S2 E5. Woman and Change: Activism with Reshma Saujani, Founder of Girls Who Code and Moms First

[00:00:00] Section: Podcast introduction

[00:00:00] Overdub: Hello and welcome to season two of The Story of Woman. In today’s world, it can feel like change is happening, but only in the wrong direction. While we agree there’s still a lot of work to do, we’re reframing that story.

[00:00:17] Overdub: I’m your host, Anna Stoecklein and each episode of this season I’ll be exploring how women make change happen from those at the top helping to drive it. We’ll look at where we are on this long march to equality, what lies ahead, and how important you are in the fight.

[00:00:38] Overdub: This isn’t a story of a world that’s doomed to oppress women forever. This is a story of an opportunity to grow stronger than ever before. Exactly as womankind has always done.

[00:00:50] Section: Episode level introduction

[00:00:52] Anna Stoecklein: Hello and welcome back. Thank you for being here. We've got a phenomenal conversation today, [00:01:00] and I know I always say that, but listening back to this interview as I was producing it just really got me fired up again, and I think you're really gonna like this one. And I'm not even a mom, which motherhood and the lack of support our societies give to them is the main topic of conversation. So if you're a mom, I would say really get ready to get fired up.

[00:01:25] Anna Stoecklein: Today I speak with Reshma Saujani, a leading activist and the founder of Girls Who Code, and the Marshall Plan for Moms. Reshma has spent more than a decade building movements to fight for women and girls, economic empowerment, working to close the gender gap in the tech sector, and most recently advocating for policies to support moms impacted by the pandemic, and really just impacted by the fact that they are moms in this unsupportive society.

[00:01:52] Anna Stoecklein: Reshma is also the author of the international bestseller, Brave Not Perfect and Her Influential TED Talk, Teach [00:02:00] Girls Bravery, Not Perfection, has more than 5 million views global.

[00:02:04] Anna Stoecklein: Reshma began her career as an attorney and democratic organizer. In 2010, she surged onto the political scene as the first Indian American woman to run for US Congress. During her race, she actually visited local schools and saw that there was this massive gender gap in the computing classes, and that is what led her to start Girls Who Code.

[00:02:25] Anna Stoecklein: And then in her nine year tenure as CEO of Girls Who Code, Reshma grew the organization to one of the largest and most prestigious non-profits in the country. Today Girls Who Code has taught 500,000 girls through direct in-person classes and has reached 500 million people worldwide through its bestselling book series and award-winning campaigns. In 2019, Girls Who Code was awarded most innovative by Fast Company.

[00:02:55] Anna Stoecklein: And then on top of that, in response to the [00:03:00] disproportionate impact of the pandemic on America's moms, Reshma launched the Marshall Plan for Moms to advocate for policies that value women's labor, in and out of the home, and she published a book called Pay Up.

[00:03:12] Anna Stoecklein: And this is what we'll be digging into today. Her work at Marshall Plan for Moms and this new book. But her innovative approach to movement building has earned her recognition on lists including Fortune World's Greatest Leaders, Fortune 40 Under 40, Wall Street Journal Magazine Innovator of the Year, Forbes Most Powerful Women Changing the World, and Fast Company 100 Most Creative People, among other awards and among much more parts of her biography that I simply can't include because we will run out of time.

[00:03:46] Anna Stoecklein: So yeah, get ready to get fired up whether you're a mom or not. Uh, Reshma really illuminates this problem for us. And it's a problem that many moms, certainly, and many [00:04:00] people have been aware of for a long time, but often within our own little silos. You know, as you'll hear us talk about today, women, and it varies by country, the United States is especially abhorrent on this front, but women are made to believe that everything that we're talking about is a personal problem.

[00:04:20] Anna Stoecklein: You know, the fact that we're too tired from our second job taking care of the entire next generation to go for that promotion, or the fact that we're made to breastfeed in closets at work four weeks after giving birth. You know, all of this is seen as a personal problem. That is until the pandemic, which through that door wide open, so people can no longer ignore this problem, try as they might, and it allowed moms to see and understand that they're not the only ones breastfeeding in closets. They're not the only one going through this. That it's something that so many women, so many [00:05:00] people, are experiencing and that it's a system and an infrastructure problem, not an individual person problem. As per usual, does that sound familiar to any regular listeners of the podcast?

