Girls Who Code Founder Reshma Saujani on the Fight for Equality in Tech

Courtesy of Reshma Saujani

The nonprofit founder believes companies need to take a more proactive approach 

In 2021, pay disparities and discrimination between men and women still very much exist, and Girls Who Code Founder Reshma Saujani wants you to know this is especially true for women in tech. 

Despite national conversations about gender diversity in tech, Saujani said women are still underrepresented, underpaid and often discriminated against in the tech industry. 

“There’s still a tremendous amount of racism and sexism inside tech companies,” Saujani told KCM. “And a lot of tech companies think they don’t have a problem.” 

The numbers in the U.S. are telling. More than half of women in tech are being paid less than men with the same job, according to a 2019 study from the recruitment firm Hired. In 60% of cases, women are being offered lower salaries than their male counterparts.

The survey also found that this pay gap widens even more among minorities. Though the average pay gap is 3% in the tech industry, the gap jumps to 8% percent for LGBTQ women, and 9% for Hispanic women. Meanwhile, the research found that Black women were receiving just $0.89 for every dollar earned by their white male colleagues.

“Part of what needs to happen is organizing inside companies — women sharing their salaries and really demonstrating the inequity and then demanding that companies change it,” Saujani said. 

In addition to equal pay, she believes companies need to make a real commitment to ensuring diversity, such as instituting quotas to be certain that they are hiring enough women. She said part of the problem is that women, especially women of color, are applying to programming and other computer-related jobs but aren’t getting hired. 

“Tech companies should be treating diverse talent like you create football teams,” she said. 

Saujani first came up with the idea for Girls Who Code when she was running for Congress in 2010. While visiting schools, she noticed boys lining up for computer classes, but she said she usually saw no girls in sight. Now more than 10 years later, she said the nonprofit has reached more than 300,000 young girls through computer programming classes and programs. Despite having to go all virtual due to the pandemic, the organization said it’s on track to close the gender gap in new entry-level tech jobs by 2027.

As far as federal action goes, the government has taken some steps to address pay inequality. In February, the U.S. Department of Labor hit Google with a more than $3.8 million fine over allegations that the search-engine giant discriminated against Asians and women software engineers. As part of the settlement, the company issued payments to more than 5,500 current employees and job applicants from the company’s California and Washington state offices. 

Still, the federal government has yet to pass broader legislation addressing the pay gap and wage discrimination. In 2019, the House passed the Paycheck Fairness Act that would have strengthened the Equal Pay Act of 1963, but the bill was never taken up by the Senate. Women working full time in the U.S. collectively earned an estimated $546.3 billion less than their male counterparts within the following year alone, according to an analysis by the Center for American Progress. 

There has also been some action on a state level, such as in California where most of these tech companies are based. Signed into law in 2017, the California Equal Pay Act was designed to protect employees from gender-based pay discrimination.

Saujani said this goes to show the limitations of government, adding that women can’t give up the fight. Since stepping down as CEO last year, Saujani remains an active part of Girls Who Code, but she is also focusing her energy on a new project called the Marshall Plan for Moms that aims to send direct payments to mothers for their unpaid labor at home among other initiatives.

“The hard part is that we’re all exhausted — every one woman I know is just exhausted,” she said. “We need our male allies to stand with us in the struggle.”

Written and reported by Tess Bonn.