This article is part of a series of articles titled
Uncovering and explaining how our digital world is changing — and changing us.
Since 2012, Girls Who Code has been trying to close the gender gap in tech, teaching computer science skills to nearly 200,000 young women and launching mentoring programs across the country.
But Silicon Valley is still stubbornly, overwhelmingly male. And Girls Who Code CEO Reshma Saujani is not happy about that.
“Year after year after year, I get emails from my students saying, ‘I applied to Google, I applied to Microsoft, I applied to Facebook. I’m a 4.0 MIT student, Berkeley, Stanford, you name it. Can’t get my foot through the door,’” Saujani said on the latest episode of Recode Decode with Kara Swisher. “… [And] you still have all-white-male panels. You still have serious bouts of sexual harassment and discrimination happening in these companies. You still have a culture that is not welcoming to women and people of color.”
In other words, even if women do get hired at big tech companies, there’s a serious risk they will feel so unwelcome that they will not want to stay. Saujani said that realistically, the real solution may require a lot more women to start their own companies, which will in turn require a radical diversification of who is writing the checks to fund tech startups.
“Maybe culture only happens from inception, that you have to start a company out with a diverse team and build a culture where, actually, you want to have diverse talent,” she said. “That means that we have to support women, people of color, underserved groups to start their own companies.
“If I’m saying that I don’t even know if I can change the culture of Facebook, I don’t know if I can change the culture of Sequoia,” Saujani added. “I don’t know. I have not seen the type of change that I’d like, and so we may have to just throw our hands up and say, ‘Instead of continuing to try to change the establishment, let’s make our own establishment.’”
You can listen to Recode Decode wherever you get your podcasts, including Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Pocket Casts, and Overcast.
Below, we’ve shared a lightly edited full transcript of Kara’s conversation with Reshma.
Kara Swisher: Hi, I’m Kara Swisher, editor-at-large of Recode. You may know me as the woman who wishes she could code like a girl, but in my spare time I talk tech, and you’re listening to Recode Decode from the Vox Media Podcast Network.
Today in the red chair is Reshma Saujani, the founder and CEO of Girls Who Code, a nonprofit that’s working to close the gender gap in technology. It offers afterschool programs, summer classes, a series of books, and more. Reshma, welcome to Recode Decode.
Reshma Saujani: Thank you for having me, Kara.
We’ve talked before. We’ve talked quite a bit before on lots of stuff. And I just sort of wanted to … The reason we’re starting to talk is under some controversy. There was a 60 Minutes ... Explain what, how you got here, essentially. Because we’ve talked many times for … Along with all the other groups that are doing coding and things like that.
Yeah. So 60 Minutes had done a story about girls in coding. And you know, we had actually spoken to … I’d actually spoken to Leslie Stahl years ago about doing an episode on this because she had actually done this incredible episode about girls in science. And you know, we had talked, talked, talked. We had gotten an email from a producer finally being like, “We’re doing this story.” And we’re like, “This is amazing.”
You know, turns out we ended up getting cut out of the story. And actually all of the women who are doing work in this got cut out. And the story was done on Code.org, an organization whose mission is not to close the gender gap in computer science, but whose mission is to teach all kids to code.
All kids, right.
And what was problematic was about also the kind of … The episode was really that “this is not a pipeline problem,” that “There are women who are going into this. We’re just not starting young enough.”
So 60 Minutes really got it wrong, I think. I watched it and I was like, “That’s not quite right.”
Yeah. This happens with TV, you know, in case you’re interested.
Well, I also think it’s what happens when you don’t talk to the people who kind of are living and breathing this work, because it’s more complicated than that. It’s more complex than that. And it felt like a little bit of an infomercial for both Code.org and Microsoft. And then weeks later, you have women who are walking out of Microsoft because of allegations of sexual harassment. So we know that it’s much more complicated than simply, “Let’s get more girls to code.”
Right, right. So let’s talk about that. Because I think, I don’t want to hear intra-coding fights. You know what I mean? I get it. I think this dealt with some of the work of Code.org has been great. There’s all kinds of groups, Black Girls Code … And each of them has their own role to play.
It’s part of an overall role, and it’s been helpful of raising the idea. All of you have been helpful of raising the concept of it. So where you all sort of came into being, and again, you all hit it from different spots. Explain what your group does.
Yeah. I mean, Girls Who Code, our mission is to close the gender gap in computer science through technology jobs. So getting more girls to declare CS as a major and go into the field. We’ve taught over 185,000 girls to code. We have 6,000 clubs across the country and in all 50 states. We’re expanding internationally. We’re one of the largest organizations in this space.
And our mission is to … We run these free summer immersion programs inside technology companies, which help us then, hopefully, change the culture of those technology companies. And we make sure that every girl, that half the girls that go through our program are under the poverty line and half of them are black and Latina, and it’s working. So our black and Latina students are majoring in computer science at a rate of 16 times the national average.
