Reshma Saujani knows from expe- rience that taking big risks can
reap unexpected rewards. A graduate of
Harvard University’s Kennedy School
of Government and Yale Law School,
she began her career as an attorney and
ran for Congress in 2010. She lost the
race but went on to write her first book,
Women Who Don’t Wait in Line: Break
the Mold, Lead the Way (Houghton
Mifflin Harcourt, 2013). It encourages
women to take risks and chart their own
course professionally and personally.
Her bid for Congress led Saujani to a
new passion: helping to correct the gender imbalance in tech jobs. Throughout
her campaign, Saujani visited many high
schools and discovered that boys were
eagerly learning about computer coding, both for fun and to prepare for future
careers, but girls weren’t joining the pursuit. Determined to change that, Saujani
founded Girls Who Code, a national nonprofit organization that organizes after-school clubs and a free summer immersion
program to teach girls to code and expose
them to tech jobs. More than 40,000
young women across the country have
participated in the group’s programs.
Saujani’s new book, Girls Who Code:
Learn to Code and Change the World
(Viking, 2017), which will be published
this month, is aimed at girls ages 10 to 17.
Why did you write Girls Who Code?
Everywhere I go, I meet parents who
ask me how their daughter can learn to
code. I got the idea for a book series after
looking for—and failing to find—any
existing volumes designed to teach girls
this important skill. I wanted to reach
as many young women as possible and
change the cultural perception of what
a programmer looks like and does. So,
we’re releasing a 13-book series with
Penguin as an invitation for girls everywhere to learn to code and change the
world, starting with Girls Who Code.
Why focus on coding to empower girls and
not on all science and engineering fields?
Computing jobs are the new American
dream, and girls are being left behind.
Today, there are 500,000 open positions
in computing, and demand is growing
at three times the national average for
other occupations. These are the most
highly compensated jobs in the country,
paying twice as much as the average role
in the private sector.
But women are missing out on these
opportunities. In 1995, they made
up almost 40 percent of the computing workforce. Today, it’s less than 25
percent. That will decline even more
without interventions that specifically
Why has the percentage of female computer science graduates declined since
It has to do with culture. At Girls Who
Code, we always say, “You can’t be what
you cannot see.” And young women
today don’t see many coders who look
like them. It wasn’t always like this. In
the 1980s, 37 percent of computer science graduates were women. In fact,
Steve Jobs’ original Macintosh team had
more women than most tech companies do today. What changed? The early
personal computers were marketed to
boys. That male-centered narrative got
picked up in movies like “Revenge of
the Nerds” and continues today in TV
shows such as “Silicon Valley.” Girls see
this image of a programmer as a man
and think the role isn’t for them.
Similarly, in the 1970s, less than 10
percent of women were doctors and lawyers. Now that figure is 40 percent. The
impact of television shows like “ER,”
“Grey’s Anatomy” and “L.A. Law” cannot be overstated. I knew I wanted to
be a lawyer when I saw Kelly McGillis
in “The Accused.” We need to change
pop culture and the image of what a programmer looks like and does.
Closing the Bravery Gap
Reshma Saujani on addressing the gender deficit in tech—and the importance
of raising girls who dare.
Interview by Joan Mooney