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What we learned about closing the gender gap in technology

Reshma Saujani is not a coder. But she’s passionate about building a world where one million women and girls are computer scientists in 2020. She joined us in our Chicago office to tell us her story, how she is working to close the gender gap in technology - and how we can support and champion this important initiative.

As the daughter of refugees who came to the United States to make a better life for their family, Reshma grew up with a passion to create opportunities for others. Reshma was captain of the debate team in school and a political science major, and learned throughout her formative experiences that everyone deserves to have access to economic opportunities. So, at 33, she decided to take a risk and run for the U.S. Congress. Fast forward to election night - she lost her campaign. Despite this blow, the experience of running for office instilled in Reshma the importance of never letting the fear of failure get in her way. She later delivered a famous TED talk on this very topic that now has more than 3.4 million views – Teach Girls Bravery, Not Perfection.

During her campaign, Reshma spent countless hours in schools across New York. In every school, she noticed a lack of girls in computer science and coding classes. She knew software engineering drives almost every industry, and she saw our girls being left behind. Inspired to help girls access the wealth of opportunities that computer sciences can offer, she borrowed a friend’s conference room, bought a URL online and hosted the first cohort of “Girls Who Code.” From that first group, she immediately saw something powerful and wanted to give her project more life.

When asked about her highlights from the entire Girls Who Code experience, Reshma spoke passionately about the empathy and desire for change girls bring to the table when they can tap in to the power of code. She cited incredible projects girls in her program have taken from ideation to implementation, many of which address large societal concerns – cancer, climate change, diversity and homelessness – that these girls were unafraid to tackle.

Reshma does not shy away from the impact that cultural and societal attitudes have on getting girls in to computer science. Teaching girls bravery, not perfection, means that we allow girls the space to get messy, we support them in their efforts to try new things, and allow them to learn from their failures. She emphasized how crucial it is for organizations to be intentional if we want to make a difference, from building a pipeline that supports girls through college into jobs in computer science, to setting hiring goals and keeping ourselves accountable to realizing them.

Reshma has a clear guide for closing the gender gap, which begins with building the pipeline. How can we examine our hiring processes, in granular detail, to ensure they are unbiased and open to women? How can we address micro-aggressions and unconscious biases that may be keeping women out of our communities? Girls Who Code, and GEECS are a handful of the organizations working hard to teach girls and young women about the power of computer science. Reshma challenged us in the tech community to support these efforts and encourage girls and women to pursue computer science majors and careers.

We’re grateful to have had Reshma join our speaker series, which gives our employees direct access to big ideas, breakthroughs of interest and exceptional people from outside the company.