How to Be Brave, Not Perfect with Reshma Saujani

30 minutes
Reshma Saujani

In this special episode, Reshma Saujani, founder of Girls Who Code, talks with guest host Laysha Ward, executive vice president and chief external engagement officer for Target, about her new book, Brave, Not Perfect. 

This conversation took place before the outbreak of COVID-19. But we’re airing it now because it clearly speaks to the challenges many of us face today. Tune in for practical advice and inspiration from Reshma to help you navigate away from the pull of perfectionism, which will only make you more anxious, and toward a life that is bolder, braver, and ultimately happier.


Show Notes:

“What I learned to do is work on silencing that voice in my head that told me I wasn’t smart, wasn’t good enough, and I didn’t belong.”Reshma Saujani

What you’ll learn in this episode of Women Amplified:

    • The origin of perfectionism in women and what “brave, not perfect” means
    • The importance of building the habit of being brave as a form of self-care
    • Why you need to prioritize yourself without feeling guilty
    • How to forgive yourself and create time by saying no to unimportant things
    • Understand that perfectionism and people-pleasing don’t serve women; being authentic does
    • The best and the worst advice Reshma has ever been given
    • How Reshma learned to create equity herself as a woman of color
    • Why failure is not attractive for women
    • The importance of assessing why you’re doing what you’re doing

Laysha Ward, left, interviews Reshma Saujani at the MA Conference for Women Laysha Ward, left, interviews Reshma Saujani at the 2019 Massachusetts Conference for Women

This Month’s Guest:

RESHMA SAUJANI is the founder and CEO of Girls Who Code, the international nonprofit organization working to close the gender gap in technology and change the image of what a computer programmer looks like and does. The organization has already reached 185,000 girls in all fifty states, Canada, and the United Kingdom. She is the author of the international bestseller Brave, Not Perfect, and the New York Times best-seller Girls Who Code: Learn to Code and Change the World. Saujani’s TED talk, “Teach girls, bravery not perfection,” has more than four million views and has sparked a worldwide conversation about how we’re raising our girls. In 2010, she surged onto the political scene as the first Indian American woman to run for US Congress. Saujani lives in New York City with her husband, Nihal, their son, Shaan, and their bulldog, Stanley. @reshmasaujani

This Month’s Guest Host:

LAYSHA WARD is executive vice president and chief external engagement officer for Target and a member of the company’s executive leadership team. She leads Target’s enterprise-wide approach to engage and deepen relationships with external stakeholders to drive positive business, social and environmental impact. Ms. Ward serves on the Aspen Institute Latinos and Society Advisory Board and the Stanford Center for Longevity Advisory Council, and is a member of the Executive Leadership Council, the Economic Club of New York, the Economic Club of Chicago, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, and The Links, an international women’s service organization. She also sits on the for-profit board of directors for Denny’s Corporation. She was appointed by President George W. Bush to serve on the board of the Corporation for National and Community Service, and continued through the Obama Administration, where she served as board chair. Ms. Ward received a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Indiana University and a master’s degree in social services administration with an emphasis in management and public policy from the University of Chicago @layshaward @target


 

Additional Resources:

Website: Girls Who Code

Read the book: Brave, Not Perfect

Follow Laysha Ward’s Shared Stories column

Hear from more great Conferences for Women speakers in our new podcast, Best Breakouts

View Transcript

Laysha Ward:
Reshma, it is a pleasure to be in conversation with you. You are one badass or shall I say brave woman. So tell us what you mean by brave, not perfect. And what was the impetus behind the concept to rewire ourselves to be brave?

Reshma Saujani:
Yeah. So I feel like similar to you, I have spent most of my life thinking about fighting for equity. And when I looked in the past couple years and I looked at the leadership numbers of women, whether it was in Silicon Valley and main street or in Congress, it didn’t feel like much had changed with leadership. And I had an opportunity to do a Ted talk and I wanted to just say, “All right, what have I seen in working with young girls that might explain why things have not changed?” And I remember thinking about a Girls Who Code story that a teacher would always tell me and she…

Reshma Saujani:
When girls come to our program… We’ve taught 185,000 girls to code. They’re all over the country. And when most girls come to our program they’ve never coded before. Right? So teachers would tell me the same story. They’d say that first week when girls are coming in and they’re telling them to do the assignment for the first time, the students will, after a couple, you know, 20 minutes, just call the teacher over and they’ll say, “I don’t know what code to write.” And so the teacher will look at their computer screen and they’ll see a blank text editor. So if they didn’t know any better, they thought the student just spent the past 20 minutes just staring at the screen. But when they pressed undo on the computer, they saw that the student actually wrote code and then deleted it. So instead of saying, “Hey, I wrote this, I think the semicolon’s wrong, tell me what I should do differently, they rather show nothing at all.

