Heart at Work: Inspiring Others to Be Brave, Not Perfect

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Heart at Work: Inspiring Others to Be Brave, Not Perfect

5 min read December 02, 2020

When Emily Barrus started her drive to work one morning, she tuned in to a favorite podcast—something she did routinely to make the long commute an easier one. What she didn’t know was how this particular episode would become anything but routine—that it would start a movement she never expected and create a program that any company can implement, if they are committed to effective change for women in the workplace. 

“I was listening to a podcast from the Harvard Business Review. The episode was called, Fixing Tech’s Gender Gap,” she said. “In the podcast, they interviewed Reshma Saujani, the founder of Girls Who Code.” 

Emily, a data scientist with MetLife, said she really resonated with one key point: Women can sometimes allow perfectionism to hold them back. 

“As a woman who struggles with perfectionism and wants to succeed professionally in the tech industry, this message resonated with me, and it made me feel like maybe I wasn’t alone in my experiences,” Emily said.

During the podcast, Reshma encouraged women to be brave by practicing imperfection and trying something that they aren’t naturally good at.

Inspired and ready to share the concept, Emily approached her colleagues, Renee Nocker, Leigh Anne Poole, Lauren Wright, and Anu Miller.

"I decided to practice bravery by taking just one step—sharing the podcast and my takeaways with a group of coworkers who I respected and admired,” she said.

That one step started a movement, and a new professional group at MetLife was born. They call it, Brave Not Perfect, named after Reshma’s eponymous book that has started a global movement aiming to change how women view success in the workplace. The idea of the MetLife group is to provide a safe place for women to have an open discussion about their career path, gender inequity, and how they can support one another on their career journey.

"This group is supportive and non-judgmental. We truly want each other to grow and succeed,” said Anu, Director of Data Science. “It’s like having your own personal cheerleading squad behind the scenes. Their diverse perspectives and experiences are invaluable to shaping my own professional and leadership styles.”

Renee, Assistant Vice President of Global Business Intelligence, agreed. “We are all in it for each other, not just for ourselves,” she said. “It is a safe place for whatever we want to discuss.”

The group decided that it was important to not only be a support for each other, but for women coming behind them, entering the workforce. They had previously worked with Girls Who Code (GWC) during the MetLife hosted Summer Immersion Program. After hearing the podcast interview with the founder of GWC, the group agreed to champion the Brave Not Perfect idea to their students in the summer program.


The Summer Immersion Program involves seven weeks of classroom and interactive experiences at MetLife’s headquarters in New York. Students listen to guest speakers, participate in interactive education sessions, and before the pandemic, took field trips to various locations to learn more about STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) and technology. 

“We serve as role models and supporters throughout the program, encouraging them to consider careers in a field that has a significant gender gap for women,” Renee said. “Together we teach them what great opportunities there are in our respective fields so they can envision their futures with confidence.”

Lauren, a project lead in Corporate Systems Planning, has worked with GWC since 2017 and was hooked from the start. “Not only were we helping educate women about STEM and computer science, we were also helping these students see themselves as a professional woman,” Lauren said. “It was a tremendously rewarding experience not only for the students but also for all MetLife associates involved.”

She said her involvement with GWC also gave her the opportunity to meet an incredible group of women and to be an ambassador for girls in high school who may be interested in a career in STEM.

The Brave Not Perfect team said they would encourage other companies to use this model to not only create a space for women in the workplace to be their authentic selves, but to invest in the women leaders of the future, like the students in Girls Who Code.

“It can be simple and organic,” said Anu. “Share the concept of Brave Not Perfect from the podcast and Reshma’s book. Encourage employees to begin discussing bravery informally in trusted forums. The key is to provide encouragement and celebrate each other as we practice bravery. Then spread the word! Everyone can relate.”

Leigh Anne, a senior data scientist at MetLife, said being a part of a group like this one can help build confidence and transform the way many women in the workplace view themselves “It has been a wonderful experience to be a part of this group and I am so grateful for it,” she said. “It's truly inspiring to learn from and support each other. I think being able to have these conversations in such an authentic way has made me a better person, both professionally and personally.”

What would it take to make Brave Not Perfect part of your workplace? Try these four tips to help you get started:

  1. Listen to Reshma speak more about the Brave, Not Perfect concept in the Harvard Business Review IdeaCast episode, “Fixing Tech’s Gender Gap” or her TEDTalk, “Teach Girls Bravery, Not Perfection.”
  2. Start a discussion about the topic with a professional woman’s group you’re already involved in. If there isn’t an organization readily available at your workplace, talk with a group of colleagues about starting one.
  3. Recognize and acknowledge bravery when you observe it and share your stories of bravery in the workplace on social media.
  4. Stay connected to the Brave, Not Perfect global community.

Nothing in these materials is intended to be advice for a particular situation or individual. These materials are for general information purposes only.