Reshma Saujani, Founder and CEO of Girls Who Code is a celebrated advocate, working towards closing the gender gap in technology and changing the image of what a computer programmer looks like and does. She is the author of the International Bestseller Brave, Not Perfect, which has inspired many and was born out of her famous TEDx talk. She also wrote the New York Times Bestseller Girls Who Code: Learn to Code and Change the World.
Saujani is the leading advocate for equality for women in the U.S. She is known for her positive impact on minimizing the gender gap. She is also the poster child for the perfect work-life balance. She not only leads her organization but also allots free time to spend with her family and encourages her staff to do the same. She started her career as an activist and attorney. In 2010, she set foot in the political scene as the first Indian American woman to run for U.S. Congress. Her journey began when she campaigned for New York City public advocate in 2013 (she ran in the Democratic primary). On the political front, Saujani has served as the Deputy Public Advocate for New York and ran a spirited campaign for Public Advocate in 2013.
In an interview, Saujani revealed how Girls Who Code was born, “When I ran for Congress in 2010, I visited schools and classrooms along the campaign trail. And when I lost, something about my time visiting those schools stuck with me: the lack of girls in computer science classrooms. After doing more research, I realized that no one was even talking about the lack of women and girls in computer science. So I pulled together some funding and a team, and together we taught 20 girls how to code in a tiny bit of borrowed office space. And now, six years later, we’ve reached 90,000 girls, and we’re not slowing down. We’re well on our way to reaching gender parity in entry-level tech jobs by 2027. I never could have imagined seeing this kind of success so soon — our college-aged alumni are choosing to major in computer science or related fields at 15 times the national rate — and I’m so excited to see what’s next. “
One of the most impactful moments in Saujani’s life was when she tried to bring her idea of Girls Who Code to life. She asked many people for help, help with brainstorming new ideas, help with funding, and help with transforming this idea into something that would revolutionize the world. When she approached her friend, Brian O’Kelley, then the CEO of AppNexus, he offered her something genuinely invaluable- Space. Saujani says, “Thanks to him, we have been able to change the lives of nearly 100,000 girls nationwide. Sometimes those unexpected gifts can be the ones that impact you the most!”
In February 2019, she published her book Brave, Not Perfect. The book addresses how girls learn at an early age to be perfectionists and afraid of failing, rather than being brave. She shares several perceptions and practices to become courageous in life. Based on hundreds of interviews with women across the country, they are about the willingness to transform the world and their accounts of the journey to accepting imperfections.
The book, was inspired by the popular TED Talk by Saujani, reveals women’s pressure to look perfect and the patterns of beauty that control their lives.
Saujani says, “To me, bravery is about embracing imperfection. And that has nothing to do with being nice or being a mean girl. Being a “nice girl” shouldn’t mean you have to say yes to every request or turn down the things that put you in the spotlight. Women deserve the chance to shine, to be bold, and that comes from learning to be brave.”
Saujani runs her organization differently than most people do. She tries to give every employee the liberty to do the things that they love while also working at their job. “I love that she’s developed that atmosphere with the team,” said Emily Reid, Director of Education at Girls Who Code. “A lot of [the children of staffers] will come in and visit. She’s built that kind of culture and environment. I love that her husband will come in and bring Shaan. She’s a great example of how to balance those parts of your life. I’ve worked a lot of places where that wouldn’t be a part of the culture. At Girls Who Code you can be on a conference call and you can be hanging out with one of the ‘Babies Who Code,’ as we call them.”
Saujani encourages staffers to spend time with their children, hit the gym, or whatever it is that brings each employee their sense of balance before stepping into the office. She also encourages staffers to leave the office at 5 PM every day. Girls Who Code offers a work-from-home option on Fridays to maintain a better work-life balance.
She was upfront in revealing about what it is like to be a successful woman, mother, and wife, while also being married to a successful man. Her husband, Nihal Mehta, is the Founding General Partner at Eniac Ventures, an investment firm focused on mobile technology.
Saujani waited till she was 36 years to get married as she knew exactly the type of man she wanted to be married to, who would give his career and parenting tasks equal importance. Mehta asked her to marry him twice, Saujani finally agreed on the third proposal. She said, “I knew I needed a co-parent. Some guys weren’t up for that. I am moulding Shaan to grow up like his father. He’s going to be a feminist. He’s going to have a deep appreciation for women, and he’s going to support someone who’s interested in making a difference in the world.”