In 2010, Reshma Saujani made a run for the United States Congress that would influence her commitment to girls’ education.
The New York lawyer says that had she not competed in and lost that very election, she would have never gone on to found her groundbreaking organization, Girls Who Code. As she visited local schools throughout her campaign, Saujani noticed the lack of female representation in computer science programs in schools. “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,” she explains. “That pissed me off, and I wanted to do something about it.”
The technology gender divide that arises within STEM-related programs was a cultural hurdle in need of serious transformation. According to 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.” A major goal of Girls Who Code has been to invite girls of all backgrounds, no matter their socioeconomic status, to usher in a new face of coding that represents inclusivity and accessibility.
Saujani immediately got to work building a framework for her non-profit, Girls Who Code, by developing an initial eight-week programming session for high school women in New York City. Through these intensive sessions, the students learned the basics of running Ruby, HTML, Java, and other computer programs. They also had the opportunity to meet leaders in technology, including Sheryl Sandberg from Facebook and Dick Costolo from Twitter. Six years later, there are over 150 Girls Who Code clubs that have been launched in schools across the country, teaching classes on robotics, web design, and mobile development.
With a guiding vision to “close the gender gap in technology,” Girls Who Code has embraced a mission of reaching at least 40,000 girls in all 50 states. The organization has grown substantially under Saujani’s direction, with sponsoring partners now including Amazon, Microsoft, and Twitter, to name a few. Saujani says the imperative to involve and energize girls about computer science is more important than ever, and that empowering them to create social change goes hand-in-hand with their knowledge of technology.
“I don’t care if you want to be Beyoncé or Hillary Clinton, you got to learn how to code,” she says. “If you want to be a veterinarian, if you want to be a doctor, if you want to be a ballerina, technology is critical to whatever you create or build, so learn, learn how to code.”