Quest for gender equity through technology: Reshma Saujani and Girls Who Code

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Reshma Saujani, founder of Girls Who Code. (Photo: Girlswhocode.com/Twitter)
Reshma Saujani is the Founder and CEO of Girls Who Code, an organization founded 8 years ago, and expanding exponentially, attracting national and international attention for its targeted approach to achieving gender equity in the critical field of technology that affects every aspect of our life.

Saujani, who lives in New York City, spoke to News India Times about what International Women’s Day means and where the women’s rights movement stands today, including the contributions made by her organization.

“I am hopeful. I think women are fighting back more than before both in the home and the workplace; Men are fighting alongside us so that we get to that equity,” Saujani said when asked about whether the needle had moved on the rights of the women, or do the violations we see today appear to take us back to the situation decades ago.

“Yes, there are still a lot of structural barriers,” Saujani acknowledges. But her work with Girls Who Code which has the mission to “close the gender gap in technology and to change the image of what a programmer looks like and does” as well as that of young girls leading climate change, gun control, and other issues, “Our kids are acting as leaders and leaders are acting as children. So I place a lot of hope in the next generation.”

 

Students at Girls Who Code, Feb. 12, 2020 (Pphoto. Facebook)

Saujani began her career as an attorney and activist. In 2010, she surged onto the political scene as the first Indian American woman to run for U.S. Congress. During the race, Reshma visited local schools and saw the gender gap in computing classes firsthand, which led her to start Girls Who Code, says her organization’s website. Reshma has also served as Deputy Public Advocate for New York City.  “We’re building the largest pipeline of future female engineers in the United States,” says Girls Who Code, because computing is where the jobs are — and where they will be in the future, but fewer than 1 in 5 computer science graduates are women.

The gender gap in computing is getting worse, according to the organization whose data shows that in 1995, 37% of computer scientists were women. Today, it’s only 24%. and could go down to 22 percent in 10 years.

Girls Who Code has started what it calls its “next chapter,” debuting ‘International Clubs’ in cities around the world including in India in 2019.

“We’ve had so many young girls across the world interested in starting Girls Who Code – especially in India where 100 such Clubs have been set up,” Saujani said. And the organization plans to expand Clubs in Bangalore, Delhi, Hyderabad and Mumbai. Saujani did not expect that massive expansion when they began the international outreach. Her organization launched its first ever programs in India with support from United Technologies Corp. In November 2019, the organization recognized the first-ever India cohort of 30 girls graduating from their GWC clubs at two local schools in Hyderabad.

Indian students at a Girls Who Code Club in Karvi Pudami School, Nov. 4, 2019. (Photo: Girls Who Code/Olivia Quintana)

These Clubs are free programs that get girls ages 11-18 excited about coding and computer science. Clubs can run before, during or after school, on weekends or over the summer. In Clubs, girls engage in fun and simple online coding tutorials, build community through interactive activities, learn about inspiring role models in tech and work together to design solutions to real-world problems facing their communities.

Last Oct. 11, 2019, Girls Who Code held the first-ever all-digital #MarchForSisterhood to observe the International Day of the Girl, where people from around the world posted content on all kinds of social media platforms including Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and TikTok.

Half of the girls enrolled in Girls Who Code are under the poverty line, observed Saujani. “The country is in a good place when I see all these girls from different backgrounds making friends,” she said. She noted the growing gender parity in university and college campuses.

Saujani acknowledged that Indian-American may face less inequity than other women such as Latino or African American. “Yes, we have more privileges than others in terms of poverty, education, and income levels, but they are still not in parity with white men or Asian men. But we are all in this together,” she said.

So many Indian-American women “are doing amazing things,” Saujani said. “So many are at the forefront of the progressive movement, climate change … a lot more than when I was growing up.”

Part of that level of accomplishment she contended was because Indians today are much more integrated into the mainstream. Nevertheless, the South Asian communities are so diverse with many differences, “but there’s still a place for them to come together. Lifting each other up is what we are about,” Saujani said.

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