Which is a low bar. Let’s be clear, because I want to be clear with people, it’s a low bar.
Which is a low bar. But we have 30,000 new computer science graduates that are Girls Who Code alumni on college campuses right now. And so we believe at our growth, at the rate that we are growing, we can close the gender gap in technology jobs by 2027.
2027. The idea of getting them …
And that’s our mission.
And there’s lots of different, there’s Black Girls Code, there’s all kinds of …
Amazing organizations. Code2040.
Code2040. Talk about the explosion of these, of the idea that code … because I want to … I did an interesting talk yesterday with Steve Case and Mark Cuban about jobs and where they’re going, and they were talking about AI replacing coding, of course. I want to get to that later. But talk about why there was this explosion and all these groups, from yours, to Code.org, to Code2040, to Black Girls Code. All these…
Yeah. And I think a lot of us started similarly around the same time. I think we saw that we were living in a time where women were the majority in college, right? Forty-five percent of America’s breadwinners. And there were all these jobs in technology that paid really well, right?
And lacking in people.
And lacking in people. And in particular, lacking in women and people of color. And then in 2012, when you looked at the landscape and you looked at whether there were interventions, there just really weren’t. And I think a lot of us experimented at different, you know, at different points in the pipeline through different interventions. And none of us …
Explain what intervention is.
What I mean is like, for Black Girls Code, they start very young. And they do incredible work in actually kind of organizing and shaping parents and community organizers and activists. We intervene inside technology companies and embed these classrooms in technologies, and we run after-school programs. Code2040 is doing incredible work, you know, a little bit upwards in the pipeline and really reaching out to minority engineers that are already in technology and helping support them. And again, helping shape cultures.
NCWIT has done incredible work, right, in their Aspirations Award, you know, with the Grace Hopper conference. So there’s all these amazing women and people of color that are trying to basically get at the problem in different places, and in different points of the pipeline, because we know it’s leaky all throughout.
And so you all started this in …
2012. A lot of them all came on at once, was the idea that here … And the Obama administration got behind it.
This was a very, pushed very hard. And the concept was that first it wasn’t diverse enough, and secondly, there weren’t enough coders. All in general. And then in general, which other groups did, like Code.org, which was that there weren’t enough coders period and that they didn’t teach STEM in lots of schools.
Where do you think it is now in that idea, in the concept? How do you assess it after that amount of time, with all these various efforts to try to get people coding more?
Yeah. I’ll speak from our work: What we have learned is that access is not enough. And this is maybe my one contention with Code.org, it’s not enough just to have a coding program in this school. Because when you do, you’ll still find that 80 percent are girls and 20 percent are boys. That we need to expose girls to role models.
So we’ve been launching these kinds of women in tech pilots where we embed stories about Ada Lovelace, the ENIAC women, Grace Hopper. You can’t be what you cannot see, right? And it’s also the way you teach coding needs to be attractive to girls, and we need to really understand why they’re dropping out.
And the third part of that is like what isn’t measured isn’t managed. And so oftentimes CS, for all initiatives, they actually don’t look and analyze, what’s the percentage of people of color, what’s the percentage of women? Like, how are we tracking?
We just announced the first-ever access bill in Washington state to mandate that every single school and every single district has to actually tell you how many women, how many people of color, so that we can track the progress that we’re making, or quite frankly, not making.
Right, right. So talk about that progress, because in lots of … I had some research done by some people who work for me. But things have gone up since you all launched. It’s that people of color, women have increased in numbers, in terms of getting them there. And it’s through, I would assume the work of all the groups.
All the groups, them focused on it. So there are increases amongst students, correct?
There are increases among girls, among African American girls especially, and some others.
So what … Talk about how staying is this? How important is …
I mean, there’s some …
When you’re saying access isn’t enough, meaning the courses, people have gotten to the courses, what next?
Well. NCWIT did a great post about this. Yes, there’s more … In raw numbers, there’s more rates of women, people of color, but there’s a lot more rates of men, too.
So the percentage of numbers of men are actually increasing. And that’s what I’m saying.
Because it’s gotten a lot more people interested in it.
Yeah, so like some of these initiatives do a great job of, you know, when you see Mark Zuckerberg doing a video inspiring you to code, who does that appeal to?
And so when you’re watching these movements unfold, a lot more men are like, “Great, I want to be a coder.” And oftentimes those of us that are focused on women, people of color, get the least amount of resources, the least amount of attention, the least amount of platforms, i.e., 60 Minutes, to talk about our work. And so it’s not reaching the demographics that we know is possible.
The other thing, Kara, that I’m really focused on now … Because now we’ve taught a lot of girls, and I get really frustrated when people say, “Well, it’s a pipeline problem! I can’t find them.” It’s simply not true. And we’re going to be releasing data on this.