Reshma Saujani:
I tell the story in my talk, 5 million people watch it and I am inundated with emails, DMs, messages from women who say, “I do this to me too.”

Laysha Ward:
Yeah. Me too.

Reshma Saujani:
From girls who say, “I do this too.” From dads who say, “My daughter does this too.” And so I decided to write a book about this idea about the fact that if… From the youngest of possible ages, we socialize our girls for perfection and we socialize our boys for bravery. And there’s-

Laysha Ward:
Why is that?

Reshma Saujani:
So I think it starts off in the name of protection. So if you go to a playground this weekend, you’ll see what I’m talking about, right? You’ll see how the moms will tell their sons to climb to the top of the monkey bars and just jump, but with our daughters we’re like, “Be careful honey. Don’t swing too high. Is your dress dirty? Come over here, let me clean you up. Did you take that toy away from her? Give it back.” A friend of mine just had a baby and she was like, “I was teaching her to crawl.” And she was like, “I was walking behind her and by instinct I was like, “Go careful, be careful, be careful.” And then she’s like, “And then I heard your voice and I was like, “Go baby, go baby.”

Laysha Ward:
That’s wonderful.

Reshma Saujani:
I think it starts by we have to protect our girls and we have to man up our boys and it starts with physical protection and then it extends to emotional protection. So you’ll see this with eight year olds, often with folks who have daughters that are eight, nine, 10, if they’re bad at soccer, they pull them out and they put them into gymnastics. They don’t want them to feel rejection or failure or hurt. And so, many young women will tell me, “The first time somebody gave me feedback was my first job when I was in… 22 years old. And it felt personal because before that moment no one had actually given me feedback before.”

Laysha Ward:
Do you find that the girls and women that you talk to say that they don’t get honest and direct feedback and there’s a differential between what men get as feedback relative to what women and girls receive?

Reshma Saujani:
Absolutely. All the time. And I did that, I think, as a CEO of Girls Who Code, I have a lot of young women who work for me. And at first I didn’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings and so I would give it nicely and then I realized, “Well, wow, I’m really doing you a disservice by not telling you exactly.” And I love Serena Williams, right?

Laysha Ward:
Yeah. She’s amazing.

Reshma Saujani:
She’s incredible. And if you think about her and athletes like her that are so great, they literally sit at the edge of their ability and a coach who’s saying, “Do it again. Do it again. Do it again.”

Laysha Ward:
It’s constant feedback.

Reshma Saujani:
It’s constant feedback.

Laysha Ward:
And it’s practice.

Reshma Saujani:
Right. And it’s honest feedback, unfiltered. And I think that for a lot of young women, they didn’t have somebody in their life or moments in their life where they were getting that. Whereas, for young men, they’re always getting feedback and from the youngest of possible ages.

Laysha Ward:
One of the things I am intrigued by that I’ve heard you say is that being brave is a habit and that we have to build that habit. So what are some of the ways that we can all be braver on a daily basis and make it a part of our daily routines and change our behaviors?

Reshma Saujani:
Yeah. And the other thing is it’s never too late, right? So just because you were raised to be a perfectionist, that doesn’t mean that you can’t orient your life towards bravery. But I think you have to realize that it’s a muscle. And so it’s similar to weight loss, right? It’s not one and done. It’s like a conscious effort and you’re going to fall on and off the wagon. And when you go back to your perfectionist tendencies, that doesn’t mean that you’re broken. Right? And so part of it, I think, is practice. So I think the first part of the bravery muscle practice is one, you can’t be brave if you’re tired and every woman I know-

Laysha Ward:
Self-care.

