Perfection Might Be Our Biggest Enemy

By Molly Connell

The call for a gender equal workplace is getting louder, but women are still significantly under-represented in certain fields. When it comes to STEM (Science, Tech, Engineering and Math), there is still a stereotype present that working within these fields is rather for men. As an example, currently, only 13% of practicing engineers are women in the United States (Bureau of Labor Statistics)

It is clear, that this under-representation is not because women are less capable. Countless female engineers have achieved something admirable in the past and became role models. Business Insider published an article with the “26 most powerful female engineers in 2016” listing women who are powerful and brave, like Diane Greene who is leading a new team at Google that combines all of the company’s cloud businesses or Peggy Johnson, the Executive Vice President of Business Development at Microsoft.

Bravery is a key component

“Perfection is the Enemy of Progress!” said Churchill, but the same concept has also been presented by Voltaire as well. The scientific explanation that supports this statement is called “nirvana fallacy” which is defined as “comparing a realistic solution with an idealized one, and dismissing or even discounting the realistic solution as a result of comparing to a “perfect world” or impossible standard.” (

Taking risks means having a chance to fail. But what is failure? Charly Haversat in her “Perfectionism holds us back. Here’s why” TED talk explains how perfectionism can blind us from seeing what we have accomplished. If we constantly compare our present situation to a perfect situation, dissatisfaction is bound to come. Should our children never participate in a soccer team if the chances of them becoming a professional football player is less than 1%? Can we not be proud of ourselves for being the 2nd best at something? While these questions are polarizing, perfectionists, when it comes to themselves, would answer “no!”, while this is a mistake can stand in the way of their happiness and also their success.

Girls are raised to be perfect

While the paradox caused by perfectionism can occur for anyone, in which while striving to do everything right and to be the best, one prevents itself from doing so at the same time, there is still a difference on what effects this phenomenon has on males and females.

A wave was created when Reshma Saujani, the founder of Girls who Code introduced her theory in one of her speeches how girls in general are being raised in a way that is counteracting with the original intention: we forget to raise them to be brave.

A survey conducted by LinkedIn asked men and women about their childhood dream jobs and whether or not they are currently working in that position. It turns out that there is a clear split between men and women: men were far more likely to have of “one-in-a-million” type dream-jobs such as prime minister or astronaut than women. Ms. Saujani, as explained in her previously mentioned speech, thinks that women tend to choose careers they know they will be great in, because they are taught to avoid risk and failure, to be good in school and to be safe while boys are praised for their bravery.

This has an effect on us in many aspects: A Hewlett Packpard internal report that has been quoted in several articles such as in Harvard Business Review, Forbes and the Economist was shown that men apply for jobs when they meet only 60% of the requirements and women have to meet 100% to feel confident enough to apply. This results in missing out on countless opportunities only because the chance of rejection is higher.


The term “gender gap” can be interpreted in many ways. Probably the most common concepts are the wage gap and the ratio of women and men in certain jobs. It is argued that one way to resolve these issues is to help women to overcome the gender-confidence gap first. External support can help but it is advised that women should focus on eliminating their own self-consciousness to really be confident. The systemic issues in the gender gap of course are another topic and confidence is only one part of the bigger puzzle.

To illustrate the issue, here’s an infographic from TradeMachines summarizing the main reasons why the gender-gap in engineering is still present.