GIRLS WHO CODE: Reshma Saujani’s Nonprofit Encourages Girls to Pursue Careers In Engineering and Technology

 

In Reshma Saujani’s 2011 Ted Talk, she discussed the importance of encouraging more American youth to pursue STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) careers in order to create jobs and re-ignite our economy. Not only are twice as many degrees being earned in business and social science compared to STEM, she also pointed to a startling gender gap, especially in technology fields. While 58 percent of women earn bachelor degrees, only 25 percent of them are in STEM fields, and only 12 percent of computer science graduates are women, down from 37 percent in 1985.

Research has shown that in a poll of fourth graders, two-thirds of both boys and girls claim to like math and science. However, by the time girls graduate high school, only 0.3 percent choose computer science as their college major.

“I think there are subtle things we do to girls that tell them that these fields are not for them,” says Saujani, who provided the voiceover for this summer’s “Inspire Her Mind” campaign, a cultural dialogue ignited by Verizon and MAKERS, a digital platform showcasing stories of trailblazing women from all walks of life. The commercial shows how parents discouraging their daughters from getting their dresses and hands dirty, telling them to be careful around electric tools (while passing them off to their brothers), can really have an effect on girls’ perceptions of what they think they can be.

“It’s not intentional,” Saujani continues. “I was home in Chicago with my two nieces and nephew, and my father called my nephew to come help him fix something, instead of calling my nieces. After he watched the ‘Inspire Her Mind’ ad, he realized he may also be unconsciously not pushing girls toward creating and building things.”

To combat this gender disparity, Saujani created Girls Who Code, a nonprofit that exposes girls to engineering and technology at a young age, with hopes that cultivating these interests early will encourage them to become the next generation of entrepreneurs and innovators. In 2012, Girls Who Code kicked off an eight-week summer program in New York City that taught programming to 20 girls, many from underserved communities. Since then, those girls have been inspired to spread their knowledge and enthusiasm by creating Girls Who Code clubs at their high schools across the country. A year later, the nonprofit had grown to eight programs in five different cities, and they are only getting bigger. The U.S. Department of Labor projects that, by 2020, there will be 1.4 million computer specialist job openings; Girls Who Code aims to provide computer science education and exposure to 1 million young women in the next six years.

“If girls have this skillset, they’re going to build tools and products that are going to make the world a better place,” says Saujani, pointing to her first set of students who built apps that tackled issues like bullying, obesity, cancer and world hunger.

“These girls want to create a product that will make communities better, and having the technological skills and being able to code will be important to solving these problems.”

One former participant of the Twitter Girls Who Code summer immersion program, Ming Horn, started a nonprofit called Khode Up! to teach web development and graphic design to teenage orphans in Cambodia. Though the high school student was inspired after meeting Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg through the program, Saujani believes that “the kids’ biggest role models are each other.”

Though Saujani grew up in a family of engineers in Illinois, she says she was terrified of studying math and science, a regret that gnawed at her all through adulthood. She eventually studied political science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, earned a master’s of public policy at Harvard and attended Yale Law School. She had discovered a passion for public service and political activism early in life. Her first march was as a 13-year-old youth activist fighting against racial and social injustice, and later, after 9/11, she worked to educate Muslim immigrants in Queens about their legal rights post-Patriot Act.

“It reminded me of what my parents, who came here as refugees from Uganda, went through,” says Saujani. “How your rights can literally be taken away at a moment’s notice if you don’t participate in the political process.

“That showed me how much the South Asian community lacked a voice in politics,” she continues. “In many ways, politics wasn’t encouraged in my family. In Asian families, you’re not supposed to put yourself out there like that. But I’ve always loved it. I’ve always had the desire to serve.”

Eventually, she worked as the deputy public advocate at the Office of the New York City Public Advocate, and in 2010, she was the first South Asian woman in the country to run for U.S. Congress. While she suffered two political defeats — she also ran for New York City Public Advocate in 2013, coming in third in the primary — she’s determined to change public perceptions of what’s possible for a South Asian American woman.

During her time campaigning, Saujani visited many schools and was impressed by their technology. She was also looking for a way to support the economic transformation of New York City, and it was then that the seeds of Girls Who Code were planted.