Reshma Saujani:
… is exhausted. Think about it. If you haven’t slept well, you’re not eating well, you’re not exercising, when you go into work and you’re asked to do a new assignment or take on a promotion, what’s… You’re going to say no.

Laysha Ward:
It’s too hard to do.

Reshma Saujani:
Too hard to take on.

Laysha Ward:
Self-care is so important. And I love that you’re bringing that up. It’s mental, physical, spiritual well-being. So how are you able to talk to people about the importance of well-being and self-care because it’s often seen as a soft skill or need that isn’t as important?

Reshma Saujani:
Well, I think we are collectively more exhausted than we’ve ever been. I mean every woman, whether you’re a stay-at-home mom, whether you’re a CEO, we are exhausted. And so I think it’s acknowledging that there’s something about this moment in time where women are taking on too much and the first thing to go is our self-care. Like I often ask audiences, “How many of you have a doctor’s appointment you’ve postponed?” Every hand in it.

Laysha Ward:
I would raise my hand.

Reshma Saujani:
Me too. I have this piece of paper in my kitchen with… You know what I mean? An appointment for… I need to get a physical. I haven’t gotten a physical in like 10 years. But we need to invest in ourselves.

Laysha Ward:
Right.

Reshma Saujani:
And the other piece of advice about that is, and we need to do it at a time, I think, that’s inconvenient to everybody else. Let me tell you what I mean.

Laysha Ward:
Say more about that.

Reshma Saujani:
When I had my first baby, I could not lose the baby weight and I would have to look at pictures of myself and videos and I just was doing a lot of self-hate. And I’m a… I love to workout, right? And I hadn’t gone to the gym in like a year and I knew that the best time to work out for me, my schedule, was at seven in the morning when the baby was waking up and the dog wanted to go at. Right?

Laysha Ward:
Not convenient for anybody else.

Reshma Saujani:
Not four in the morning, not five in the morning. Yes. Inconvenient for my whole family, but convenient for me. And so for me, the courage, bravery, was finding the courage to walk out the door and be like, “Y’all figure it out.” Again, doing something for me at a time that was inconvenient for everybody else because that’s how I learned to prioritize my self-care.

Laysha Ward:
Did you know that before or was there something about being a mother that took your bravery to another level? What has being a mother taught you about bravery?

Reshma Saujani:
Oof. I think that like it’s taught me about prioritization. Right? It’s taught me… I’m better about saying no, but it’s also like I think that so much of our guilt as moms comes from that perfectionism. I remember I was on… I’ve been on a perpetual book tour and when we were finishing my West Coast tour, I had dragged my husband and my son with me. We get to the Delta desk and we’re going home. I’m working 16 hour days, right? And the wonderful woman at the desk is like, “Congratulations, Mr. [Johnny 00:07:50], you’ve been upgraded. What do I do? I look at my husband, I’m like, “Baby, you sit at the front of the desk. I’m going to set the back with Sean.” Like nine Paw Patrol episodes, 10 M&Ms later, I’m looking at my husband, he’s watching, right, my favorite lady Gaga movie, drinking his fifth glass of wine.

Laysha Ward:
You’re like, “What have I done?”

Reshma Saujani:
And I am pissed. Right? And it’s like, “Oh.” And I was like, “Why did I do… Oh, I wanted to be a martyr.” Because I felt guilty that I was doing something that I loved and not being the good mom that I thought that. So I literally walked up to the front of the bus, there’s 45 minutes left in the fight and I was like, “Switch, now.”

Laysha Ward:
Oh, I love it.

Reshma Saujani:
And that’s course correction.

Laysha Ward:
Which is amazing and I think that’s important to talk about. You make a decision, but you can alter that decision at any point.

Reshma Saujani:
Absolutely.

Laysha Ward:
How do you give yourself permission to do that? What is it that women and girls can do?

Reshma Saujani:
I think that… Like I always say, I think the importance is to not beat yourself up about it. Right? And it’s the same thing with failure. I always stated my hack on failure is to give myself three weeks to drink a lot of Margaritas, replay this narrative over and over again, and then to move on.

Laysha Ward:
Right.

Reshma Saujani:
And it’s kind of the same thing when you go… Again, when you start becoming that perfectionist again, you identify the behavior, you course correct and then you move on and you don’t beat yourself up. Right?

