When Reshma Saujani was toying with starting Girls with Code, an organization that teaches computer science skills to high-school-aged women, she faced a number of obstacles. Not only did she have zero coding experience, she met resistance from mostly male professionals in the industry. They would say that there's no need for the company. Ultimately, they were wrong. Girls Who Code has helped train nearly 4,000 girls in 29 states since launching in 2012.
She shared her experience as a woman in tech at this week's S.H.E. Summit in New York City. She was joined by Susan Lyne, president of Built by Girls Fund, and Ingrid Vanderveldt, founder and chair of Empowering a Billion Women by 2020.
Among other wide-ranging topics, the panel of high-powered women discussed gender discrimination and best practices for driving more diversity in the tech world. Here are three pieces of advice the group brainstormed for girls who aspire to start up or work in tech:
1. Talk more about women's issues.
One of the biggest propellers of change is acknowledging the need for it, says Lyne. She pointed to an open letter from Tracy Chou, a software engineer and tech lead at Pinterest, which called out tech companies for failing to disclose statistics on employee diversity. Since then, more than 150 startups responded by sharing the number of women they employ. "Once you start talking about it, there becomes a need for conscious action," Lyne says.
2. Play to your strengths.
Girls have the unique advantage of being familiar with problems specific to women--and how best to solve them. Saujani noted that several girls in Girls Who Code collaborated to create an online game called Tampon Run, which educates people about menstruation. "We live in a world where guns and violence are fine, but girls in Africa drop out of school when they start menstruating," Saujani said. "We need Tampon Run."
3. Find a mentor.
It's easy to get discouraged in industries in which there are few role models to aspire to become. Vanderveldt recalled many instances she had been turned away from potential investors and business partners, simply because she didn't "look, act, or talk like someone in the industry." Finding a mentor, she advised, is a great way to overcome the insecurities that feeling can sometimes bring.