Reshma Saujani, a New York City lawyer with political aspirations, founded Girls Who Code because she wants to see more women break into the traditionally male-dominated fields of technology and entrepreneurship.
In August, the organization’s first class — 20 young women ages 13 to 17 — graduated from an eight-week course that paired them with successful female tech mentors, who taught them the basics of coding, robotics, and Web design. The course was designed to give participants the confidence, connections and perspective they will need to excel.
Saujani, the first South Asian woman to run for U.S. Congress and author of the forthcoming book "Women Who Don’t Wait in Line," will talk about those efforts during a keynote speech, "Women Hold Up Half the Sky" at Real Estate Connect New York City, which takes place Jan. 16-18 at the Grand Hyatt New York.
What is Girls Who Code (GWC) and why did you found it?
Girls Who Code is a national non-profit dedicated to closing the gender gap in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education and preparing girls to become our next generation of engineers and entrepreneurs.
I founded the organization because I saw these gaps emerging — gaps between the kinds of jobs being created and the skills we are teaching our kids, between the number of female computer science majors and the number of women in the workforce, between the people building products like Twitter and the people using them. I wanted to change that.
What do you feel has been GWC’s greatest accomplishment in its first two years?
Graduating our first class of 20 girls from all over New York City.
Where do you think it’s headed?
GWC is a movement. By 2020, we want to teach 1 million girls to code. This summer we’re launching GWC programs nationwide in cities from Detroit to San Francisco, and our girls are actually starting clubs in their high schools to teach other girls. There’s incredible momentum.
Do you code?
Yes, I’m learning!
What has inspired your advocacy of women?
I’m inspired by the countless young women I’ve seen stand up and use technology to effect positive change.
What do you see as the largest challenge facing women?
Gender parity in the jobs of the future.
What will you talk about in your session "Women Hold Up Half the Sky" at Connect?
I will talk about my experience as the founder of Girls Who Code and the importance of empowering women. If you teach a girl to code, she will teach four more. The girls we taught this summer are already doing powerful things — they are building apps to help their communities, they are teaching their parents to code and they are building websites for small business owners in their neighborhoods. We need to keep investing in them, because they will change the world.
Some Girls Who Code participants
What’s the coolest new technology you came across in the past year?
The app one of our students built this summer to help homeless individuals find shelter and food in their neighborhoods.
You ran for the U.S. House of Representatives in 2010, are running for Public Advocate of NYC in 2013 and describe yourself as a "political entrepreneur." What inspired you to pursue politics?
My commitment to public service is inspired by my parents who came here as political refugees from Uganda. I want to empower others to open doors for themselves and pursue the American Dream.
You’ve said you have a new model for getting elected for public office in New York City. What is that model?
Leveraging the power of technology and running a campaign based on advocacy and civic engagement.
Who is your hero and why?
Hillary Clinton is my hero, my mentor and my inspiration. She’s done more to uplift women in this country and around the world than anyone I know.
What’s your favorite restaurant in New York City?
Reshma Saujani will be a featured speaker at Real Estate Connect New York City, which takes place Jan. 16-18 at the Grand Hyatt New York.
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