Reshma Saujani is a lawyer, entrepreneur, and political activist based in the United States. She’s worked tirelessly to transform the face of tech through her work as an entrepreneur and advocate in the tech industry. Saujani is the founder and CEO of Girls Who Code, an organization dedicated to expanding opportunities for women and girls in technology. Her non-profit works to close the gender gap in tech through supporting women and girls as they launch their careers in the tech sector.
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Saujani’s work marks her as a Titan of Tech, given the massive impact she has had in transforming the industry and expanding conversations around women in tech. Her entrepreneurial spirit, refusal to back down in the face of adversity, and ability to adapt to new opportunities and demands make her one of the most impressive tech professionals. Knowing her story is important for all tech workers who’d like to support women in tech.
Upbringing and Education
Saujani is the daughter of South-Asian political refugees. In 1972, her parents were forced to flee their home in Uganda following the ex-dictator, Idi Amin’s call for all South-Asians to exit the city of Kampala. They left the country and resettled in Illinois in the United States where Saujani was born in 1973.
Saujani’s father was an engineer and her mother was a teacher. Her parents wanted the best for Saujani and always encouraged her to pursue her education. They supported her in earning a degree in Political Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Following her undergrad, Saujani attended Yale Law School where she received her JD.
Saujani has always been a leader and political advocate. Following law school, Saujani worked as an attorney at Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP where she handled fraud cases and worked pro bono to support asylum cases. In 2010, Saujani decided to take her political advocacy work to the next level and run for Congress in New York's 14th Congressional District. She became the first Indian-American woman to run for Congress--something telling of Saujani’s trailblazing spirit. Despite not winning the election, Saujani was made aware of the gender disparities in computing, a realization that pushed her to become politically engaged in the tech industry.
In 2012, Saujani founded Girls Who Code with the intention of supporting women and girls interested in STEM and disrupting the gender gap in the tech sector.
Girls Who Code
Girls Who Code has shifted the game for women in tech. Since 2012, it’s become a leading organization working to address gender inequality in the tech industry. As we know, the tech industry is often considered a boys club. Despite women making up almost half of the United States workforce, the largest technology companies - Amazon, Facebook, Apple, Meta, and Microsoft - employ less than 36% women. And in looking at leadership positions in these companies, that number drops to 30%. Finally, of tech-related roles in these companies, only 24% of positions are held by women. The work of Saujani and Girls Who Code hopes to address those disparities.
Girls Who Code is dedicated to addressing the ways women are pushed out of STEM beginning in childhood. The organization looks to change the narrative around technology and aid girls in pursuing careers in technology through disrupting stereotypes, providing resources, amplifying women’s narratives about working in tech and supporting girls in gaining the confidence they need to succeed in the tech industry. Saujani explains,
“There’s a convenient narrative out there that coders are always geeky guys in dark basements, and we’ve collectively allowed it to persist because the field has traditionally been so male-dominated.”
She notes the need to show girls, “just how inaccurate stereotypes are,” and through expanding the work of Girls Who Code “these stereotypes will quickly become a thing of the past.”
The nonprofit provides free coding education to girls aged 13-18 years through after school and summer programs. The goal is to tap into the unharnessed potential of adolescent girls and support them in becoming participants and leaders in the tech industry. Equally, the organization knows that girls need more than simply coding skills in order to compete in the workforce. Saujani elaborates,
“In addition to coding, the girls at our program learn to pitch ideas and products, present themselves professionally, and interact with colleagues at every level of a company. We exist not just to teach computer science, but to equip girls with the skills and confidence they need to compete in the 21st- century workforce.”
Ultimately Girls Who Code is a leadership organization that prepares girls for challenges they’ll face as professionals today.
The organization has had a huge impact in empowering young women to pursue STEM pathways and create more access to technology education. Since 2012, Girls Who Code has worked with over 500,000 girls in all 50 states of the United States. The organization has set a goal of reaching and educating over one million girls by 2025. Their work is powerful, inspiring and is helping to take concrete steps in addressing gender imbalance in STEM.
Onward and Upward
Saujani is perhaps most famous for her 2016 TED Talk, “Teach girls bravery, not perfection,” where she opens up a conversation surrounding how we are raising and educating girls. The video has over four million views and is a must see for folks interested in addressing the root causes of gender disparities in work.
Equally, Saujani does not shy away from new platforms and opportunities to educate. In February 2018, Saujani launched a podcast series called “Brave, Not Perfect,” that complements her book by the same title. The podcast has had immense success and boasts hosting guests from First Lady Jill Biden to Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez among others.
The Future of Women and Work
In 2022, Saujani published her fourth book, “Pay Up: The Future of Women and Work (and Why It's Different Than You Think).” The book traces the history of women and work in hopes of addressing the ways that workplaces have never been built for women. Saujani explains, "It is now time to rebuild the foundation that has never worked for us."
Saujani calls upon readers to consider the root causes and systematic ways that women’s success is limited in the workforce. Whether that be pay gaps between men and women, the way companies do or do not offer paid-leave to parents, or the gender imbalance surrounding domestic labor, the book offers a deep analisis surrounding the history and present reality of women in the workforce.
Honors and Awards
As we can tell, Saujani’s leadership, adaptability, and resilience in the face of the male dominated tech industry makes her a titan of tech. Her hard and important work has not gone unnoticed, she’s been recognized with numerous awards and honors for her work in promoting gender equality and technology education:
Following the 2012 launch of Girls Who Code, Saujani was named one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world.
In September 2015, Saujani was named to Fortune Magazine's 40 Under 40 list and in 2016 was named one of the World's Greatest Leaders by Fortune Magazine.
She was awarded the Harold W. McGraw, Jr. Prize in Education, appointed as a Presidential Ambassador for Global Entrepreneurship by President Obama in 2015.
She later received the Ellis Island Medal of Honor in 2019 for her contributions to American society.
Saujani’s 2019 book "Brave, Not Perfect: Fear Less, Fail More, and Live Bolder," was honored on the New York Times Best Seller List. And her corresponding podcast “Brave, Not Perfect.” was awarded the Webby Award for Best Technology Podcast in 2019.
“If you’re a woman in tech, stick with it. When you’re feeling isolated or alone, stick with it. When you feel like you aren’t qualified, stick with it.”
In all, Saujani’s work has made her a champion for gender equality in and beyond the tech sector. Her contributions have not gone unrecognized and we can assume that she’s only going to continue her work as an entrepreneur and political advocate in the tech industry.
Saujani is one of many women working to change the face of tech, and is a titan that all tech professionals should be familiar with. She inspired us to be confident, dream big, and stay strong in the face of adversity.