When it comes to raising girls in America, parents have been getting it "completely wrong" — and it's having dire consequences, according to Girls Who Code founder and CEO Reshma Saujani.
"We've coddled them. We've protected them. Their dress gets messy and we immediately fix it, and we let our boys just crawl to the top of the monkey bars and just jump head first," she told CNBC this week.
That's caused girls to strive for perfection at the expense of taking chances, Saujani said in a "Squawk Box " interview.
"Now our girls are afraid to get anything other than an 'A.' You have real serious mental health consequences that you're seeing because of this," she warned. "We can't afford that anymore."
The ramifications go well into adulthood, and they can have a big impact on women's careers, she argued.
Saujani has been a longtime advocate for creating opportunities for girls and women. She started her career as an attorney and an activist. In 2010, she was the first Indian American woman to run for U.S. Congress. Shortly after losing the race, she started in 2012 the nonprofit Girls Who Code, which teaches girls as young as third grade about computer coding, in an effort to close the gender gap in technology.
In her most recent project, a book called "Brave, Not Perfect," Saujani spoke with hundreds of women across the United States and came to a stunning realization: In this quest for perfection, women are passing up opportunities that they think are too risky or too hard.
"We let our good ideas die on the vine. And we see other people pursing the things that we thought we should do and we are left with regret and envy," she explained. "It was also creating a leadership gap."
Women are still highly underrepresented in leadership roles in corporate America. They made up only 6.4 percent of CEOs at Fortune 500 companies in 2017, according to Pew Research Center. Sadly that was a record high. Their ranks in 2018 shrunk to 4.8 percent.
Source: Fortune 500 and Catalyst
The numbers are better when it comes to management positions, but women are still lagging. While they were nearly half of the labor force in 2017, only 39.8 percent of them were managers in 2017, according a study by Catalyst.
"Today, 40 percent of America's breadwinners are women," Saujani said. "Automation is changing everything about way that we live and work. We need our girls, our young women, to be braver than they've ever been."
And that means starting young. So, let your girls get messy and take chances, she said. It will help them become leaders later in life.