But year after year after year, I get emails from my students saying, “I applied to Google, I applied to Microsoft, I applied to Facebook. I’m a 4.0 MIT student, Berkeley, Stanford, you name it. Can’t get my foot through the door.” And so what’s happening now is that, and I’ve started forming a list, and many of us are seeing the same thing, is that you still have all-white-male panels. You still have serious bouts of sexual harassment and discrimination happening in these companies. You still have a culture that is not welcoming to women and people of color.
So even if we teach them, if we are not simultaneously changing that culture, not only are they not going to hire them, but women are not going to stay.
So why wouldn’t … Given the lack of people for the jobs that are available, why do they not do that? What is in their way?
I mean, I think … Well you had a great interview with Freada Kapor about this, right?
That was Teddy Schleifer who did that.
It was excellent.
And I think she raised a lot of these issues. Most of these cultures have been created with kind of all white and Asian men. And we have to ask ourselves, can these big technology companies actually change and welcome women? We’re talking about power, you know, people don’t give up power easily. And though tech … And I think the problem with the tech industry is it sees itself as this very kind of libertarian meritocracy, like not us. And you almost have to actually present …
You know I call it a mirror-tocracy. That’s my line.
It’s one of my lines! I have a lot of lines.
You have to kind of present the data and say, “Well, if it’s a pipeline problem, how many women applied last year?” Let’s look at that data before you tell me that you can’t actually hire them. No one offers that.
Right. That, who’s going to work here?
What’s really, to me, what’s really interesting, again, when I did this interview, which was … I was like “ironic, two white guys telling me about diversity,” but actually they were quite … Because they’ve been investing across the country. And one of the most interesting parts that I think Steve Case pointed out was that the original internet was dispersed.
And this is just geographic discrimination, because I think 80 percent of all venture capital goes to three states: 50 percent goes to California, 60 percent of that goes just to northern California, and most of it goes to white guys. It’s a really interesting … He was just like saying here’s what had happened.
So the original internet was widely dispersed. IBM was here, some were in Boston, some were in Kentucky, some were, they were all over the place. And then when it became about software, it all moved right to Silicon Valley and largely white, largely male, largely the same people who have gathered there in large groups, essentially.
And what he said is, both he and Cuban have been investing all over the country, and you get a much more diverse group of people there because they’re not all concentrated. You also get more diversity of entrepreneurs and you can identify them, and also you get more expertise. People like ag-tech, people in agriculture areas, or health tech, which is dispersed all over the country, essentially. So it was a really interesting thing.
And he said he thought that it would become some … Most of their investments actually, I was looking at them, were more diverse. They were significantly more diverse because it wasn’t this concentration problem. Talk a little bit about that. And I think they are 100 percent right. And they were saying the opportunities are elsewhere and not … and I think Mark was saying, Silicon Valley is finished. Which was kind of interesting. And he did not start his company in Silicon Valley.
Right. So I mean some of them used to have …
Neither of them did, actually.
Right. Some of those VC companies used to have rules that they wouldn’t invest unless you were located like, you know, 50 miles from where they were. And I think the Valley is the bubble. Like a lot of them don’t actually leave. And it’s a very un-diverse bubble.
And I think that a lot of more … I’m seeing a lot more women and people of color saying, you know what, like, these cultures are not going to change. I’m going to leave and go start my own company. And we have to ask, I have to ask myself as a CEO of Girls Who Code, should I keep encouraging my students to actually go into these companies when they’re simply going to spit them back out?
And so we have to kind of, I think, really encourage a culture of entrepreneurship and find those businesses. You know, my husband and I, as a family, do these kinds of side investments in women and people of color. We see tremendous people.
That’s what they were saying.
And I think everyone should do that. And there are a lot of people with a lot of incredible ideas. And I think that a lot of these folks that really just have a very siloed vision of who deserves, who’s worthy of their ideas being funded are simply going to miss out on the innovation of the future.
Meaning that they’re not going to have the investments there.
Because it is a question of capital and how it’s deployed.
I didn’t realize this, but Mark has given Arlan Hamilton a million dollars. Like it was … I didn’t know that. I didn’t know that, which was …
I didn’t know that either.
Because she had had trouble raising money because lots of reasons. But she, you know, he’s like, “I’m trying to train her and help her and figure it out.” It was a real … Because he had read about it, and he thought it was interesting.
So, given that, do we need to encourage people to code more? Do you think you guys have all got the message through, or is that just an ongoing …?
Yeah, I think we still need to … I care about equity. And I still think that there are so many parts of the country — and this is kind of, I think, a lot of why Trump got elected, right? — where people feel like their kids are not going to have the same opportunity that they have, and their jobs are being automated. They’re being … families broken by the opioid crisis. To me, those are the places where we need to be, right?
