Reshma Saujani talks about the importance of women pursuing STEM careers in Statler Auditorium Wednesday.

October 8, 2015

Girls Who Code Founder Speaks at Cornell

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Reshma Saujani, founder and CEO of Girls Who Code — a nonprofit that aims to increase gender parity in technology by promoting computer science among women — shared her story and mission at a lecture Wednesday.

Saujani began her talk, titled “Workforce of the Future,” by highlighting several statistics concerning women in computer science.

Reshma Saujani talks about the importance of women pursuing STEM careers in Statler Auditorium Wednesday.

Reshma Saujani talks about the importance of women pursuing STEM careers in Statler Auditorium Wednesday.

While there are about 75,000 tech jobs open today, in five years there will be approximately 1.4 million jobs open in computing related fields, according to Saujani. However, of those 1.4 million jobs, only 29 percent are projected to be filled by U.S. graduates and only three percent are expected to be filled by women.

“At a time when we’ve become more and more reliant on technology, we’re pushing women out,” Saujani said.

However, Saujani said that recognizing the reality of these figures is necessary to decreasing pay inequity between men and women. Women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields are not afflicted by a pay gap and earn over 33 percent more than women in non-STEM jobs, according to Saujani.

In 1984, 37 percent of computer science graduates were women as opposed to 18 percent today, she added.

Looking to combat the gender disparity of the tech world, Saujani founded Girls Who Code in 2012, with a mission to “inspire, educate and equip girls with the computing skills to pursue 21st century opportunities,” according to the organization’s website.

“There is no question that technology spurs innovation,” she said. “Women make up half of this university, half of the labor force, half the breadwinners, and if they are being left out of innovation, that is a problem.”

Saujani added, however, that while she does promote a strong feminist viewpoint, she does not care about gender parity simply for the sake of gender parity. Rather, she views it as the most important economic issue of our time.

If America aims to continue leading globally, she explained, it is imperative that women are educated in STEM fields, especially since companies already have a difficult time finding enough engineers to hire.

“Why is it okay that we allow our girls to say that they hate math, when we would never allow them to say that about reading and writing?” Saujani asked. “We have allowed girls to think that it’s okay to not go into the math or sciences even when they are interested or passionate.”

Girls Who Code, which Saujani said she “literally bootstrapped” in the beginning, has grown from teaching 20 girls in 2012 to a projected 10,000 girls by the end of this year, according the organization’s website.

In addition to educational programs, the organization also works to expose young girls to real life and pop culture female role models in computer science and pushes for a stronger computer science focus in education policy, Saujani said.

Through Girls Who Code, girls are now building algorithms to detect benign versus malignant tumors, teaching orphans how to code and building SAT tutoring apps to level the playing field for those who cannot afford private tutors, she continued.

“These girls are amazing,” she said. “They want to build something … that will make their community just a little bit better.”