Founder Reshma Saujani. Photo courtesy of Adrian Kinloch
Founder of Girls Who Code, Reshma Saujani, the first Indian-American woman to run for U.S. Congress, is on a mission to help girls change the world through coding.
By Emma Childs
I’m Reshma Saujani, the CEO and founder of Girls Who Code. I’m a mom, a leader, an activist, a changemaker. And I’m on a mission to close the gender gap in tech.
What’s been the proudest moment of your career so far?
I think that moment is yet to come! The proudest moment in my career will be when we close the gender gap in tech. And I know we can do it in our lifetime.
Is there a social cause or issue that’s most important to you right now?
Watching all of these teen activists out of Parkland has been truly inspirational—and I would love to see a change in our gun control laws. I supported these students in their March for Our Lives. While my everyday work is all about advancing women in technology, I like to spend my weekends and nights advocating for other causes, like immigration reform. My own parents were refugees and were able to build a life for themselves and for me in America. I want to make sure that that opportunity is accessible to others.
Photo by Carey Wagner.
What inspired you to start Girls Who Code?
When I ran for Congress in 2010, I spent a lot of time visiting schools, and specifically computer science classrooms, in New York. I could count the number of girls in those classes on one hand. I couldn’t believe it. That’s why I started Girls Who Code!
We started with 20 girls in a borrowed classroom. Six years later, and we’ve reached nearly 50,000 girls with our programs—that’s 50,000 girls who now have the tools to change the world. And we’re not slowing down. In our next five years, Girls Who Code will launch initiatives that bring us closer to our goal of achieving gender parity in computer science by 2027.
In your 2016 TED Talk, you said there is a “bravery deficit” among young girls and that you want to encourage girls to be comfortable with imperfection. Why is that important?
We teach boys to be brave and girls to be perfect. While girls might excel in the classroom, it’s our boys we’re seeing in the boardroom. And that’s because the real world rewards risk-takers and bold decision-makers. We need to teach girls that it’s okay to dream big, to make mistakes, to fail. I want to unlock the power and potential of girls to change the world—and that starts with teaching bravery.
Photo by Wesley Verhoeve.
In the past, the word “nerd” has always had an insulting connotation. Do you think Girls Who Code is changing that and creating a more inclusive environment?
When I was growing up, I was kind of a nerd. In Illinois in the late ’80s, there were few things less cool than being a little brown girl who wanted to save the world. But things are changing. If you need proof, just check out the Fortune 500. So many self-described outcasts and misfits grew up and found a place where they belonged—Silicon Valley.
Girls Who Code is teaching girls to code as fast as we can, and we’re trying to change the culture in the process. I hope we can put an end to leaving people out and putting people down, and that we can join together in saying nerds will change the world, no matter who they are or what they look like.
You often comment on the power of visibility and how inspiring it is for young girls to see themselves represented. How do you think your path would have been different if you, as a young girl, saw someone who looked like you represented in the media and professional world?
I grew up going to the library with my dad every weekend and checking out books about incredible women like Eleanor Roosevelt, Rosa Parks, Marie Curie, Helen Keller, and Coretta Scott King. Even from a young age, I was reading about all these women making a difference in the world, and that inspired me to want to make a difference. If I’d been able to see women who looked like me, too, it would have been even more impactful. That’s why I work so hard to make sure that girls in our Girls Who Code programs are seeing women who code of all colors and backgrounds.
Photo by Wesley Verhoeve.
In 2010, you were the first Indian-American woman to run for U.S. Congress, and although you lost, you describe it as a very rewarding incident. How important do you think failure is in one’s journey?
Running for office was the first real brave thing I’d ever done in my life. And failing, as painful as it was, ended up being really important for me. Because when I failed, and I was totally broke, I realized that my life wasn’t over. The terrifying worst-case scenario hadn’t killed me. And when I realized that failure didn’t mean the end, I was inspired to keep making brave, scary decisions. If I hadn’t tried and failed, I wouldn’t be here today.
Who is a Woman of Empowerment in your life, a woman who inspires you and you look up to?
There have been so many women of empowerment who have inspired me on my journey. Right now, I’m truly inspired by Stacey Abrams, who is running for governor in Georgia. If she wins, she will be the first black woman governor this country has ever seen. She pours her heart into her community and is deeply committed to advocating for children and for the poor. She is brave to do something that no one has ever done before. I’m excited about a world where women can go for anything we want to achieve—and Stacey is pushing us even closer to that reality.
How are you a Woman of Empowerment?
I’m giving girls the tools they need to embrace their power and potential to be changemakers.
My mission is… to close the gender gap in tech and create a world beyond equity, a world where nothing will get in the way of our girls as they develop solutions to our most challenging problems.