“After [the Facebook film] The Social Network, more boys think technology is cool, but I don’t think it has had the same effect for girls yet,” says Saujani, who published her first book, Women Who Don’t Wait in Line: Break the Mold, Lead the Way, in 2013. “And that’s what we’re working on. No matter what you want to be, whether it’s a doctor, dancer or artist, technology is a part of who we are.”

Find out more about Girls Who Code at girlswhocode.com.

 

This story was originally published in our Fall 2014 issue. Get your copy here

 

 

 

 

GoldieBlox Makes AMAZING Commercial For Girl Engineers

The GoldieBlox girls are back and more amazing than ever.

Debbie Sterling, a female engineer, decided to create GoldieBlox after realizing that toys for girls rarely focused on things related to the engineering field. Its no wonder that 90% of engineering jobs are held by men when women were never given the opportunity to explore the field as a child.

As children, we were not given legos, lincoln blocks, or robots to build. We were given dress-up barbies, build-a-bears and fake makeup kits. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with bears and barbies, Sterling wanted to create toys to inspire girls who may have some interest in engineering. She simply wanted the option to be available. Her website describes her creation as follows:

GoldieBlox is a series of interactive books + construction toys starring Goldie, a curious girl with a love of engineering. Goldie’s stories encourage girls to build, developing the spatial skills that are fundamental to engineering. As she goes on adventures with her friends, she comes across problems that she must solve by building simple machines. As the story unfolds, the girls get to build what Goldie builds. Through the downloadable e-book app, kids get to hear the story narrated and receive helpful hints and tips to enrich the building experience.

 

The girls are back and ready to show off their incredible engineering skills. Check out the amazing commercial below. You can also vote here to help GoldieBlox win a chance at airing their commercial in the Super Bowl.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UFpe3Up9T_g

LYRICS:

Girls.
You think you know what we want, girls.
Pink and pretty it’s girls.
Just like the 50’s it’s girls.

You like to buy us pink toys
and everything else is for boys
and you can always get us dolls
and we’ll grow up like them… false.

It’s time to change.
We deserve to see a range.
‘Cause all our toys look just the same
and we would like to use our brains.

We are all more than princess maids.

Girls to build the spaceship,
Girls to code the new app,
Girls to grow up knowing
they can engineer that.

Girls.
That’s all we really need is Girls.
To bring us up to speed it’s Girls.
Our opportunity is Girls.
Don’t underestimate Girls.

A Future For Female Engineers

There seems to be no argument here- the engineer world is dominated by males. When I was an undergrad in college, this fact became extremely obvious. In an engineer lecture room, you could count the female engineer students on a single hand. At one point, I began questioning this myself. Why was it so uncommon to find a woman interested in this field? Why do men hold nearly 90% of engineering jobs? Why did I never even think to consider this route?

A trip to any toy store may actually hold the answer. As a young girl, I didn’t come home from the toy store with legos, lincoln blocks, or robots you could build for battle. I came home with dress-up barbies, build-a-bears, and fake make-up kits. Now don’t get me wrong- I don’t have a problem with these toys. If a child wants to dress up a doll and play with its hair, I think its completely fine. Instead, the problem is simply that the opportunity to go out and explore is not available. As a young girl, I didn’t even have the option to see what was there for me outside of pink and glitter.  I realized that I never considered being an engineer because I was never programmed to have any sort of interest in the field.

Debbie Sterling, a female engineer, went through the very same epiphany. She decided she wanted to change her male-dominated workplace and just like that, GoldieBlox was created. The toy company aims to inspire the future generation of female engineers by creating construction toys that appeal to girls.

“GoldieBlox is a series of interactive books + construction toys starring Goldie, a curious girl with a love of engineering. Goldie’s stories encourage girls to build, developing the spatial skills that are fundamental to engineering. As she goes on adventures with her friends, she comes across problems that she must solve by building simple machines. As the story unfolds, the girls get to build what Goldie builds. Through the downloadable e-book app, kids get to hear the story narrated and receive helpful hints and tips to enrich the building experience.”

Check out the inspiring commercial as well as Debbie Sterling’s story below. To learn more about GoldieBlox, check out their official blog here.