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An inclusive experience: Belonging

When you feel valued for who you are

In this second of a three-part series, Deloitte’s Karen Mazer talks to Reshma Saujani, founder of Girls Who Code, a national non-profit that connects middle and high school girls to the world of coding and helps them feel confident that they belong in technology fields.

An open mind is key to creating and feeling a sense of identity and fit in a role

Reshma Saujani was previously a securities attorney, investment manager, deputy public advocate for New York City, and was named to Fortune Magazine’s “40 Under 40” list in 2015. Reshma talked to us about the importance of belonging, particularly in technology, which remains a male-dominated industry despite growing numbers of women entering the field.

KAREN: Paint the picture for us. Why do you think there’s work to be done to make girls feel they belong in tech or feel they can be leaders in the industry? What is your approach?

RESHMA: I often say, “You cannot be what you cannot see.” Right now the cultural concept of a coder is a nerdy guy typing away in a basement. Girls see these images and they think it’s not an option for them. We know shifting the culture around what a computer scientist does and looks like is the first step in sparking girls’ interest in the field. We introduce girls to those hidden figures in technology and female mentors in the field as a way to show them this is a world that’s open to them.

KAREN: Aside from preconceptions about what technology professionals look like and work like, are there other reasons for girls thinking STEM fields are not a good fit for them?

RESHMA: Too many girls who enter our programs are afraid to fail or are overly concerned with doing things perfectly. I call it the bravery deficit, and I believe it’s one of the factors of why women are underrepresented in STEM, in C-suites, in boardrooms, in Congress, and pretty much everywhere you look. That perfectionism may keep women from trying new things. In the context of learning computer science, you will not go far if you approach it with the mindset you can’t make a mistake. Coding is an endless process of trial and error and mistakes are inevitable.

KAREN: It sounds like changing that fear-of-failure mindset is key to connecting with the work, but once young women do enter the industry, how do you prepare them to remain in tech and aim for leadership positions?

RESHMA: We know sparking interest is just part of the solution, which is why we create pathways for our Girls Who Code alumni into the workforce—introducing them to mentors and role models along the way—and encourage confidence and resilience. We also build a sisterhood of supportive peers who help and encourage each other as they begin entering the tech workforce.

KAREN: A community within a community to welcome them in and make them feel they belong?

RESHMA: Yes!

KAREN: Then once they’re in, do you think it is more important for them to work to fit in or work to change the environment to one where they can be comfortable being their authentic selves?

RESHMA: The culture of tech companies cannot change if women aren’t in the room. Getting more women into leadership positions will help address the culture issue, but we also are committed to working with our male allies to send a clear message that the current gender gap—and the resulting culture of this gap—is unacceptable.

KAREN: The “culture of the gap,” that’s an interesting way to frame it. What can businesses/industries do to recognize and make use of the different strengths that all people bring to the table—including women, men, underrepresented minorities?

RESHMA: I really believe if you build a culture that encourages diverse opinions and viewpoints, good talent will find you. Making sure men and women have an equal voice at the table and that women are compensated equally to men are a great start. A good company culture can make such a difference in not just attracting but retaining top talent.

KAREN: You yourself don’t have a tech background, but yet you’ve made closing the gender gap in tech your personal mission. How did you get there?

RESHMA: I became obsessed with this issue while running for Congress in 2010. I visited schools all across New York City and saw computer science classes filled with a sea of boys and maybe one or two girls. This gender gap wasn’t just a Silicon Valley issue anymore but was starting in middle and high school classrooms! After I lost the race, I decided I needed to do something about it. I started Girls Who Code with the belief that computing skills are a critical path to prosperity in today’s job market, and that our girls shouldn’t continue to get left out.

KAREN: Is there value in having early technology experience even if the outcome is not a career specifically in tech?

RESHMA: In addition to coding, at Girls Who Code we teach critical soft skills like confidence, bravery, teamwork, communication. These are all 21st century skills that they’ll find useful in their careers regardless of industry.

"The culture of tech companies cannot change if women aren’t in the room. Getting more women into leadership positions will help address the culture issue."

– Reshma Saujani, founder, Girls Who Code

Editor’s note: This article is part of a three-part series of interviews with notable leaders advancing inclusive personal behaviors and a culture of inclusion. Deloitte and Girls Who Code share a commitment to help make sure everyone feels that they belong in places where they find challenge, purpose and opportunities to grow, from the classroom to the workplace.

Read the other interviews in the series:

An inclusive experience: Connection
Q&A Sallie Krawcheck, CEO and co-founder of a digital investment platform for women

An inclusive experience: Growth
Q&A with Joyce Roché, author and executive

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