We need to be in places where kids don’t have a lot of opportunity. The other place that I’m really focused on is my new book, Brave, Not Perfect. I still think, as women, we hold ourselves back, because we’ve been raised to be perfectionists.
Clive Thompson had done this great story about why you saw this precipitous decline of women in technology, in computer science classrooms, from the ‘80s on down. What had happened in the ‘80s was the personal computer came out, and so a lot of women were walking into these classrooms where all these men had tinkered with these computers. They thought that, suddenly, they were smarter than them. It wasn’t about their ability, but their perceived ability.
We often, as women, count ourselves out.
We’re here with Reshma Saujani, the founder and CEO of Girls Who Code, which is an organization that helps high school girls …
Third to middle grade on up. Yep.
On up, to code and move into this in college and things like that. The idea is you guys are providing the pipeline, this beginning part, right?
The part where people go in, and then the difficulty you’re now seeing is you can train all you want or try to get as many people. There’s lots of efforts ongoing by lots of different groups to do this, and especially over the last couple of years, but it doesn’t matter, because it comes up against the hard wall of the companies themselves.
So I think it even starts before that, because I think the programs, too, the colleges …
Is there … What has to happen in colleges?
I mean, we have been … We’re about to launch 300 college loops on college campuses, because we have critical mass.
So I think two things are happening there. One, you have these cultures that are very male-dominated that, quite frankly, make women feel like they don’t belong.
Right, and other people.
Not just women, but …
Yeah, women and people of …
… like certain men, certain people of color …
… stuff like that.
Correct. If you are not the norm.
I think, secondly, we … Sometimes, when you are not part of the majority, you underestimate your ability, and so you feel like other people are actually more prepared, smarter than you are. That’s why I’m on a mission to kind of break perfectionism and also create community amongst women and people of color. So we’ve launched these Girls Who Code loops, and they’ve been tremendous.
What does a loop do?
A loop is basically a group of Girls Who Code alumni and other women in computer science, where they can sit and ask questions and fail together and say, “Oh, you just went to Twitter to interview? What questions did they ask you? Oh, you just took this CS class? I heard it’s a weed-out class. What should I be thinking about?” Oftentimes, we don’t share knowledge and information with each other, because we don’t want to feel like we’re dumb.
So it’s also … and then the third part of that is really starting to change cultures in computer science departments, which I think is really incredible. I met a parent yesterday whose daughter majored in computer science at Harvard. Last year, they switched from doing in-person classes to online classes, and her daughter dropped out because she didn’t have that sense of community. I want Harvard to measure, what was the impact of that decision on women and people of color and underserved minorities?
Meaning she liked being in the …
Yeah, a place where she can ask questions, and it wasn’t enough for her to just kind of be staring at a screen, just asking questions. So I think, again, that’s really important, to keep our eye on administrations, on colleges, and see what are they doing to make sure that this diversity, quite frankly, happens?
Rochester Institute of Technology is doing incredible work on closing the gender gap in tech. One of the reasons why they’ve been so successful is they’ve started these men who support women in computing clubs.
It’s an ambassador thing.
Right. There’s men inside clubs. So they’re the ones who stand up against microaggressions. They’re the ones who share internship advice. They’re the ones who speak up when there’s a sexist comment made. They’re exercising bravery in using their power and their voice as a man to help change things, and I think that’s critical.
So, once you get past the college point, it’s the job? It’s the job market?
Obviously, right now, a lot of the jobs are in the big companies more than the startups, and women don’t do startups as quickly as men do, at all, by massive numbers, actually, which is interesting. Talk a little bit about that, that shift: One, when you go into a big company, and the idea to start a startup, or to do that right out of the gate.
Well, I think, for a lot of women, it’s that stability, right? It’s that name brand. It’s like, you want to go to a Facebook or a Microsoft or a Google, and I think the problem that we’re seeing is that these cultures are slow to change. I would’ve expected the diversity numbers to look …
They aren’t. They don’t change.
They’re not changing, at all.
Maybe I was a little naïve when I started Girls Who Code, but I’m like, “Oh, these companies are created, oftentimes, by men that were raised by progressive women, that probably are self-described feminists in a moment in time where we have a lot more knowledge about why diversity is important, and a nerd is a nerd.”
”All nerds welcome.”
That isn’t what we are seeing happen with companies, and I think we’re falling back onto excuses. One, the pipeline, and, “There’s just not enough of them. I can’t find them.” Two, this idea of, “They’re not qualified.”
I think both of those are false, and we have to really, really hold their feet to the fire to say, “Hey, if you think that this is happening, prove it,” because then nothing will change if we don’t.