Laysha Ward:
You have to forgive yourself-

Reshma Saujani:
You have to forgive yourself.

Laysha Ward:
…which, I think, is very difficult for us to do. Yeah.

Reshma Saujani:
I think that’s right.

Laysha Ward:
[crosstalk 00:09:13] perfection is hard.

Reshma Saujani:
I think that’s right. And I think that the other thing is, I think we also have to really feel comfortable going deep on trying to understand why we do things. You know what I’m saying? I always say like, “At 44, I don’t even feel like I have time for a midlife crisis.” In my twenties I would go on walks and runs and think about things. And so I think the thing is, is for a lot of us as women, we don’t go deep into our psyche anymore. And that’s even what we feel is luxurious. It goes back to this kind of self care point and I think really understanding for ourselves, why am I feeling right now? Why am I doing this?

Laysha Ward:
Is time one of the barriers to that? I often say time is a precious resource and we have to treat it as such.

Reshma Saujani:
Well, I think time is a… Time because I think we’re always filling it up with stuff. I got a chance to meet Warren Buffet and one of the things I learned is that his schedule is clear. He’s got two meetings on his schedule a week, or something like that, right?

Laysha Ward:
Wow. That’s an interesting [crosstalk 00:10:09].

Reshma Saujani:
And your schedule and my schedule looks nothing like that.

Laysha Ward:
[crosstalk 00:10:12] packed.

Reshma Saujani:
Packed. And a lot of when I really do like the deep dive on my schedule, a lot of it is stuff I don’t need to have on my schedule. It’s guilt. I didn’t feel like I could say no to this meeting or this event or this thing. And so I think that that’s why we don’t have time for ourselves.

Laysha Ward:
Because we’re just filling up the calendar.

Reshma Saujani:
Yeah. And I think that I feel… I realized that I am the… Girls Who Code is the most productive. I am the most productive when I’m able to be creative. And if you’re going, going, going from one thing, to one thing, [inaudible 00:10:41] you don’t have that time.

Laysha Ward:
Your head and heart are full.

Reshma Saujani:
Yeah.

Laysha Ward:
Right? So it’s learning how to say the strategic yes and the thoughtful no, is what I hear you saying. And being unapologetic about it.

Reshma Saujani:
And being unapologetic about it and trying to not beat yourself up about it. So like, say no to this, but then you’re feeling guilt so you’re going to go say yes to the next thing that comes your way.

Laysha Ward:
Yeah. How do you deal with the guilt that people may try to put on you, right? People want you to carry not only your own baggage, but take their carryon baggage as well.

Reshma Saujani:
You should see some of the emails I get when I say no, too.

Laysha Ward:
Do the haters come out when you say no?

Reshma Saujani:
Yeah. I think it’s because people feel, especially, I think, when you’re in the women’s space that you’re supposed to be incredibly generous with all your time, all the time. I think that you have to, one, not invite it. I think there’s something about the firm no without the, “I’m so sorry. I know. I really feel bad, but blah blah blah blah blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.”

Laysha Ward:
Constantly apologizing.

Reshma Saujani:
Yeah. And I think that the second thing is, is I also tell… I get a high out of hooking a woman up. I love-

Laysha Ward:
What do you mean by that?

Reshma Saujani:
Helping women. Because I feel like so much of what we need to elevate women is knowledge sharing and oftentimes we don’t have information. So for example, I’ve learned how to write a bestselling book and I tell women all the time, “Email me. I’ll give you my playbook. Here’s what I learned.”

Laysha Ward:
You’re sharing your superpowers, your unique gifts, strengths, talents in service of helping other women.

Reshma Saujani:
100% and I love that. I don’t feel like we should be keeping secrets so we’re the only one left. But I also think that we have to get very good at asking for what we want. So when I say to women when they say, “Well, can I have 15 minutes of your time so I can learn more about your story?” I’m like, “No, no, no. You can have 15 minutes of my time or five minutes of time of tell me what you want. Do you want an introduction to somebody? You want an email address of somebody? You want me to write you a hundred dollar check cause you’re running for office?” Tell me what want.

Laysha Ward:
Tell me why, yeah. You know what’s interesting? I think you’ve hit on something that women and girls are often told not to be, which is ambitious, and not to have a clear point of view about what they want because it feels too bold.

