Author Reshma Saujani has seen the careers of many women adversely affected by juggling children and their careers during the pandemic. The founder of Girls Who Code isn’t just working to close the gender gap in technology now. She’s fighting what she calls anti-mum bias in the workforce. Women with children are overlooked for promotion, judged for missing work to care for kids and are paid less. Reshma Saujani has a plan for women to address burnout and inequality in the workplace.
Saujani started Girls Who Code to close the gender divide in computer science and technology.
Less than 22 percent of the technology workforce is women which was not the case in the eighties but since then they have been pushed out, in part by messaging in the media that often portrays young men in the job, she says.
Ten years on 450,000 girls have been taught how to code and coding has been made into something cool, portrayed in videos and teen dramas.
“Basically our culture had turned girls and women off computer science and technology … if you’re a girl who wants to make a difference in your community or country then by learning how to code, technology is an arsenal in your toolkit that will help you through building an algorithm, through creating an app, through hosting a website, solve any problem you want. “
There are now 10,000 Girls Who Code clubs around the world and as far as she is concerned the solutions to cancer, Covid-19 and climate change could lie within the doors that open through learning to code.
Affordable childcare critical
Saujani, who is a mother of two young children, says the pandemic nearly broke her and made her realize that “having it all” really means “doing it all”.
The pandemic has made her and others realize the lack of affordable childcare and paid parental leave in many countries, which make trying to also have a career so difficult.
“We’re never getting to equality in the workplace until we get to equality at home.”
Her new book is called Pay Up: The future of women and work and why it’s different to what you think explores the issues.
She says “the big lie” that women have been sold puts the emphasis on an individual woman to fix herself, not feel exhausted and find a mentor but in fact it is the lack of structural support in society for mothers that is the most important area that needs to change.
Saujani says in every area of society from business to politics motherhood remains hidden. During the pandemic in countries worldwide women left their jobs because their childcare centers closed and grandparents weren’t able to help out.
Now there is an opportunity to revisit the old ways of relying on women to both work and bring up their children without complaint and ask if it has served society well, she says.
There is a tendency to treat mothers as “distracted” to justify paying them lower salaries.
Meanwhile, many fathers want to take more responsibility for bringing up their children but will often not be allowed to by their employers.
“The time has come for the private sector to start subsidizing childcare … we have to start looking at childcare not as your personal problem but as a business issue.”
Supporter of remote working
She opposes the push that is now starting against remote working, which produced results worldwide during the pandemic showing that it can work both for employers and family life.
It meant people didn’t spend so much time commuting – allowing more time for children and grandparents, and catching up on sleep.
“Why not take that into the new normal instead of having that pressure to go back to the old one?”
Work hours should match school hours and there should be a greater emphasis in the workplace on employees’ mental health, Saujani says.
Companies should also advocate for mothers publicly and be willing to hire them.
She suggests businesses could set up a “returnship” like an internship which would offer extra support for women returning to the workforce.
The US is well behind countries like New Zealand, Canada and France which offer paid parental leave and jobs to be kept open while a woman has a baby and spends time at home after birth, Saujani says.