So talk about the qualification thing, because that’s something you hear a lot, that it’s … They do it a lot. What infuriates me is when it’s on boards, when there’s plenty of people for boards. In that area, I’m like, “There’s plenty of qualified women. I could think of 20, 60, 100.”
But in working, that is one of the arguments, is that they … How do you change that? I mean, various people have talked about … There’s obviously testing that people do. There’s all kinds of things. But a lot of it does still come down to this idea of culture fit and things like that. Now, other people are saying, AI will solve that, because we will be able to sort people via AI.
Talk about that.
Well, one, I think there’s a lot of elitism in terms of where we recruit from. What I have found, especially after the student loan crisis, is that I have a lot of students who got into MIT or Stanford, but they’re going to CUNY or Hunter because they can’t afford it.
So we really have to change where we’re looking for talent, because I think we’ll find a lot of women and people of color, underserved minorities, in places that we’re not looking at, one.
I think, second, it does matter when you have all-male, white panels that are interviewing, who are making the decision of who’s qualified and who’s not qualified, because they’re looking for people who are just like them.
Well, Stanford’s recent AI panel … Did you see that?
Yeah. I didn’t get a chance to fully …
Oh. It was all …
I was sort of like, “Whoa. Not even one? You could not drag one woman in? Wow.” That was some …
Because they’re not looking for them, right?
I mean, the other thing is that … I wish that computer science departments in technology companies would think about talent the way colleges think about football teams. They go out and find them. They have recruiters that are out there looking for them. Trust me, if Google really wanted to get to parity in the next five years, they could figure that out.
But that would mean that they would have to actually get up, go out in the country, in the world and find …
“Reshma, it’s hard.”
It’s always hard when it’s something that’s not hard.
But here’s the thing. I think millennials care about this, and I think that Google and Microsoft have a potential of becoming like Goldman Sachs, where a lot of people just don’t want to work there because they don’t want to be affiliated with that brand.
I was surprised when I read that Google had filed something with the National Labor Relations Board to say that people can’t organize on their emails. I mean, that’s the kind of thing that millennials are like, “What?”
So they’ve got to shift, because they’re going to have a huge problem finding talent.
Among different people?
Yeah, yeah. So what do you advise, then? So then there’s that, going to the big companies, which stubbornly continue to have the same diversity numbers. What else could they do? What could they actually do? Not that you should tell them exactly what to do, because they have plenty of resources of their own, but what would be one thing that you would have the big companies do? Then I want to move on to entrepreneurship.
Well, I think we have to be honest in the fact that there’s a lot of microaggressions and sexual harassment happening at these companies.
Still, yeah. 100 percent.
Their engineers don’t know how to behave, and they almost need to have training to learn how to interact with women, quite frankly, because Silicon Valley can’t be like Hollywood, where it feels like, “Listen, if you’re someone who’s bringing in a lot of money, we’re going to let you do whatever you want.”
That seems to be the attitude there, and that has to change. I honestly feel like … I’ve been at some of these events, and I’ve been at some of these conferences. It’s like the basics, like basics.
So it’s not, to me …
Do you think #MeToo has had an impact or not? I mean, here we are, post that, post … Well, sort of post that. In the middle-post of it.
I think it’s not had as much of an impact as I would like. Listen. For all the women who are listening here that work at technology companies, keep protesting. Keep fighting. Keep walking out. For all the male allies, you walk out, too. We just have to start organizing technology companies in a way that you see other companies be organized so that these cultures change. They have to feel the pressure.
Do you think it’s out of ignorance, or just …
I don’t think they want to deal with it. I think it’s, again, a lot of what they consider high performers, talented people, who are engaged in these behaviors, and they don’t want to risk them walking away or having to fire them. But they need to.
All right. So you train these people up, and then they run flat into this wall of sexism, etc., etc. What about starting your own company?
Because that’s one way of doing it. That’s one way of actually starting to seed the field for later, essentially.
Yeah. I am highly thinking about creating an incubator, because that’s kind of the conclusion I’m potentially coming to, is that maybe culture only happens from inception, that you have to start a company out with a diverse team and build a culture where, actually, you want to have diverse talent. That means that we have to support women, people of color, underserved groups to start their own companies.
How does that happen, from a capital point of view?
I think you need to have more people actually writing checks. It can’t be … I mean, what was the number? Fewer than 20 black women in the history of our country have gotten more than a million dollars in seed capital?
I mean, come on. So I do think that a lot of us in this space need to think about how we’re supporting that work, too.
So how do you do it? Saying it is one thing. Doing it …
I think that Female Founders Fund, right? All Raise is thinking about this. BBG Ventures. There are a lot of different kind of funds now being created around women, around diversity. We need more.
All right. But that then subjects people to being pushed to the side. “Those are the diverse funds,” vs. “here’s the game.”