Reshma Saujani:
Yeah.

Laysha Ward:
How have you addressed it? Because clearly you’ve been a bold, badass, brave woman. And I think in many ways that inspires others to do the same. But what else would you do to encourage other women?

Reshma Saujani:
Look, I think that we just have to… I mean, Carol Dweck has this great line, “If life were one long grade school girls would rule the world but it’s not.” So I think we’ve been playing that modest, I’m going to put my ambition aside and say yes to everything and people-please and it’s not serving us. I mean, wow. All you have to do is look at the presidential election.

Laysha Ward:
Yeah, amen.

Reshma Saujani:
And talk about… I mean, you and I could have like a five hour podcast episode.

Laysha Ward:
A whole separate podcast.

Reshma Saujani:
On that.

Laysha Ward:
Absolutely.

Reshma Saujani:
Perfectionism is not serving us and I think people-pleasing is not serving us. Putting our ambition on hold is not serving us. So I think we’ve got to try something new. And part of it to me is not being like men, but just being authentically who we are.

Laysha Ward:
Absolutely.

Reshma Saujani:
I have this 16 year old niece, I swear to God, she’ll look in the mirror and be like, “I am so beautiful.”

Laysha Ward:
Oh, I love that.

Reshma Saujani:
I know.

Laysha Ward:
It’s confidence.

Reshma Saujani:
I look at her and I was like, “I never could do that.” I was always picking apart my flaws. I mean, for so long I would honestly… Even now, I don’t watch myself on television because I know I’m going to start judging myself.

Laysha Ward:
So self-critical.

Reshma Saujani:
Yeah.

Laysha Ward:
And there’s this idea that you can be ambitious and also still be humble. There is a tension there, but we can live in both of those spaces.

Reshma Saujani:
Absolutely.

Laysha Ward:
And be able to do really well.

Reshma Saujani:
Yeah. And I think there’s great… Like, Barack Obama for me is an example of someone like that, right? He is clear about his gifts but he’s also clear about what he’s using his gifts to actually do.

Laysha Ward:
Absolutely.

Reshma Saujani:
And I think that it’s just we have to teach that. And I do think that this generation of young women… I mean, I was so awesome to see Greta win Time Person of the Year.

Laysha Ward:
Person of the Year. And so young.

Reshma Saujani:
And so young and just so bold to see her speak at the UN and just completely comfortable expressing emotion and anger and passion. And so I’m-

Laysha Ward:
And turning that into activism and action.

Reshma Saujani:
Yeah. So she’s an interesting person, right? Because she’ll say “Great, but don’t give me awards.” And that, I think, is the humble piece of [crosstalk 00:14:53]-

Laysha Ward:
Right, [crosstalk 00:14:53] ambition and the humility combined.

Reshma Saujani:
Right. Yep.

Laysha Ward:
Which is quite interesting. I know you’ve likely gotten lots of extraordinary advice throughout your lifetime and I would be curious, what has been some of the best advice you’ve ever received? And then on the flip side, what’s some of the worst advice you’ve received?

Reshma Saujani:
So I think some of the best advice I’ve ever received, or maybe part of it is I actually… I garnered this advice by watching bosses who didn’t do this, is this idea of hiring people who are smarter than you. We just had, I think, our ninth Girls Who Code holiday party the other day and [inaudible 00:15:30] looking out there and there’s like a hundred people and everybody is just joyful and I’m just beaming at my leadership team. I have Tarika, who’s my COO, who is 10 times smarter than me. I have Deborah Singer who’s my CMO who is 10 [inaudible 00:15:45] smarter than me. And Feargus Leggett who’s my CF. And so I always looked for people that had something I didn’t have and I wasn’t intimidated by it. And so I always say to people, “If you want to build something audacious, hire people who are smarter than you.”

Laysha Ward:
But that requires a great deal of confidence on your part as well.

Reshma Saujani:
Yep. It does. It does. And I mean, I’ve seen the effects of people who didn’t do that and they’ve never been able to actually really succeed.

Laysha Ward:
So assembling a diverse, high-performing, incredibly smart team is one of the best pieces of advice you’ve gotten. And make those people smarter than you.

Reshma Saujani:
Yes. And elevate them and give them leadership opportunities and lift them up. Right? I have a team that believes in me because I believe in them.

