Girls Who Code Founder Reshma Saujani: To Create Women Leaders, Let Girls Fail

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Girls Who Code founder Reshma Saujani spoke at Harvard on Wednesday. Photo: Courtesy of YouTube/HarvardEducation

Reshma Saujani, the founder and CEO of Girls Who Code, gave graduates from the Harvard Graduate School of Education some surprising advice on Wednesday. If women are to lead, she said, they have to be taught to fail.

“We train girls to be perfect — to please and play it safe, to follow the rules, and to always get straight A’s,” she said. “The result? Girls are kicking you-know-what in the classroom, but falling behind in the real world. Because in the real world, success is a product of bravery, not perfection.”

She used Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, who happened to be Thursday’s commencement speaker, as an example. “He was just a sophomore when he dropped out of Harvard to start Facebook,” she said. “He could have totally failed, with no bachelor’s degree to fall back on. But he just went for it. It’s such a white guy thing to do. It took me 33 years to figure out that brown girls can do white-guy things, too.”

Saujani used her own experience working with the girls of Girls Who Code as an example. “The girls in our programs are brilliant,” she said. “They’re talented. But they’re afraid of imperfection — of critical feedback.” She had something to ask of her audience of soon-to-be educators:

Don’t let our girls play it safe. Don’t let them limit themselves to the thing they’re best at, or the thing they think they should do. Push them to be brave. Push them to take risks. Reward them for trying.

If women and girls are taught to act more like white dudes, she said, “we will unleash the most badass generation of women leaders the world has ever seen.” Time to invest in some gray T-shirts.

Girls Who Code Founder Reshma Saujani: Let Girls Fail