If I’m saying that I don’t even know if I can change the culture of Facebook, I don’t know if I can change the culture of Sequoia. I don’t know. I have not seen the type of change that I’d like, and so we may have to just throw our hands up and say, “Instead of continuing to try to change the establishment, let’s make our own establishment.” That’s always been my theory in life.
Except that’s where the money is.
It is, but it doesn’t have to be, does it? I mean, I still think that you can have … I believe that there are very … I think about Brian O’Kelley, one of our first supporters, just made a lot of money out of AppNexus. He believes in this. There are men who have a lot of money who are thinking about diversity in very different ways. I’m not seeing that they’ve been at Kleiner Perkins for the past 40 years. So maybe there’s a new generation of investors who are going to think about this differently, and I encourage you to.
Okay. When you think about the creation of these companies, you obviously have to have an entrepreneurship angle with young women, people of color. You’re teaching code, but don’t you need to teach more than that, entrepreneurship?
We are teaching more than that.
All of our lessons essentially end with an impact project, where we encourage our girls to build something, to get into a team and create something. One of my students afterwards built a microchip, where you put it into a gun and it alerts you when it goes off in an area like a school. Youngest woman to get a patent, Anastasia at the University of Pennsylvania.
We have students who built an algorithm to help detect whether a cancer is benign or malignant. I had a student who built a tool called Rethink, which if you’re about to say something negative on a group text, it asks you, “Should you say that?” She was on Shark Tank.
So we are inspiring …
There was a thing like that years ago, a drunk thing. You had to breathe into it, and then you’re not allowed to text if you’re real drunk.
Oh, that’s … Yeah.
Yeah, something like that. It was something like that. Yeah.
But, yeah, I mean, we are inspiring them to be entrepreneurs and to think entrepreneurial, and that also means being able to present your idea.
Every man I know has a billion-dollar slide in his business idea, even if he’s selling ice cream. Most women will not tell you how their company is going to be a billion dollars, because we think we have to prove every single little number. So part of it is how do I present, how do I talk about the thing that I believe in? How do I work with a team to create it?
When you’re doing that, what are some of the challenges you face in pushing girls like that? Now, after getting them … moving the ball forward on coding itself?
Yeah. I mean, I think I told my … in my story, how girls are afraid to write a line of code and then ask somebody for help, because they don’t want to show that they’ve made a mistake. I think once they get through that, of like, “Wow, I can actually create something that I didn’t think that I could,” I think the next stage is really having belief in their idea, knowing how to work with a team to actually create it, and then asking somebody for money.
I tell people all the time, “Have your daughters sell Girl Scout cookies,” because this idea of asking someone to invest in you is something that sometimes is a challenge for us as women, because it’s not what we’ve been raised to do.
And to also be able to stand up and speak and present your idea. I can’t tell you, after my book tour, how many times during Q&A, I’ll watch the first 10 hands raise are men, and the women are furiously scribbling down their questions, trying to perfect them.
Uh-huh. It is true. The other day, I wouldn’t answer questions. It was funny. It annoyed the men in the room, but I don’t really care.
So do you ever think of calling it Women Who Code? I’m not being facetious.
It’s just you’ve got to move people along the pipeline, so …
Well, there’s an amazing organization called Women Who Code.
But I think it’s important, as an entrepreneur, to stay in my lane.
I feel like there are still millions of girls that I want to teach. I mean, I was just on the phone with a team in Jordan today, because I really want to start teaching Girls Who Code in refugee camps. So I still feel like there’s a lot I want to do in this age demographic.
In this age demographic.
And what are some of the changes you see as you’ve done it over the past couple of years? Since when? 2011, right?
It’s becoming cooler.
Right? I think we’ve made coding cooler because part of it is that, right? When you change a girl’s mind. A lot of this is like, “Urgh, that’s not for me. That’s like a dorky guy in a basement somewhere staring at a screen.”
I think that we have shifted the way that we talk about it. Girls want to solve problems. They don’t want to have a theoretical conversation about computational thinking. It’s like, “Hey, teach me how to code so I can build this website to do something about climate change.”
I think the third thing is, it’s really about changing the mindset of parents. I still think that we encourage our boys to get dirty and be technical and to build and create things and we’re still pushing dolls and princesses to our girls.
Mm-hmm. Not me.
Of course not you.
My boys cook and stuff, although one of my boys does build and create. It was interesting. He just was like that.
But you know, it’s still… We’re hardwired.
Parents are hardwired and it’s sometimes like, toughen up their boys and to insulate their girls. And that often … I remember this one parent came up to me after her daughter had been through a Girls Who Code program and we were encouraging her to start a club at her school and she was like, “Well, my daughter’s really popular and she’s like the head of the cheerleading team. I’m really… “ I’m like, “Uhh.” But I still hear this from parents.
Cheerleaders who code.