Laysha Ward:
Yeah. And purpose-driven.

Reshma Saujani:
Yeah.

Laysha Ward:
You strike me as a very purpose driven person and leader. Okay. Some of the worst advice you’ve gotten.

Reshma Saujani:
Oh God. Well, I remember when I was starting Girls Who Code, I met with this male VC and he was like, “That’s a bad idea. Girls and boys brains are shaped differently. And I just don’t think that girls are technical the same way, 100%.” And I remember walking out of that room.

Laysha Ward:
Wow.

Reshma Saujani:
And I always say to people, “If someone tells you not to do something, you should definitely do it.” Being like, “Whoa, this is it.” So I think the thing is-

Laysha Ward:
Even understanding that a part of Girls Code purpose and mission was to address the technology gap to get more women and girls into technology and the person still said it was a bad idea.

Reshma Saujani:
Yeah. And I think about how many times women, people of color may have a great idea and someone talks them out of it. And that’s why it’s so important to have confidence and belief in yourself and your vision because, oftentimes, people will talk you out of it.

Laysha Ward:
So you have to deal with not only their doubt, but your own self-doubt that may arise as a result of it.

Reshma Saujani:
Right.

Laysha Ward:
I find that fascinating. So if you were to go back and talk to the younger version of Reshma, for all those girls and perhaps millennial professionals still early in their careers, what couple of nuggets of wisdom would you lay on them?

Reshma Saujani:
Well, it’s so funny. I was just at… I’m on the board of Harvard University and I was meeting with the women in computing group this weekend. And it’s so funny for me, every time I go to Harvard, because when I went there as a grad student, I still felt like I didn’t belong. I was a Midwest girl that was a daughter of refugees. Nowhere I came from, went to an Ivy league school and people would say things and I would just think that they were smarter than me. And I would never raise my hand or I was afraid about what I was saying didn’t sound smart. And I was saying to them, this past year, one of the coolest things I got to do was give a speech between Bill Gates and Warren Buffet. And when I took that stage, I so felt like I belonged.

Laysha Ward:
That is phenomenal.

Reshma Saujani:
And I was wondering, “Gosh, how did I go from… In 20 years, how did I go from that girl to this woman?” And I think that what I learned to do was just every day work on silencing that voice in my head that told me I wasn’t smart, and I wasn’t good enough, and I didn’t belong.

Laysha Ward:
Because you are good enough.

Reshma Saujani:
Yeah. And so are they, and so are all of us. And so that’s what I kept saying to them, because I know exactly how they’re feeling.

Laysha Ward:
You’re good enough. You’re good enough.

Reshma Saujani:
You’re good enough. You’re smart enough. You belong. You don’t need another class, another degree, another this, another that. You are good as you are. And I wish I learned that lesson younger because I definitely you look back at my life and felt like there were experiences where I had so much anxiety and just imposter syndrome, and now I don’t. And that doesn’t mean it doesn’t pop up for me.

Laysha Ward:
Oh, yeah. Sure. Of course. Of course. That’s human.

Reshma Saujani:
Yeah.

Laysha Ward:
And I often say leadership isn’t the absence of fear. It’s our ability to move through that fear and you’ve been able to harness it to fear less and to be more brave and less perfect. And you’re an incredible role model, I think.

Reshma Saujani:
Oh, thank you. So are you.

Laysha Ward:
Oh, thank you girl. You have struck on something that I think also touches a lot of women, certainly women of color, and it’s this idea that Shonda Rhimes often calls being the first, or the only, or different.

Reshma Saujani:
Yeah.

Laysha Ward:
And in many situations, I know you’ve been the first, the only one, or different in some capacity. How have you been able to not let that be a burden, but to harness that as, again, one of your superpowers or strengths that have allowed you to be as successful as you are?

Reshma Saujani:
That’s such a good question. I mean, look, I think the thing is, is… And not to get all religious, but I feel very blessed. I feel like God has given me an opportunity to actually to do things and with that comes a serious amount of obligation. Right? And so for me, I think that that feeling drives me, it doesn’t burden me. When I started Girls Who Code, from the beginning I said, “You know what? Half the seats are going to be for kids under the poverty line and half the seats are going to be for kids, black and Latina.” No one told me that, even to this day, no one asked me whether… “Who are you teaching?

