Women: Send an email with a typo in it.
Sounds crazy, right?
Not as crazy as you may think, says Reshma Saujani, CEO of Girls Who Code, a non-profit organization whose mission is to increase the number of girls in computer science and tech. If you’re doubting her email advice, think about this: Saujani started a movement to teach young girls how to code — but she had no idea how to code when she founded her company.
“Yes, I really want you to do that,” Saujani, whose new book Brave, Not Perfect, debuted on Feb. 5, tells MONEY about sending a less-than-perfect email. And it can’t be a nothing email either, she says.
It has to be semi-consequential (of course, don’t send a typo-laden email to the CEO of your company about the biggest project you’ve worked on all year. Not yet, anyway.)
Once you send it, she says, “You’ll realize that nothing’s going to happen.”
Saujani, 43, wants young girls and women to embrace imperfection as a way to extinguish their insecurities and career fears and get back to being brave enough just to try — even if you fail.
Her own failure inspired the title of her book Brave, Not Perfect. Saujani talked about the importance of letting go of perfection with NBC’s Stephanie Ruhle at the 92nd St. Y in Manhattan in February, where a lively audience responded with laughter as she talked about professional setbacks that have become all too familiar for many women. She wants young girls and women to embrace failure, and in the process accept that it could also be one of the best things that ever happens to you.
She should know. Saujani decided to run for Congress in 2010 in New York’s 14th district, and was devastated by her primary loss to the incumbent candidate. She had failed.
“I really do believe that losing Congress and losing something that I felt I had worked my whole life for — the fact that it didn’t break me — it was like I built my bravery muscle,” she says. Saujani gave up a high-powered, high-pressure (and high-salaried) career as a lawyer to run after she realized her job was making her miserable despite looking good on paper. If she had never quit, she would never have lost that congressional race and Girls Who Code wouldn’t exist.
After the loss, “I wasn’t afraid to say things like I don’t know how to code, but I believe in starting a movement to teach girls how to code,” she says.
Girls Who Code has already taught 185,000 girls to code in six years through more than 6,000 programs in all 50 states, including free summer programs, after-school clubs and college meet ups. The organization’s goal is to reach gender parity in tech by 2027. Jobs in the tech industry are growing faster than ever, but only 24% of computer scientists are women — a number that has actually declined since the 1990s. Girls who learn to code through their programs go on to major in computer science and related fields at a rate 15 times higher than the national average.
“We know that girls do better in school than boys,” she says, yet they are falling behind in the workplace, and teenage girls are now depressed at a rate twice as high as boys.
What’s going on? Saujani believes the way to change those troubling trends begins with helping girls un-learn the need to be perfect, a behavior that isn’t reenforced to young boys with the same cultural intensity as girls while growing up.
“Excellence versus perfection” is what she wants young women to strive for. And that advice applies at any point your career, no matter what industry you work in. Studies show that women tend to only apply for jobs when they think they have the perfect experience, whereas men already feel they have permission to mess up and try again in the workplace.
In the workplace, what’s rewarded is not perfection — there are no grades or pop quizzes to ace — but bravery and courage, says Saujani. That’s an important distinction. Now that women are gaining more seats at the table, they need to keep raising their hands. Even when men interrupt women at universally higher rates than other men and re-tweet their male colleagues three times more often than their female counterparts.
Take pride in your effort and enjoy the journey, Saujani says. However counterintuitive it sounds, don’t see failure as a failure — more often than not it’s a key part of success. Plus, Saujani says, being brave means you’ve already won.
Send that email.