Human Resources and Technology

Girls Who Code founder touts women helping women

February 21, 2014
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Reshma Saujani
Reshma Saujani.

Reshma Saujani wants to see more women elevating other women into leadership roles, and she is leading by example.

In 2012, Saujani founded Girls Who Code, a national nonprofit organization focused on preparing young women for the jobs of the future and closing the gender gap in technology fields by providing them with an education in computer sciences.

Through summer immersion camps and Girls Who Code clubs, the organization is teaching young women the technology skills they will need to compete and succeed.

Saujani recently published a book she hopes will help inspire women to help each other succeed.

“Women Who Don’t Wait in Line” is about how women can encourage each other to compete, take risks, embrace failure, and lift each other up personally and professionally.

In the book, Saujani shares her personal experiences, including her immigrant upbringing and the insights she gleaned from running a spirited campaign for U.S. Congress in 2010, as well as stories and lessons from other accomplished women who have overcome adversity.

In her keynote speech, “Fail Soft, Fail Hard, Fail Often,” at the Business Journal’s 50 Most Influential Women in West Michigan event March 4, Saujani will talk about her personal experiences and share key themes from the book.

“Basically, my argument is that we are in a different place in terms of feminist leadership, where it’s not about sexism, it’s not about men; it’s really about what we as women can do to elevate one another’s leadership,” she said. “I talk a lot about a sisterhood and how we should hire women, vote for women, support women.”

Saujani said while women make up the majority in college, the work force and at the ballot box, they have yet to learn how to harness that power.

“We need to start acting like the majority,” she said.

Two of the key themes she will talk about are why women haven’t been able to harness that power and the fear of risk and failure.

“One of the reasons that we as women are being held back is oftentimes we don’t take double leaps in our career, we don’t take the risk job. We feel like we have to do the job before we get the job,” she said. “We are concerned with being liked when we need to be concerned about where we want to go and what our dreams and ambitions are.”

Saujani knows about taking risks and why failure isn’t the worst thing that can happen.

In 2010, she lost her bid for a seat in Congress after a hard-fought campaign.

“I feel like it’s better to fail unconventionally than to succeed conventionally,” she said. “One of the things that it taught me was to really go for it and to not be afraid — and everything about that experience was so frightening. I’d never raised money before, gone on TV before. I didn’t know how to prep for an interview or lead a team. Now that I’ve done those things, I’m not afraid to do anything anymore.”

The Congressional run also brought her into contact with real world problems, including the lack of women in technology careers, and led to her decision to found Girls Who Code.

“I really saw from a policy perspective that these are what the jobs are going to be — period,” she said. “If we are really going to elevate female leadership, we need to get prepared. We need to see what is coming on the horizon and the types of jobs that are coming on the horizon, and prepare women to fill them.”

Saujani hopes more women will learn to take risks and face failures, but mostly she hopes they will see the value in helping to elevate each other.

“I don’t think it’s enough that women aren’t raising their hand and saying, ‘I want to run,’ or ‘I want to be the CEO,’” she said. “I don’t think it’s a lack of ambition or interest. I think we still live in a man’s world, and people are comfortable with people like them, and that is why it’s so important for women to elevate women into leadership.”

The 50 Most Influential Women in West Michigan event is scheduled for 11 a.m.-1:30 p.m., March 4, in the Ambassador Ballroom of the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel.

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