Engage Girls in STEM: Let Them Learn From Failure

VentureLab students learn from failure

I’ve discovered three keys to building our pipeline of women innovators and changemakers. In my last post, I explored the first key: let girls break free of stereotypes. The second is to teach our girls to redefine and embrace failure.

Studies show that many girls self-select out of things that are difficult or risky, because they fear they might fail and won’t be perfect.

Let’s encourage our girls to get out of their comfort zone and to do things that they think are difficult or beyond their reach. If a girl does poorly on a test, or her idea fails, let’s teach her to think of failure as a process, as a natural part of learning that yields information. Failure means learning what doesn’t work. They can experience failures without going on to define themselves as failures.

Consider the story of what happened with Sara Blakely, the inventor of Spanx. She remembers that when she was a girl, every night at dinner her father would ask her, “What have you failed at today?” (Going around the dinner table and answering this question as a family can work wonders for growing confidence and destigmatizing moments of failure!)

She would recount her daily successes and setbacks to her supportive father, and in doing so Sara acquired the skills to move beyond failure. By the time she entered college, Sara was steeped in failure and experienced at rebounding. And by learning through successive failures, Sara discovered her talents, her passions and her deep, inexplicable interests. She learned to welcome small failures as a way to push herself. She became comfortable with instances of failure and didn’t let them pull her down. Sara became an entrepreneur—the first self-made female billionaire in U.S. history.

Sara Blakely invented Spanx, which revolutionized the women’s undergarments industry. She saw a problem—women wanting to appear shapelier and smoother in their clothes—and she solved it using her experiences and perspective.

Her father’s question, “What have you failed at today?” cultivated in Sara Blakely a constructive approach to failure and her carry-on entrepreneurial spirit. Sara considers this spirit a real gift: “My dad growing up encouraged me and my brother to fail,” she says. “It’s really allowed me to be much freer in trying things and spreading my wings in life.”

At VentureLab, we help our students learn to persevere through everything, including failure. Teaching girls lessons in failure is part of the entrepreneurial experience and we incorporate this approach into our free curriculum. VentureLab ensures that students learn that failing is part of any entrepreneurial experience. They realize that it’s not only okay to fail, but that failure is expected of entrepreneurs. It simply means that you are being action-oriented and pursuing your dreams, discounting subpar approaches in the process.

VentureLab students learn not to let failures keep them from going wherever their interests take them, and that failing can actually be an advantage. It isn’t necessary to start out already good at something. It might not even be possible. This growth mindset leads to real entrepreneurialism, the subject of my next post. In the meantime, I’d love to hear from you about how you teach the girls in your life about failure, and how to learn from it. Thank you for sharing.

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