‘Feminist with a capital F’

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Caitlin Fish

Reshma Saujani, a feminist and founder of the organization Girls Who Code, a nonprofit organization that hopes to increase the number of women in computer science, visited Quinnipiac last Wednesday and delivered a speech about closing the gender gap in the world of technology.

She believes through girl power and working as feminists, the gender gap in technology could be closed for good.

Saujani is a graduate of the University of Illinois, Harvard’s Kennedy School of Gov-ernment and Yale Law School.

Saujani has received many awards for her efforts in women’s rights, according to her website. She has been named one of Fortune’s 40 under 40, a Wall Street Journal Magazine Innovator of the Year and one of the 50 Most Powerful Women in New York by the New York Daily News, just to name a few.

“Saujani has been fearless in her efforts to disrupt both politics and technology to cre- ate positive change,” Dean Justin Kile of the School of Engineering said.

She began her career as an attorney and activist. In 2010, she decided to venture into politics and became the first Indian-American woman to run for Congress in the U.S., according to her website.

Throughout her campaign, she visited schools across New York City, where she ob- served the gender gap in computing classes firsthand.

“I’d go into their computer science classes, and I’d see hundreds of boys clamoring to be the next Steve Jobs, and I thought to myself,

‘Where are the girls?’” Saujani said.

This scene is what inspired her to start Girls Who Code, she said.

Girls Who Code offers a seven-week Summer Immersion Program, available in all 50 states, to learn coding and get exposure to tech jobs. Each week, the program covers projects related to computer science, such as art, storytelling, robotics, video games, websites and apps.

Girls also get to listen to and meet guest speakers, participate in workshops, connect with female engineers and entrepreneurs and go on field trips.

During the final week, girls present a final project that they build themselves and share them with the class, according to the Girls Who Code website.

Saujani said it was troubling for her to see women left out of an industry that is shaping the future.

“In five years, there are going to be about 1.4 million jobs open in the United States in the computing-related field, and less than 3% of those 1.4 million are going to be filled by women,” Saujani said.

She said it was her mission to teach young girls about the opportunities a major in computer science could bring them. In a world where technology is the dominating industry, more women should be encouraged to study it.

“I do not want to live in a world run by men,” Saujani said.

The gender gap in technology did not spring up out of nowhere. It has been progress- ing for years and is immersed in our culture. The gender gap was learned. There is a stereotype of what an engineer or computer science

person looks like. Movies, TV shows and ads represent the stereotype as a nerdy boy with no friends who plays on his computer all day, according to Saujani.

“Girls see this image, and not only do they not want to be him, they don’t even want to be friends with him,” Saujani said.

She said the media controls the way young girls view the image of a computer scientist. Not only is this image false, but she believes it is easy to fix.

“Saujani made great arguments about why women do not pursue technology and engineering jobs,” junior software engineering major Janine Jay said.

Girls Who Code is working to change that image and show girls that coding is cool and can work as a way for them to share their voice.

“I’m not a shy person, but I’ve always been a bit doubtful in my abilities. During the Summer Immersion Program, we had to code an MP3 player. When I realized I could use code to make something I use every day, it made me braver,” Maya Miller, a student featured on the Girls Who Code website, said.

Girls Who Code is teaching young women to use technology as a way to give back to their community and advocate for social issues, according to Saujani.

“They’re constantly looking at their world and community and saying, ‘What can I do to make it better?’” Saujani said.

She gave an example that two of her students collectively made a game called “Tam- pon Run” to destroy the taboo feeling about menstruation. Every girl across the world gets her period, and it should not be an uncomfortable subject.

But, “No boy was going to create ‘Tampon Run’,” Saujani said.

She said it is necessary to give women access to technology and to teach them how to code, in order to make the world a better place. It is important for girls to learn and create together.

“We really emphasize this idea of sisterhood,” Saujani said.

When girls come together, they are unstoppable, and they see their unlimited potential, according to Saujani.

She said 90 percent of the girls who graduate from Girls Who Code say that they are going to either major or minor in computer science. High school girls are so anxious and excited to learn something new, so it is important to expose them to coding early. The gender gap in technology can easily be fixed by teaching girls to code.

“I feel so blessed because I actually have a chance to solve this problem,” Saujani said.