By Maya Chandra
Girls Who Code and Marshall Plan for Moms founder Reshma Saujani encouraged students to address social problems with entrepreneurship and advocate for equity in the workforce as a speaker for Stanford’s Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders (ETL) series on Wednesday.
“We think that to start a company, we have to be an expert,” Saujani said. “And I really think you just have to have [a] passion for solving the problem.”
Ravi Belani ’97 M.S. ’98, adjunct management science and engineering lecturer, moderated the conversation, which was held via Zoom and live-streamed on YouTube. Belani organizes the ETL series, which consists of recorded content from MS&E 472, a one-unit course that features leaders in entrepreneurship and innovation.
Saujani said that she was inspired to start Girls Who Code after losing a 2010 race for the United States Congress. Determined to create positive social impact, she decided to address a problem she first noticed on the campaign trail and couldn’t stop thinking about: the lack of girls in the computer science and robotics classrooms at the schools she visited.
“The story was always about the girls and what would happen if girls learned how to code: that they would be healers, that they would be teachers, that they would be presidents, that they would be everything and anything,” Saujani said.
Saujani said that since she founded the organization in 2012, Girls Who Code has helped 450,000 girls learn computer programming, raised $100 million dollars and sponsored 10,000 clubs for students in grades 3 to 12. Saujani is also the founder of Marshall Plan for Moms, which aims to reimagine a society where mothers are more professionally supported and women have greater flexibility in the workforce.
While discussing her TED Talk, “Teach girls bravery, not perfection,” Saujani said that girls are raised to strive for perfection rather than work through difficulties. As a result, they often experience imposter syndrome as they grow older and constantly fear failure. They are more reluctant to speak up in meetings, less likely to apply for jobs where they do not meet all the qualifications and disproportionately penalized for mistakes, Saujani said.
During the event’s Q&A portion, Saujani encouraged female students to stand up for themselves in the workforce and move past their fears of failure.
“I don’t think that we should let our dreams die on the vine until we wait for society to move along with us,” Saujani said.
The team behind the ETL series hopes that the speakers will encourage aspiring innovators to pursue their passions and recognize concrete ways they can make a difference, according to Luke Sykora, the head of content at the Stanford Technology Ventures Program, which runs the platform where ETL is held.
“We think more than ever the world needs entrepreneurs!” Belani wrote in an email to The Daily. “The broader goal is to use the speakers as a mirror for the students to reflect on their own potential. And decide what they want to do with their lives.”