The Girl's Who Code founder who worked to bring girls to the forefront of STEM, has stepped back from the day-to-day running of the company she created, to focus her energy on helping one of the hardest hit demographics of the pandemic, stay-at-home mothers, with her Marshall Plan for Moms. Her spotlight on the issue has quickly gained traction and has been brought forth for legislature in Congress. Here, she discusses what inspired her latest call to action, why failure is critical to success and how culture gets in the way of getting women hired.
How comfortable are you with taking risks? You have had many successes but are also very comfortable with talking about failure—Failure Friday’s are a regular part of your Instagram. Are risks worth it? And why are you willing to be so frank about the ups and the downs? I push myself to take risks and try new things because it strengthens my bravery muscle. Failure is an inherent part of that. If you condition yourself to try and fail, you get more comfortable with the idea that failure won’t break you. You build up your bravery muscle and you quiet the voice in your head that’s striving for perfection. I’m vocal about failure because it encourages other women to do the same. Identify failure and move on. Learn from it, but don’t let it overcome you.
You have called on President Biden to create a Marshall Plan for Moms in order to pay mothers for their unseen labor. What are some of the biggest obstacles facing working mothers today and what’s your advice to them on how to navigate this? Because of the pandemic, the labor participation rate of women is where it was in the 1980s. Nearly 2.4 million women have been forced out of the workforce since last February, compared with less than 1.8 million men. Every mom I know is exhausted. When schools closed, we became teachers, nannies, tech support, cooks. Everything. All while working full time jobs, if we could. Many companies or employers are penalizing mothers for taking advantage of flexibility. I'm calling for a Marshall Plan for Moms—a 360 plan that gets women back to work, not in a few decades but a few months. This includes: basic income payments to women that’s means tested, passing legislation like paid leave, affordable day care, and pay equity, reopening schools, and retraining women for jobs of the future.
How has the pandemic changed your business strategy in a good way? What advice would you give to non-profit CEOs on how to sustain donor revenue in an economic downturn? At Girls Who Code, we had to fundamentally shift our programming. Prior to the pandemic, our strategy was in-person and place-based… and now we’re entirely virtual! It has been challenging, but ultimately rewarding as we’ve reached more students and found ways to innovate our curriculum and experience. My advice is to bring your partners along with you. Have feedback sessions, get their insights, and come from a place of listening and collaboration. They’re much more open to change than you think. Favorite part of your job: Meeting our girls. They are already changing the world. When is it an advantage to be a woman in your business? We care deeply and we bring our lived experience to our work fully. What’s missing in your line of work or one thing you would change? How would you fix it? Tech has a hiring and retention problem. We need to make sure women, and especially women of color, are getting in the door. It’s not a pipeline problem. We’ve taught hundreds of thousands of capable, intelligent, incredible girls. It’s a culture problem. At Girls Who Code, we’re thinking about how we can work with companies to hire our students and change hiring practices at big companies by working closely with HR teams to understand the breakdown. A business mistake you made and what you learned from it: Something I learned early on is to hire people who are smarter than you. Career highlight: Giving a TED Talk was my Super Bowl… so, when Girls Who Code had a Super Bowl commercial in 2019, my world was rocked! A business culture priority for you now is: Fighting for policies for moms, from paid lead to subsidizing and paying for childcare. Your advice on how to give and receive feedback: My team knows that I’m quick to give feedback. It’s not personal, it’s so we can all do better. Was there ever a time your career was at risk? If yes, how did you overcome it? When the pandemic hit, I was terrified. When schools and businesses closed, I worried about the future of Girls Who Code’s programming. But I couldn’t let down our girls and we couldn’t see the progress we have made towards gender parity in tech disappear. So, I huddled up my team, and we fought for the future of our girls. It involved hard business decisions, many tears, and restructuring our signature programs, but we’re stronger than we’ve ever been before.
Women on your radar: With my work on Marshall Plan for Moms, I’ve been immersed in the women’s group space and I’m inspired by so many women who have been fighting day in and day out for women. A few that come to mind: Ai-Jen Poo at Domestic Workers Alliance, Dawn Huckelbridge at Paid Leave for All, the economist Betsey Stevenson, Congresswoman Grace Meng, Tabitha St. Bernard Jacobs at the Women’s March, and so so many more incredible women. Productivity hack: Put it on your calendar. If it’s not on my calendar, I won’t do it. What motivates you? I have to say it again: our girls. I’m fighting for a better world for them. But I’ll also say: their moms. Over the last year, I’ve seen hundreds of girls and their moms on our Zoom screens and it has been so hard to see them struggle during the pandemic. Beyond Girls Who Code, what steps have you taken to usher in a new generation of younger women? I believe deeply in mentorship and paying it forward. If I can help a young woman with an idea or make a business connection, I’ll do it in a heartbeat.
Follow Reshma Saujani on LinkedIn.