I still hear this from parents.
Right. From the parents you teach?
All right. So, when you’re teaching them, let’s finish up talking about where the next things are going. Obviously, it’s not going to just be coding. It’s going to be all kinds of things.
I do think in the future having more humanities background, having more other things as you’ve seen through some of these problems like Facebook and other companies, one of the reasons is, the people making these products have no conception of either their users or anything else.
I could not agree more. I think that they also don’t … I think girls really care about the impact of technology on humanity. One of my students was telling me how data sets are so important because she was reading how Google and Alexa are being used by perpetrators of domestic violence to lock women out and to turn the music up real loud.
And you don’t have people on those teams who have experienced that to say, “Hey, wait a minute here. This could happen.”
So, I do think that having that mixture, right? Being a gender studies major and also major in computer science is incredible and we have to encourage that. Look, I think that where this is going is I think that this generation of young people want to change the world. They’re not thinking about making money, right? That great article today in the New York Times where you have to think about these CEOs. It’s almost like too much capitalism, right?
They’re too much thinking about the bottom line and how they could use the ad revenue …
Growth. Growth. Growth.
… to make another dollar and not thinking about the impact on humanity. It’s like, where are you going to be at this moment in history? Where are you going to stand? And I know where women and people of color and underserved groups are going to stand. On the right side.
Not all. Not necessarily all. There’s some women who want to make money.
More of them.
Yes. But how do you get … The only way you change is to get the whole culture to think like that.
Or to have more people like that in the larger business culture.
To do that, absolutely. And I think we’ve lost that, right? What we used to call compassionate capitalism. I think we’ve lost a sense of — and you really see this, I think, in the past couple of years of Trump’s administration. I think part of the reason why we haven’t really turned is businesses really still buy him. They won’t maybe admit it publicly, but they absolutely are.
Yeah. They like the economy.
Yeah. They want the economy.
They like lack of regulation.
They want to make more money.
While people are hurting every single day and the fact that we’re locking babies up in cages should be enough to say, “Enough is enough is enough.”
And also, the culture of violation. I was just talking to Scott Galloway about this, that you see it … And Tristan Harris, earlier this week, even if you don’t feel like you’re locked into online stuff, for example, social media or other things, you get impacted by it anyway because of what dribbles down into the culture. You may not follow anti-vaxxers on Facebook, but it has an impact on you. You may not sit on Twitter and yell at each other, but it has an impact on the society at large. And Scott was making the point that now top basketball players are screaming at refs, right? And everybody feels that it’s leaking out into the culture at large.
I don’t think it’s a male thing. I do think it’s a culture of not thinking about safety.
Absolutely. I also think we’re really in our silos. We think that whatever is my Instagram feed is what life looks like.
And it doesn’t. And I think it’s making us less compassionate, making us less able to love. There was a huge attack in Syria yesterday. Most of us didn’t even know that that happened, that hundreds and thousands of kids got displaced and are not going to go to school and that most kids haven’t gone to school in Syria for the past nine years and 15-year-olds can’t read.
We are so detached from what is happening in the rest of the world and I think a lot of that has to do with what we see on our social media feeds.
And it’s really, really, really problematic, and I think that having a diverse set of innovators and creators and entrepreneurs would change some of this.
Mm-hmm. Do you see any role … When you talked about … I want to finish up talking about the idea of role models. Everyone talks about that. Where do you see the role models, though?
I think they’re there. I actually do think that they’re everywhere. They’re just not on the front page of the New York Times above the fold.
Right? I think that we are still reading about, when we think about, in technology, these CEOs — and I don’t think that people are looking to them necessarily as role models — and we need …
Right now. No, they’re on the other side of that.
Yeah we need to … I’m speaking at Bill Gates’s summit next week and one of the things I want to say is that, listen, people look up to you as CEOs and so, you actually could make a lot of difference once a week by thinking about, “Who’s a woman I’m going to highlight on my team? Who’s a woman that I’m going to tweet about and say, ‘Hey, learn about her.’” Don’t always operate from gender and race from a place of defensiveness. Use your power for good. Use your voice for good. Use your platform for good.
And we often don’t think about, I sometimes feel like I don’t hear from these CEOs unless there’s a walk-out happening or a protest happening or a sexual harassment allegation.
I want to hear about what you think about gender equity on a weekly basis because you come from a place where you are loudly proclaiming that you are a feminist and it’s something that you’ve …
Well, not all of them. I can tell you that.
I know, but I want them to. I want them to … I want to see a different type of leadership from these men and I think it’s possible.
Mm-hmm. I know them. I don’t think so.
And you don’t think so at all.
