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‘Every Girl Has to Learn How to Code.’ Reshma Saujani Wants to Make Space for Young Women in Tech

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As the coronavirus pandemic deepened and students across the U.S. were forced to learn from home without WiFi or reliable devices, Girls Who Code CEO Reshma Saujani saw an opportunity: to teach more girls how to code.

“More so than ever before, every girl has to learn how to code,” said Saujani during a Time100 Talks on Tuesday. Girls Who Code, a nonprofit organization that works to close the gender gap in technology, has helped more than 300,000 girls since 2012. “These are the jobs of the future and we have to make sure that no children are left behind.”

With the closure of so many college campuses and the expansion of remote learning, Saujani and her team maintained a summer virtual program where students in need received hotspots and devices to their home.

The program’s 5,000 students were encouraged to build a tool that would serve a problem they’re facing. Many students chose to create websites to elevate the latest efforts of the Black Lives Matter Movement — one group, for instance, created a site combatting racial micro-aggressions and another focused on celebrating Black girls’ natural hair.

On June 1st, Saujani released a statement recognizing the intersectionalities that women of color face in the tech space. She said issues of pay inequity, healthcare, voter suppression and police brutality are all interconnected.

There are plenty of qualified female candidates graduating with computer science degrees that are still not getting hired, Saujani said. She encourages other tech leaders to be critical of their onboarding processes because “diversity is key to innovation.” Saujani commits to having at least 50% of her Girls Who Code students be Black, Latinx or under the poverty line.

Saujani, who was the first Indian-American woman to run for Congress in 2010, suspects lawmakers on Capitol Hill aren’t doing enough to advocate for high-speed internet and tech literacy programming in every home because it’s not something they’re all familiar with. “We have a lot of people in Congress who aren’t comfortable with technology,” she said.

Although she calls on those in power to take action, Saujani is most inspired by the next generation of learners to make change. “You children are our leaders. So lead us, heal us, save us,” she said. “I have no doubt that they will.”

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Write to Mariah Espada at mariah.espada@time.com