Waiting has always seemed like one of life’s necessary evils. It is a demanding process, and like life’s most difficult tests it calls for patience and perseverance. The length of waiting can vary, but it always has a tendency to feel endless. Waiting is bearable only in its promise of reward. At the end of that line is something we need, or at least something we want. And waiting not only shows dedication, but along the way there is a lot to be learned. At the same time, there is a lot to lose in waiting. Life continues as you wait. Waiting is not active, but passive. Waiting can lead to frustrations that push us out of line. Waiting can be limiting as opportunities come and go. In her first book, Women Who Don’t Wait in Line: Break the Mold, Lead the Way, Reshma Saujani turns her back on waiting and jolts us out of dormancy as she begs us to take charge and jump the line.
Reshma Saujani is one of the many badass, feminist women who are leading movements against discriminatory practices and ideologies that continue to hold women back. She is a lawyer, activist, politician, and the founder and CEO of Girls Who Code. At 33 years old, she was thrust into the spotlight as the first Indian-American woman to run for congress. She did not win that race. But she did come out come out victorious – this failure only fueled her drive to achieve her dreams. Her loss forced her to reflect on how she, and others, view failure and risk-taking. Women Who Don’t Wait in Line dedicates numerous pages to the concept of embracing failure in the search for success. Saujani’s personal motto: “Fail fast, fail hard, fail often.”
For Saujani, the extensive gender gap in tech is today’s biggest domestic issue. She believes that in order to see more women represented in the tech world, especially in senior roles, we need to encourage women to be bolder. A change in perspective will not dismantle institutional biases that work against women, but it can create cracks in this seemingly impenetrable wall. Saujani is a woman’s woman – she preaches the importance of building a sisterhood where women are visible, loud, and united in order to disrupt the world of business from the inside.
“Women are taught to be risk-averse. Starting at a young age, we are taught to stay off the monkey bars, stay in the shallow end – with the result that too often, we prepare and prepare instead of pursuing our dreams.” – page 3
In her TED Talk, she encourages that we teach girls to be brave, rather than perfect. For her, this is a key to success because in the glorification of perfection, women are socialized to be risk averse. She wants boys and girls to treat challenges with the same level optimism and willingness. This was a major inspiration when she founded Girls Who Code in 2012. Coding’s nature of trial and error teaches girls to keep going even if they don’t get it right the first, second, or third time. Through its Summer Immersion Programs and Clubs Program, Girls Who Code has reached 40,000 girls and it’s only growing in impact. It’s initiatives such as these that will help to close that gender gap in tech, and teach girls to take on challenges even when perfection cannot be guaranteed.
What does Saujani have against waiting in line? For her, it is an outdated concept that continues to hold women back. When we wait for perfection, we miss out on the trial and error experiences that add richness to our experiences. Waiting may have its place, but it can’t continue as the default if women want change now.
In recalling her run for congress in 2010, Saujani provides readers with deep reflection on issues that may seem trivial and obvious, but heavily impact our day-to-day lives, and in turn, our careers. Saujani opens up to the reader and shares very personal information, from her fears to her dreams and intentions. Women Who Don’t Wait in Line is largely Saujani’s story and the obstacles she faced by deciding to not “pay her dues” and run for congress early on in her political career; it is also about promoting female leadership, reevaluating failure, and creating of a sisterhood of support. As a young professional, I found this book to be incredibly motivating. I’ll admit that it took me some time to get hooked. At first, her lessons seemed repetitive, and their redundancy, cliched. However, the book pulled me in with its honesty and rawness, its concrete and sound advice, and its collection of stories from many powerful women.
Saujani’s fear, excitement, and dedication while running for congress can be felt in each page. She is a living example of the type of woman she’s encouraging her readers to become, although she admits that it was not until the age of 33 that she became the bold and courageous person she is now. She’s not without fear, but instead she uses her fear as a tool to push herself harder. She does not wait for opportunities to magically appear, or for the “right time” to take the lead, but actively seeks new challenges. She learns from her failures rather than sweeping them under the rug. Saujani shares her story, while also sharing the stories of many other women. Readers hear from Randi Zuckerberg, Anne-Marie Slaughter, Virginia Rometty, Susan Lyne, and even more women in leadership roles. Saujani tells these stories very purposefully, she acknowledges the importance of learning from and leaning on each other in order to grow. All in all, this book is a resource for women that are sick of waiting in line.
A good chunk of the book is reserved to the idea of a sisterhood for the 21st century. The sisterhood is largely a call to action to support one another, but it also acknowledges that women should be able to exist as teammates and competitors all at once. Rather than pitting women against each other for a coveted seat, we need to bring more chairs to the table. The sisterhood is made up of women in all walks of life. It is made up of peers, mentors, and most importantly, sponsors. Saujani furiously advocates for more women sponsors. She defines a sponsor as someone who can advance your career by introducing you to relevant contacts in their network. In her own words, “mentors offer advice; sponsors do the legwork that actually gets you there” (page 89). The role of women sponsors will be especially important in helping more women advance in traditionally male industries. She shares examples of the invaluable aid that women sponsors provide, such as Sheryl Sandberg’s regular dinners that bring together female entrepreneurs.
“No matter where you are in your career, you can share your knowledge and insights with another woman. I call this the hookup mentorship model, where you connect another woman – most likely a peer – to whatever resource she might need that you have access to.” – page 96
Most importantly, she provides readers with the attitude and tools required when jumping the line. My favourite lessons from the book include: learning to fail, visualizing and taking the leap, binding mastery with recognition, and writing personal mission statements. In order to change how we view failure, we must stop being silent about it. Saujani asks us to be scientific about our failures, and to communicate these failures and use them as “a springboard for professional growth” (page 10). Similarly, our perspective on risk must be shaken. Saujani suggests overcoming fear by first visualizing all possible outcomes in order to feel more prepared for what may come. She encourages more visibility of female mastery and asks women to share accomplishments loud and proud: “Part of being motivated to master a skill is the desire to be acknowledged for that achievement” (page 28). Saujani recognizes that personal growth is vital to growing in our careers. She encourages readers to think about their goals and the sentiments they’d like to be associated with by writing personal mission statements.
Saujani’s energy is intoxicating throughout her book. She leaves the reader feeling charged and ready to take on the world with every lesson learned. She makes us question the validity of the lines we are stuck waiting in – she pushes us to jump the line. I know I’ll be reconsidering the waiting game from now on.
Have you ever taken the leap and jumped the line? Tweet us at leanincanada and tell us about a time when you have #jumpedtheline.
In Her Own Words Reading Guide
October Lean Out: The Struggle for Gender Equality in Tech and Start-Up Culture by Elissa Shevinsky
November Unfinished Business: Women Men Work Family by Anne Marie Slaughter
December The Red Tent by Anita Diamant
January Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person By Shonda Rhimes
February Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More by Janet Mock