Reshma Saujani:
And so what I say to leaders all the time, “You can create equity yourself. And you can make those decisions.” And so I’ve always felt the importance as a woman, as a woman of color, to bring people along with me, bring people along with me, bring people along with me. Even when I think about my leadership team, when I think about the kids that I teach, when I think about the women I mentor. And so I think that that’s just incredibly important. Now, I think though there is a sense that I, and many women of color, feel that if we fail, we fail for the whole.

Laysha Ward:
Absolutely. I have felt that burden.

Reshma Saujani:
Community.

Laysha Ward:
Yeah.

Reshma Saujani:
And that creates a lot of anxiety and stress.

Laysha Ward:
Advice on how to move through that?

Reshma Saujani:
It’s hard. I don’t know if I have advice on how to move through it. I think it’s… Because there’s a little bit of truth to it, isn’t there?

Laysha Ward:
Oh, absolutely. I think we both have lived in that and still live in that.

Reshma Saujani:
And we don’t… Failure is still a privilege for white men and they’re still higher. I mean, if you look at girls in school, black girls are expelled at a rate as twice that of any other child.

Laysha Ward:
Significantly higher.

Reshma Saujani:
For the same behavior. So how do we change that? Part of me thinks that you change that by more failure. Right? And part of me feels like… I think, I don’t know. Because what I don’t want to happen is this, is I don’t want to… I’m sure you know this. Less than 20 black women in the history of our country have raised more than a million dollars of seed capital. That is the result of failure being a privilege for few and not all.

Laysha Ward:
Correct. Instead of the angry black woman, it should be the ambitious black woman.

Reshma Saujani:
Right.

Laysha Ward:
It’s flipping the narrative.

Reshma Saujani:
Right. And so, what my husband and I have done is just seed a lot more black women and hopefully seed a lot more failure.

Laysha Ward:
Sure.

Reshma Saujani:
I know that sounds crazy, but you know what I mean? And so it’s not simply a privilege for the few, but for everybody because you don’t learn unless you fail. But we have to change that reality. And I think part of that is by consciousness, right? I tell leaders all the time, “When you’re in the performance review cycle, are you actually allowing women and women of color to fail with the same consequences?” You know what I mean? “As you are for men.”

Laysha Ward:
But a lot of us, I think, tend to view failures as setbacks and detrimental to our overall success, perhaps because that’s how society has taught us to perceive them. And so how do we change that perspective so that we are valuing failure, one, and then two, that there are equitable safety nets so that when failures do occur, they aren’t career ending experiences.

Reshma Saujani:
Yeah. Well, I mean, I think the thing is, is in certain… Like, in my world and tech, you can’t even get funding unless you’ve had three failed startups, if you’re a man. Right? So we get excited by people like Steve Jobs and Elon Musk and Jack… Their failures are like-

Laysha Ward:
Monumental.

Reshma Saujani:
[inaudible 00:00:23:51], right?

Laysha Ward:
Yeah. Monumental.

Reshma Saujani:
But it’s not the same for women. And I think that there needs to be a little bit more consciousness raising about that. I mean, I sent a tweet out the other week about, listen, I didn’t agree. I think that this female CEO had made a huge mistake, but her downfall was quicker than anybody. It’s the same thing in the presidential cycle, right? And so I think we need to pay attention to that reality of that. Women, the consequences that they have for failure, are just very different from men.

Laysha Ward:
Are different.

Reshma Saujani:
And we romanticize failure for men in a way that we don’t for women. And I think again, that’s because we want women to be perfect. And so failure is not attractive for women.

Laysha Ward:
But no one’s perfect.

Reshma Saujani:
Right. And you can’t learn. And that’s the other thing. I think the thing is, is that I’ve learned from all my failures. I mean, at Girls Who Code, we get funding to try new things and if they don’t work we shut them down. And if you don’t get a chance to do that, you actually are never able to test your suppositions about things.

Laysha Ward:
It creates a learning environment.

Reshma Saujani:
Right.

Laysha Ward:
And at the end of the day, we all want and need to be lifelong learners to ultimately, I think, have happiness and success. I wonder if you’d be willing to share a time when you faced a momentous decision that you weren’t a brave, bold, badass. And what did you learn from that?

