Tips for Empowering Learning Girls: Part I
Studies show that many girls self-select out of things that are risky or hard because they are afraid that they might fail or won’t perform perfectly. We’ve seen firsthand at the beginning of our programs girls who have a “nurtured apprehension” to standing up and speaking up—girls who have been taught to drop out, instead of having the confidence to pursue their interests.
While all of the VentureLab curriculum is completely appropriate for both girls and boys (we whole-heartedly believe that we need to raise boys with the entrepreneurial mindset too!), our research-based curriculum was created and designed in particular to promote girls’ learning. These lessons emphasize collaboration, communication, connection, real-world connections and problem-solving for a cause— all important factors in girls’ learning. Whenever possible, we have also used real-life examples of female entrepreneurs so girls can be exposed to entrepreneurial role models, both girls their age and professional women.
Research shows that there are multiple barriers to girls’ confidence, including fear of failure, perfectionism, sensitivity to criticism, and language of self-doubt. Here’s part one of our tips to address these barriers while teaching entrepreneurship to girls:
Tip #1: Embody Confidence
It’s easy to forget that girls learn not only from what you say to them, but what you say about yourself. Research shows that girls can pick up attitudes and insecurities from parents and teachers. Do not put yourself down and avoid negative language about yourself.
Make sure that when you talk about any areas of weakness you feel you have, you apply a growth mindset. e.g. Instead of saying “You kids are very creative, which is great—I’ve never been very creative,” say “I’ve never had the chance before to learn ways to be creative before these lessons—I’m learning right along with you!” Check out more ways to inspire a growth mindset here!
Using the VentureLab youth entrepreneurship curriculum may be the first time you’ve worked with kids and/or taught the topic of entrepreneurship, which can be nerve-racking or make you feel insecure. You may find that you run out of time on a lesson, don’t know the answer to a question a student asks, or an activity doesn’t go as planned. Do not panic!
Rather, use these situations as important opportunities to model the entrepreneurial mindset! Learn from failure (ask yourself what you could do next time to make the lesson go more smoothly), be optimistic and adaptable (“We ran out of time, but we can pivot and pick it up where we left off tomorrow”).
No one’s perfect, including you, and that’s the GOOD news! We want girls to see relatable and real-life role models who live and breathe the entrepreneurial mindset. We don’t want to teach girls they have to be perfect. Rather we want them to be resilient in the face of challenges and this starts with you!
Tip #2: Small Moments Matter
Some of the most impactful moments for girls can come in between activities or through a passing comment. When a girl’s prototype doesn’t work as expected, you have the chance to help her realize and internalize that it’s okay for something to not work the first time (or second or third!) and remind her that the most successful entrepreneurs have things go wrong all the time.
Learning to be resilient in the face of failure has the power to impact a girl for the rest of her life. Don’t feel pressure to run a perfect program—remember, you are trying to change a mindset, not prepare a child for a graded exam. And that can happen when you least expect it (even during a snack break)!
Tip #3: Fight Fear of Failure
Entrepreneurial education infuses instances of failure with positive meaning. Girls learn that everyone fails. It’s how you deal with failure that makes all the difference. At VentureLab, successive failures are built into the curriculum and provide girls with a safe environment to examine the role of failure in real time, in supportive groups of peers. For many girls, entrepreneurial learning is the first time that they have seen failure as a valuable, vital part of the learning process.
When something doesn’t work, or go according to plan, emphasize that failure is a part of the entrepreneurial process! Give examples of times that you’ve failed, or when things haven’t gone as well as you expected them to. Reinforce the growth mindset: if they are struggling because they are being challenged, that’s because they are trying something new!
Tip #4: Prevent Perfectionism
In the real world, rarely is there enough time to perfect a project—particularly for entrepreneurs! Entrepreneurs expect that there will always be ways their product/service can and should be improved. However, often girls aren’t getting the message that getting everything perfect all the time isn’t realistic, which can end up holding them back from taking risks with potentially huge pay-offs.
“The desire that many girls have to ‘get it right’ can quickly topple into anxiety and perfectionism. Perfectionist girls may constantly seek reassurance from you that they are doing the right thing, teach them to trust their instincts and do what they think is right most girls will do what is asked of them, but they may be less likely to realize that they have acquired a skill.”Andrew Fuller, “Teaching Girls“
A number of VentureLab activities are intentionally set up so that kids don’t have enough time to “perfectly” achieve their goal. And then we ask them to present their solution in front of the other kids! That’s because we want kids, particularly girls, to practice sharing work they’ve created that is not perfect, even if it feels uncomfortable.
If a girl (or boy!) seems anxious during these activities, make sure to address it either with her directly or with the whole group (e.g. ask the group “Who found it hard to get up and present a product idea that you’ve only worked on for 2 minutes?”). Engage the group in a discussion about perfectionism so that you can reinforce the point that nobody’s perfect, no work is perfect and that entrepreneurs can’t let perfectionism rule them or slow them down, otherwise, their great ideas would never become realities!
For many girls, the pressure of perfection limits them from taking risks, raising their hand in class, participating in new activities, expressing their creativity and pursuing their dreams. By creating a freedom for failure environment, we encourage girls to be curious, bold and daring, showing them that you can be wrong and at the same time experience progress and eventual success.
Catch the rest of our tips in part two of our blog series coming next week! Sign up for our newsletter to make sure you don’t miss out: