How the tech gender gap hurts retail

An interview with Reshma Saujani, founder and CEO of Girls Who Code and a keynote speaker at Retail’s Digital Summit

NRF
NRF
Jul 12, 2016 · 4 min read

A lot has been done to shine a spotlight on the gender gap in the technology industry, but not many have invested as much as Reshma Saujani to actually tackle the problem and create new opportunities for women in technology. Saujani is the founder and CEO of Girls Who Code, which seeks to close the gender gap in technology through various programs across the country that help girls learn coding skills and gain exposure to the tech jobs of the future.

Girls Who Code founder and CEO Reshma Saujani

In today’s uber-connected world, technology and retail go hand in hand; even as women still control the majority of consumer spending, though, it’s mostly men who are engineering those shopping experiences. NRF’s digital community invited Saujani to discuss how this affects the industry, why it matters and what retailers can do to close the gender gap at the upcoming Shop.org conference, Retail’s Digital Summit, September 26–28 in Dallas. Before her appearance, we chatted with her to learn more.

You’re not a coder yourself. Why focus on getting more girls interested in computer science?

I’m a feminist with a capital ‘F’ and have always had a passion for policy. When I saw how huge the gender gap was in technology, I knew I had to do something about it. I’m the least likely person to start an organization called Girls Who Code, but the technology industry has some of the highest paying jobs out there, and girls are being left out. A computer science education can literally lift girls and their families out of poverty. From a policy perspective, it was a no-brainer.

As these girls enter the workforce, how does having more women in tech impact workplace culture and how companies go about building teams?

Girls Who Code is addressing an issue a lot of companies have an interest in solving. Companies want to hire more women to join their tech teams because for the most part women are their leading consumer base. Having more women involved means that the people buying their products are building their products.

Image credit: #WOCinTechChat

What can men in leadership roles do to support closing the gender gap in tech and engineering?

We have an amazing group of male allies supporting our mission. The gender gap isn’t just a ‘women’s issue’ — everybody plays a part in solving this problem. I think all leaders have an opportunity to look at their teams and take stock: Do men and women have an equal voice at the table? Are women compensated equally to their male counterparts? Does the culture support care-taking? We all play a part in making our workplace a more equitable environment.

Women control the majority of consumer spending, making them critically important for retailers. How would having more women involved in shaping technology change the retail industry? How could it change things for consumers?

Over two-thirds (66%) of all tech jobs are outside the tech sector. Technology is shaping every part of our daily lives, including where and how we buy our clothes. Retailers are investing a lot more in their tech teams than ever before. In fact, Kate Spade and Company and Sephora are hosting Girls Who Code programs this year. They know that when you have the people who are buying the products building the products, you’ll only produce better products.

Image credit: #WOCinTechChat

If you could go back in time 10 years and give yourself some advice, what would it be?

I wish I wasn’t so risk-averse earlier on my career. I stayed in jobs I was miserable in for years because I was too afraid to try something new and risk failing at it. I quit my job when I was 34 to run for Congress. And guess what? I lost the race. I lost big! But failing turned out to be a very liberating experience for me because it meant that I finally took the leap to follow my dreams. Having had that big failure under my belt, taking other risks and putting myself out there didn’t feel so terrifying. I always say if you’re not failing, you’re not trying.

Hear more from Reshma Saujani at Retail’s Digital Summit, hosted by Shop.org in Dallas, September 26–28, 2016.

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The National Retail Federation is the world's largest retail trade association, representing all retail formats and channels of distribution. https://nrf.com

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