Reshma Saujani:
Oof. I mean, I feel like I oftentimes am… The older you get, the less risks you take. And when I think about when I started Girls Who Code, here I had just gotten off a political campaign. I had raised like 1.4 million dollars from friends and family and people believed in me and just got like 19% of the vote. And there I was about to start an organization to teach girls to code when I didn’t code. I was going to go back and ask people to invest in me. And I didn’t even think twice about it, to be honest. And I wonder now, at 44, whether I would have the ability and the courage to do something like that again because you almost feel like you got more to lose.

Laysha Ward:
Sure. You had sort of a rookie mindset.

Reshma Saujani:
Right. And so I constantly am questioning some of the decisions that I make on a day-to-day basis of is this the safe decision? You know what I mean? Or is this… And I call it in my book, is this my drama or my wisdom?

Laysha Ward:
Say more about that drama or wisdom.

Reshma Saujani:
So wisdom is like, okay, you’re going to make a really… You’re going to get almost your piece of paper out, your pro and con list and you’re going to think about what’s the wise decision. And I think when you make decisions based on your drama, that’s about fear, right? That’s about again, that imposter syndrome. That’s again, about the thing. So I’ll give… To be honest with you, people always ask me, “Are you going to run for office? Are you going to run for office? Are you going to run for office?”

Laysha Ward:
Are you going to run for office?

Reshma Saujani:
And so what I normally say is, “I don’t know. Not right now. I love my job,” which is true. “I feel like I’m making an impact,” which is true. “But maybe one day.” And then I’ll go and I’ll go upstairs and I’ll have my cup of coffee and I’ll be like, “Okay, now did I… Was that my drama or my wisdom talking?” Right? “Is that because I’m scared?” I’ve run twice, I’ve lost twice. You know, they say that, like, three times, then you’re done. Right? You almost… Like your next decision, you got to be real sure. Right? And I have a lot more to lose because I have this amazing organization and you know this-

Laysha Ward:
[crosstalk 00:27:19] platform.

Reshma Saujani:
Any time you move away from something… Like, this is my baby, right? But I have to always ask myself, “Is that because you’re afraid or do you really believe that?” And I think that we should all be doing that with that constantly.

Laysha Ward:
With our lives.

Reshma Saujani:
Constantly.

Laysha Ward:
Constantly assessing where we are, where we hope to be, and are we making the decision for the right reasons.

Reshma Saujani:
Yeah.

Laysha Ward:
Right? I think you seem to be very mission-driven. I like to think about purpose-driven leadership. Is the work that you’re doing today aligned with your purpose?

Reshma Saujani:
100%. Every day I wake up and say, “What can I do for the people?” And that’s why, honestly, when it comes to politics, I actually think politics is so dysfunctional right now that I actually think I’m able to make more of a difference outside of the system than inside the system. Now, that may change five years from now, 10 years from now. But I think that if you’re guided by what you… For me, I’m a Hindu and they say, “What’s your Dharma? What has God put you on this earth to do?” And that’s-

Laysha Ward:
Your calling.

Reshma Saujani:
From the time I’ve been young, I’ve wanted to help people. I’ve wanted to, in particular, help people who are vulnerable because I feel like this country helped my parents, who are refugees, and nothing gives me more joy when I see girls who are poor, or immigrants, or homeless, go through our programs, or a community college, or MIT and the entire trajectory of the whole family has changed.

Laysha Ward:
Changed their lives.

Reshma Saujani:
And I see that every day, 10 times a day. How much more blessed can somebody be, to be able to not… to give witness to that and to feel like I had played some part in that. And so, yeah.

Laysha Ward:
I don’t know if it could get much better than that. Living a life of purpose, bringing joy, you being your best self, but helping others be their best self as well.

Reshma Saujani:
Thank you. Well, and I hope… I want to solve this problem, right? So that’s why maybe people always say, why are you so obsessed with scale? And I said, “Because I want to solve this problem because I actually think that there’s a couple of other problems.” I’m also want to put my intensity behind and I feel like we’re close here.

Laysha Ward:
I’m betting that you’re going to solve it and move on to solve a couple of other big-ass problems in the world.

Reshma Saujani:
I’m hoping so too.