Girls Who Code CEO On Teaching Girls To Overcome Failure

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Students in the Brookview Girls Who Code Club use Scratch, a simple language developed at MIT, to create computer programs. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Students in the Brookview Girls Who Code Club use Scratch, a simple language developed at MIT, to create computer programs. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Reshma Saujani is trying to change the gender ratios in Silicon Valley. She's the CEO of Girls Who Code, a nonprofit that works to support and increase the number of women in computer science.

But Saujani says it's not just about the skills that women need, it's about the mentality women and men are taught.

This summer, Girls Who Code will be holding a series of workshops in Boston. The group also supports after-school programs in the area.

Reshma Saujani was in town to speak at the 38th annual Simmons Leadership Conference.


Reshma Saujani, founder and CEO of Girls Who Code. She tweets @reshmasaujani.

Interview Highlights

On the group's mission to build the largest pipeline of future female engineers

"I have a lot of faith. There's a lot of problems in the world I think that we wanna solve, but this is actually one that I really believe we can solve. We can close the gender gap in computer science and technology and I think we can do it in our lifetimes.

I'm actually quite an unlikely person to start an organization teaching girls to code. I'm not a coder. I didn't major in computer science. My family came here as refugees and I've always been passionate about public service.

When I was 33 years old, I ran for United States Congress in New York City. I lost miserably. But I saw the gender divide in schools and again, as someone who's had a job since they were 12 years old and am a firm believer in the American Dream, I was like where are the girls?"

On why women aren't going into computer science

"I think two big things. One, I think is culture. I think you can't be what you cannot see. I'm an attorney. I decided I wanted to be lawyer when I was 13 years old when I saw [actress] Kelly McGillis on The Accused. I thought she was awesome and I was like dad, I want to be her.

If you think about it in the 1970s ,we had a similar problem when it came to female lawyers — less than 5 percent of lawyers in the 1970s were women and today that number's over 50 percent.

My point is that is that culture really shapes what young women think that they can do. And I think in technology the opposite thing has happened. In the 1980s you saw kind of the birth of the 'brogrammer' — the white guy in a hoodie who's sitting in a basement somewhere staring at a screen. And that was in [the films] Revenge of the Nerds and War Games and today on Silicon Valley on HBO. So the image that we have portrayed in the media of who is a computer scientist is a white, young kid, who's nerdy and dorky and he's not doing anything that's socially interesting. And so girls look at him and they say, I don't wanna be him. And they opt out."

On how to encourage girls to code

"I think that we have not raised our girls to be comfortable with failure. They feel like so many of their abilities are fixed ...

I think it's about how do you undo perfectionism? And how do you teach girls to embrace bravery? One of the ways that I think about this is when you're great ... you're often living at the edge of your ability in critical feedback. So you need critical feedback to get better. So if I had been raised to feel like I need to be perfect at everything, when I hear feedback, it feels doesn't feel good. And it makes me feel like I can't do this and I need to go find something else that I'm immediately good at. And so to me, it's about figuring out how do we get girls comfortable at a really early age with critical feedback and with rejection."

This segment aired on April 20, 2017.


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Alison Bruzek Associate Producer, Radio Boston
Alison Bruzek was a producer for Radio Boston.


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Deborah Becker is a senior correspondent and host at WBUR. Her reporting focuses on mental health, criminal justice and education.



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