I think they don’t think about it. I think it’s not necessarily a hostility with all of them, and some of them it’s a hostility, for sure, or a defensiveness, like, “Not my fault,” kind of thing. And then the second part is, they don’t think about it and it’s priority No. 26 on a list of 27, or it’s low enough down so they never get to it. And definitely growth, growth, growth has been at the top of it and all kinds of different things.
But it’s never … You can’t even make a financial argument to them. That, to me, is really interesting when you look at all the various studies that show that a diverse workforce is a more profitable one. You can drop one study after the next — and by the way, you don’t have to believe studies.
Lots of studies are crazy, they’re not … But it probably will make you more money, and you can’t even appeal to their greed. And that’s what I find interesting.
So then, forget about them, but I do think that the men one level below or two levels below … I had a lot of very senior Uber engineers after that went down, men, because 40 percent of Girls Who Code’s teachers are men, say, “I can’t stay here.” Same thing that happened at Google, same thing that happens at Microsoft, so I do think that the men who have talent and who are brilliant and smart, but who are feminists, who aren’t going to put up with this, you need to leave when those things happen.
And just to finish up, what would you like to do in the next version of Girls Who Code, I mean the next couple of years for Girls Who Code? You’ve got people talking about doing code. You have people thinking about code and it’s all across the country. Every state is talking about the idea of putting in coding education, even though there’s all these issues around education and finances and stuff like that, it is a priority.
It’s one of the priorities. It’s definitely become a priority through all these various efforts. What is next? What do you think the key things are next? So, you’ve got people’s attention.
I think that we have to change industry. I don’t want to teach all these girls and nobody hires them.
And it’s interesting, tech still has a pipeline problem all throughout, right? Less than 25 percent of the workforce is female and, what, less than 5 percent at the top level …
… is women and people of color. Or less than 1 percent, right? It’s horrendous. And so, we have a unique opportunity. It’s almost like it’s the 1900s and we’re looking at the law profession or the medical profession.
We have a unique opportunity to learn from what didn’t happen in other industries and to do it differently in tech. I’m not telling you that I have all the answers, but I am telling you that I’m thinking about it every single day.
So what areas should they go into, of tech? What are you encouraging?
Well, I think that we’re encouraging them to continue to stay being technical, and this is again why …
But what particular areas?
We want them to go into … be a software programmer, go into product development, right? Go into places where they can actually …
I’m talking about AI, robotics, automation.
All of the above. I think every week, people have a different opinion about where the industry is actually going, but our mission right now is to simply just teach computational thinking, so you actually feel comfortable with the languages that are coming at you, and that’s really our goal. It’s not like “we want everyone to go into robotics or into AI or into being data scientists.” I want you to feel comfortable understanding technology and computational thinking in terms of, “I can go in and solve a problem.” That’s my goal.
Mm-hmm. And then what would you like from the media? Getting back to that.
Oh my God, I am on a shameless effort to stalk Shonda Rhimes to do her next show on a female coder. Listen, it’s all about culture. This is all about culture.
Has it worked with Shonda?
Maybe she’ll … Hopefully we’re going to … You’re listening right now to me and Kara.
Yeah, I know Shonda will be.
But look, I think that culture can actually shape this and change this very quickly, and you’ve seen this in other ways. We’ve seen this with medicine and law, right?
Scandal, LA Law …
Scandal’s not really the way we want to behave.
Right. But you hear what I’m saying.
And neither is LA Law. I get your point. I get your point.
But I’m … That’s how I decided I was going to be a lawyer.
And so we don’t …
LA Law? Really?
Not LA Law. Ally McBeal.
Ally McBeal. Okay, that was a different show.
They were quirky and fun.
And Kelly McGillis in The Accused.
Yeah. Oh, yeah.
But to me, a super-cool show about female coders that go on and take Facebook down, that’s inspiring.
And so showing more of this on television, in magazines, in children’s shows, and really shifting … not having Barbie dolls that say, “I hate math,” not having T-shirts that say, “I’m allergic to algebra,” right? Not celebrating this culture where girls are “not good at math.”
And also inspiring bravery, right? Which is what my book, Brave, Not Perfect, is about. I think that we have to show women a different way and not be stuck in the way that we have been actually raising young girls, and we as women have felt that we actually can’t take risks.
Look, I do think that there is a higher cost for failure. I was reading how women in finance are 20 percent more likely to be fired after a violation. Women at the bar are … twice the rate are disbarred for the same exact thing. And we see this in tech. So, we have to change the culture of failure, and failure can’t be a privilege just for white and Asian men. It’s got to be a privilege, quite frankly, for all.
Everybody fails. But we’ve got to raise our kids differently.
Yeah. That is absolutely true. Reshma, thank you so much for coming on the show.
Recode and Vox have joined forces to uncover and explain how our digital world is changing — and changing us. Subscribe to Recode podcasts to hear Kara Swisher and Peter Kafka lead the tough conversations the technology industry needs today.