But that has taken intentionality on mine and my husband’s part, and it’s something I want to talk about, because I think it’s also important about getting more women in tech. Saujani talks about how in teaching girls to code, she saw she was also teaching them to be brave. It takes many tries before your code works, and imperfection is part of the journey.
I am currently a student at Eleven Fifty Academy, learning to code. And it has certainly challenged my notions of being willing to fail. No code is perfect the first time you write it, and while that is challenging for men and women, the challenge is perceived in totally different ways. As Saujani puts it: Men know there is something wrong with the code. Women think there is something wrong with them.
What this boils down to is, bright people are being kept out of tech, because they are unequipped by society to cope with the failure that routinely happens as a part of a tech career. Did you know that women won’t apply for a job unless they meet 100% of the criteria, while men are willing to apply if they only meet 60%? This is the kind of risk-taking I am talking about.
And while it’s possible for grown adult women to unlearn these habits—I’m going through it right now—what is even more important is for us to parent our girls to succeed in tech and in life. Women shouldn’t have to wait until their 30s, 40s, and 50s to learn how to be brave.
How am I teaching Baylor to be comfortable with imperfection? By simultaneously teaching her self-sufficiency. She recently asked me for spending money to go buy craft supplies, and I told her she would have to earn it. So she took all the things she didn’t want anymore out in our yard and opened up a store. Did she sell anything? No. But it was still pretty cool.
Then, I agreed to loan her the money to buy craft supplies but told her she would have to pay me back. This sparked a flurry of risky innovation. She created 2 YouTube videos, did an art show, helped manage her Facebook store (including responding to customers), created her own digital logo, packaging… and she sold nearly $500 is in artwork. I was paid back and she got to redecorate her bedroom.
She did not succeed at first, but it was safe for her to regroup and try again. That’s what we all deserve. And as parents, regardless of the gender of our child, teaching them to take risks isn’t just making them better human beings, but preparing them for the careers and culture of the future.
I’m proud to be a parent to both a boy and a girl who will be fearless. I’m happy to be learning fearlessness myself as a student at Eleven Fifty Academy. And I’m humbled to be able to help pay it forward to our students from all backgrounds.