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Girls Who Code Founder Reshma Saujani Visits CIA, Meets Program Alumna

Girls Who Code Founder Reshma Saujani Visits CIA

As a young girl, Reshma Saujani’s father read her stories about leaders who changed the world: Mahatma Ghandi, Martin Luther King Jr., and others. While she wasn’t sure exactly what she wanted to do, she was sure of one thing – she wanted to make her mark.

Reshma did just that as the Founder and CEO of Girls Who Code, a nonprofit that aims to close the gender gap in technology. CIA recently hosted her for a speaking event and to meet with officers. She shared her perspective on how to empower women of all ages to be courageous and to shift from a culture of perfection to one of risk acceptance.

Reflecting on her personal and professional path to Girls Who Code and other successes, Reshma discussed how she overcame obstacles, including law school debt and a ten-year finance career that left her feeling unfulfilled.

She shared the story of how a call from her friend gave her the courage to make a bold move. “Your best friend always seems to call when you’re at your lowest,” Reshma said. She quit her job and turned to politics, where she had little luck in two New York Congressional races taking on incumbents. Though her campaigns were unsuccessful, they gave her the initial idea for Girls Who Code. When she visited local schools, she noticed a stark gender imbalance in computer science classrooms.

 “When we think about the image of a programmer,” Reshma said, “what do we see? A guy in a basement drinking a Red Bull and singularly focused on his screen.” She was concerned that young women were getting the message that they did not belong in the tech world.

Girls Who Code now reaches millions across the globe in schools, community centers, homeless shelters, and churches.

“We raise our boys to be risk-takers, but our women in bubble wrap,” Reshma said, explaining that parents exercise an unconscious bias when raising children, one that is deeply ingrained in our culture. Parents are “hard-wired to toughen-up boys and insulate girls,” she said.

These fundamental differences in how we raise men and women, Reshma explained, can have broader implications as women reach adulthood. By conditioning women to be risk-averse, we’re in effect raising them to be perfect, she continued, calling for a cultural shift she coins a “Bravery Revolution.”

“It starts with the small things,” she said. “When you start finding courage in the everyday, you can prepare for the big events.” For example, she challenged the audience to accept having an occasional typo in an email – to be brave, not perfect.

When asked what men can do to contribute to ongoing issues of gender inequality, Reshma said there have never been stronger male allies, noting that more than 40 percent of Girls Who Code instructors are male. “Our men won’t accept a world where their daughters can’t be anything they want to be,” she said.

Reshma concluded, “Coding is a metaphor for bravery. [These girls] learned to code and can stand up to anything.” After the discussion, several people from the audience stayed behind to meet Reshma, including an employee—and former Girls Who Code participant—who was inspired by that experience to go into a technical field that led her to CIA.

Posted: Jul 12, 2019 04:50 PM
Last Updated: Jul 15, 2019 02:51 PM