“Teach Girls Bravery, Not Perfection”

I had two experiences this past week that really got me thinking about how girls approach risky or challenging situations.  This topic stayed on my mind for the whole week because I have an almost-2-year-old daughter and I want to teach her how to tackle her own challenges as she grows up.  Currently, some of her challenges include reaching a high shelf where we hide the TV remote and finding a way to escape my grasp when she wants to chase the ducks at the duck pond… which, for the most part, she is tackling just fine :).  But I know her challenges will become more complex as time goes on, so I hope that she will be prepared for it.

First experience this week: I listened to this TED talk titled “Teach Girls Bravery, Not Perfection” by Reshma Saujani.  I loved what she had to say about this topic.  One of the things she said was that girls are taught so heavily that they should appear perfect that they are more willing to show that they did nothing than they are to show that they made a mistake.

One of the other things that Reshma says is that when looking for jobs, men will apply for a job when they meet about 60% of the qualifications, while most women will only apply if they meet 100% of the qualifications.  What is happening here?  (Listen to Reshma’s TED talk to find out, I don’t want to spoil it.)

This leads me to my second experience this week: a workshop on how to identify an appropriate salary and how to negotiate for that salary.  There are a lot of reasons why a woman may not spend a lot of effort to negotiate for a higher salary, but some of the reasons identified during this workshop include 1) lack of assertiveness, 2) avoiding risk-taking by just accepting the first offer, and 3) some women have been culturally conditioned to think that they should just be grateful for whatever they get and avoid seeming pushy.  I don’t think it’s right for these things to get in the way of earning a well-deserved, higher salary.

So what does all this have to do with higher education?

  1. As future faculty, we should be aware of this tendency to teach girls perfection rather than bravery
  2. As educators, we can start implementing teaching practices that help girls and women learn to be brave and be ok with making mistakes
  3. We would do well to recognize whether we experience this same insecurity of valuing perfection over bravery and see if it is affecting the way we negotiate a salary when we go to secure a job in academia (or anywhere else).

If you are interested in some tools to help you identify a reasonable salary for a job you are looking for, try looking at some of these resources:


Chronicle Data

Higher Ed Jobs Data

If you are interested in reading more about negotiation advice for women, check out this link.

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