Reshma Saujani, founder and CEO of Girls Who Code has been actively making a change in the lives of young women since she launched the business in 2012. Having reached more than 90,000 girls across the United States teaching young women how to code, Girls Who Code has just launched in Canada. Here’s why*:
How is it possible for companies to produce products and services that appeal to women if women are not at the decision-making table. Further, research clearly shows that Canadian Provinces could add between 4 to 9% to GDP by advancing gender equality at work.
Sujani’s bravery is legendary; her creation of the non-profit Girls Who Code came after she was the first Indian American woman who ran for US Congress. Alpha Woman sat down with her at the recent #movethedial Summit to talk about bravery, coding and what’s next.
Reshma Saujani: I’m a weird person to have launched this non-profit as I am not a coder. I majored in poli-sci and I was an activist my whole life. When I was running for US Congress I noticed the gender divide in schools. After I lost the campaign, I asked myself what would be the meaningful thing I could work on that would create opportunities for girls. And it really felt like closing the gender divide in teaching technology in schools is the issue that would make the most impact on girls.
When you go into New York City Public Schools things are definitely a little bit better than they used to be- but not much better. The vast majority of kids learning to code are boys. They’re learning to be the next Mark Zuckerberg or Steve Jobs, and we’re leaving girls behind.
RS: I think being a leader today is all about having some sort of technical understanding and know-how. The key CEOs today are running companies that have some sort of relationship to technology. You cannot be what you cannot see. If you don’t see yourself in a leadership role there’s no way you can aspire to be that unless you have some technical know-how.
We teach girls coding but we’re also teaching them bravery, resilience, and public speaking. Oftentimes that little voice in our head is way too loud and we don’t tell people what we really think even if we have a seat at the table, so I think rewiring our girls for bravery and learning how to lead if that’s what they choose to do, is critical.
RS: I had never run a nonprofit before and I was CEO for the very first time so I learned a lot on the job. I made a lot of mistakes. But I had a lot of people who supported me and my leadership. So this journey in many ways has been full of love and support along the way. People recognize that we’re failing as a nation not teaching our girls how to how to program computers.
RS: We want our girls to major or minor in Computer Sciences and get jobs in technology. We know that our girls are majoring in computer science at 15 times the national average. We have our own internal data team that measures our initiatives however we have just started working with external research group McKinsey & Company to continuously track success, as we feel that we can close the gap by 2027.
RS: Just do it. I think far too often we talk ourselves out of our ideas. I didn’t do that with Girls Who Code, I just went out and I bought the URL. I asked a friend to borrow his conference room and I hand-picked my first 20 girls. In many ways, I shouldn’t have done that because I wasn’t a coder and I should have felt like my lack of experience in the subject matter should preclude me from moving forward but I didn’t. I didn’t let it phase me but maybe that’s because I lost my Congressional race. Bravery in many ways is a muscle.
RS: I don’t know. It depends on whether I feel I can make an impact doing that. Probably, but we’ll see. I love doing the work that I’m doing right now and if the end goal is to create opportunities for girls and underserved communities, I can think of no better way to do that than being CEO of Girls Who Code.
*source: #movethedial Benchmark Report 2017.