Welcome back to Women in Tech You Should Know! This is the third installment in our ongoing series highlighting STEM’s female trailblazers. This edition covers three ladies battling systemic injustice and outdated prejudices with an arsenal of gumption and technological tools.
We wrote about Kimberly Bryant, founder of Black Girls Code, in Part 1. Now we continue that theme with Reshma Saujani and Jennifer Pahlka, founders of Girls Who Code and Code for America, respectively.
And we close out with Ellen K. Pao, who was among the first to publicly and legally call out gender discrimination in the workplace and now advocates for inclusivity.
Saujani founded the non-profit Girls Who Code with an aim to close the (expanding) gender gap by 2030. With 8,500 programs across the globe, it doesn’t just teach girls how to code but also how to become leaders in the workforce they’ll eventually enter. Girls Who Code came into being in 2012—a big year all around for empowering women in tech!
The idea came about when she realized that gender messaging directs boys and girls differently from childhood. She herself worked tirelessly for a presumably “perfect” resume topped by a Yale J.D. It still wasn’t enough for this woman of color, a story unfortunately all too common.
Her experience in legal and political fields led her to attack the gender gap at its roots: Girls Who Code runs free (free!) programs for girls as young as 11. (That’s 5th or 6th grade for those of us too far removed from school to remember the age lineup.) Her work to break down stereotypes and the gender gap has so far reached hundreds of thousands of young women, and we can’t wait to see how they and future participants continue to change the tech landscape.
Similar to Girls Who Code, Code for America (CFA) uses technology to address necessary systemic change. In this case, the non-profit focuses on technology within government processes.
Pahlka described how she started her project, founded in 2009, saying: “CFA started as “Teach for America” but instead of teachers, it was for coders.” While Pahlka described herself as not exactly a technical person, she wasn’t going to let that derail her fledgling idea. At the time, she was immersed in the political sphere and had a large enough network of people working on technology within government to get the fellowship program off the ground.
As with any effective grassroots non-profit, particularly one approaching broad government change, she knew to start at the local level. CFA’s original program, which tackled simplifying the cumbersome application process for California’s nutrition-assistance program, started in San Francisco and soon landed in every county in the state. Since then more programs have launched, including “Clear My Record,” which to date has cleared hundreds of thousands of criminal records—particularly for low-level marijuana offenses in states where recreational use is legal.
Ellen K. Pao
Pao made headlines in 2012 when she sued her employer, a Silicon Valley VC firm, for discrimination. The suit was ultimately unsuccessful in its immediate goal, but all of us felt the ripple effect throughout the tech industry and beyond.
By taking that terrifying and uncharted first step, she opened the door for the rest of us women in tech to advocate for ourselves.
“If we do not share our stores and shine a light on inequities, things will not change.”
A former Reddit CEO, she’s now the CEO of Project Include, which she founded with seven other female tech leaders in 2016. The tech industry loves data-informed decisions, so she turned that around to quantitatively validate what many of us have experienced in an effort to ease future womens’ professional paths. Project Include “uses data and advocacy to accelerate diversity and inclusion situations in the tech industry.”
Just a year later she published “Reset: My Fight For Inclusive and Lasting Change,” which has been lauded as a must-read for any woman in tech.