Reshma Saujani Is on a Mission to Fix Tech’s Women Problem — One Girl at a Time
Ladies First highlights women and girls who are making the world better for the rest of us.
No matter where you turn, more and more folks are talking about how to get women into the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. There’s a reason for that: The percentage of women in computer science peaked in 1984 and has been on the decline ever since.
Reshma Saujani, a lawyer with a career in politics, decided she wanted to change that. Saujani launched Girls Who Code in 2012, a national non-profit that aims to close the gender gap in tech by — you guessed it — teaching girls how to code. Along the way, she’s helped spark a global movement.
Girls Who Code recruits girls between the ages of seven and 13 to give them an education in all things STEM. Fewer than half of US schools teach computer programming, which is where Girls Who Code will help fill in the gap to keep interest continued over time and through college — with a focus on girls.
“Culture is the real hurdle that we face,” says Saujani. “The image of a programmer is of a boy in a hoodie in a basement alone, and girls look at that say ‘no, thanks.’ We need to change pop culture and the image of what a programmer looks like and does.”
That cultural prejudice starts early. Saujani has noticed that while tech jobs are among the fastest growing in the country, girls are being left behind from STEM education each and every single day.
“I visited a lot of New York City public schools, where I saw computer labs full of boys learning to code and no girls in sight,” explains Saujani in an email interview with Brit + Co. “That pissed me off, and I wanted to do something about it.”
Rather than complain, she leaped into action and set up a programming boot camp for 20 girls from New York City to learn coding over seven weeks. Now, five years later, Girls Who Code has taught programming to some 40,000 girls in all 50 states — “effectively quadrupling the talent pipeline!” according to Saujani.
It’s not just a talent shift that Saujani aims to set in motion. A number of women who currently work in the tech sector have recently come forward to say they have felt the industry to be sexist and, at times, unsupportive. In our interview, Saujani explains that with Girls Who Code they are trying to really change the entire culture of the tech field inside out by fostering the future of tech looks like.
“We have been partnering with several tech companies so that they can have a hand in shaping that future,” she says. “We’re building a movement of women in STEM, hopefully, enough women to really flood the gates.”
The world has taken note. Uber — a tech organization recently plagued by allegations of company sexism — donated $1.2 million dollars to Girls Who Code, which Saujani explains will build up the future programming across the United States.
“We’re hoping to reach 60,000 more girls over the next three years, including girls in areas that might not have regular access to computers and the internet,” Saujani says.
View this post on Instagram
A post shared by Girls Who Code (@girlswhocode) on
In late August, Girls Who Code launched their first publishing program with the release of two new books — an official coding guide, Girls Who Code: Learn to Code and Change the World, and the first book in a new GWC fiction series, The Friendship Code by Stacia Deutsch. Through the release of the publishing program, Saujani hopes that girls across the world will see themselves in these characters and — as a result — see themselves as coders.
“One of the best ways to spark girls’ interest is to share stories of girls who look like them,” she says. “You can’t be what you can’t see.”
Are you a woman working in STEM? How were you inspired to pursue your career? Talk to us @BritandCo.
Fall is right around the corner, and we're getting amped up for our next session of Selfmade, Brit + Co's 10-week interactive startup school. Designed to help you create a new business or grow your existing one, this course is personally led by Brit + Co founder Brit Morin and co-founder Anjelika Temple, and supported by more than a dozen of the top female entrepreneurs, creatives, and investors in the country. Students receive personalized coaching on everything from how to get out of your comfort zone to how to scale your business, and everything in between. And now, thanks to Office Depot, even more of you can join the course!
For the fall session, we're thrilled to team up with Office Depot to grant 200 FREE scholarship seats to the course. Scholarships are open to US residents, focusing on women of color, women from underserved and underrepresented communities, and women in need of support to help them trail-blaze. After all, we firmly believe that your support system is a huge part of how you achieve greatness, and we are here to cheer all of you on.
To nominate yourself or someone you know for a scholarship, head to our nomination form right here. The deadline for scholarship nominations is September 27th — it's time to take the leap!
Beyond the scholarship, Office Depot is all about helping you accomplish more. Whether it be the start phase, growth phase or keep businesses going phase, Office Depot offers a full suite of business solutions, including services and products, to help you work from anywhere, organize and save time and help build your brand.
So what are you waiting for? Take a chance on yourself and get yourself one step closer to truly being selfmade. Learn more about the Selfmade program, apply for a scholarship and prepare to be inspired :)