[00:05:13] Anna Stoecklein: So this is why Reshma is excited for this moment. She sees the opportunity and the moment that we're in, and I think that's why I was extra fired up as well because of the problems and everything that we're discussing and how fundamental this is to the fight for gender equality.

[00:05:29] Anna Stoecklein: But also because of the opportunity that we're in. So there's a lot to get fired up about today. We talk about all of this and I start our conversation with some basic questions for Reshma about being a change maker and what drives change, and I wanted to start there given her history of starting, not one, but two mass movements and being an activist since she was a kid.

[00:05:51] Anna Stoecklein: We then get into what she sees as the key to the fight for gender, which is the ways society does, or doesn't, show [00:06:00] up to support its mothers. We talk about how we got here, why it matters, and why it matters for non mothers and for all of society. And we talk about the need for moms and all parents to demand more because we're done being gaslit and it's okay to demand something different.

[00:06:19] Anna Stoecklein: And we talk about Reshma's own journey to getting where she is and what keeps her going every day as a working mother in this unsupportive society who's literally changing the world.

[00:06:31] Anna Stoecklein: So lots to get fired up about. Get ready for it. I already am just thinking about it again now. As always, if you do get fired up and you want more people to hear this important story, please share the podcast far and wide and consider becoming a patron. As you'll know by now, this is the best way to support this work.

[00:06:53] Anna Stoecklein: But for now, please enjoy and get fired up by, my conversation with [00:07:00] Reshma Saujani.

[00:07:01] Section: Episode

[00:07:01] Anna Stoecklein: Welcome, Reshma. Thank you so much for being here today.

[00:07:04] Reshma Saujani: Thank you so much for having me. It's great to be here.

[00:07:06] Anna Stoecklein: Absolutely. So what we're talking about today is change and change makers, and yeah, I think it's pretty safe to say, given the multiple movements that you have started, along with everything else that you've done, that you're a pretty effective change maker and probably know a few things about what it means to be one.

[00:07:27] Anna Stoecklein: So I just wanna kind of start with the basics and ask from your perspective, what is your definition of a change maker, and what do you think it takes for a person to be one?

[00:07:38] Reshma Saujani: I mean, I think it's like using your platform to make a difference for the voiceless and leaving the world a better place than when you entered it. And I think that there's so many different types of change makers. Like I don't think that there's one definition or one way. Not everybody is gonna be Dr. King, you know, or Mahatma Gandhi [00:08:00] or Eleanor Roosevelt. And so I think you have to look for ways to make a difference in your everyday life and in people's everyday lives.

[00:08:08] Anna Stoecklein: I agree completely, and I think sometimes we get caught up on the likes of MLK and Mahatma Gandhi, and we think they're the ones who drive change when really it's all of us every day. So along those lines, and continuing to just set the scene for our conversation, I'm curious how you see change happening? How do you see these individual actions contributing to the wider picture of change, you know, what do you think that process actually looks like?

[00:08:35] Reshma Saujani: I think it depends on what we're talking about. I mean, I think I grew up thinking that the biggest way to make change is through the political process. And so from the time I was a little girl, I always wanted to run for office, always wanted to serve. Like I looked at people like John F. Kennedy Jr. and I was like, ugh, it was serving in political office was the way to make change. And I think throughout time our political system has gotten a lot more chaotic and I think it's become, [00:09:00] or seen, especially by young people as a less appealing career to have or way to make change.

[00:09:07] Reshma Saujani: And I struggle with that sometimes cause I feel that way and then sometimes I'm like, well, no, no, no we do need to have more people go into the political process of where we're gonna change it. But I think the thing that I've learned and I tell other people is that I've learned that you can actually also make change outside of the system.

[00:09:22] Reshma Saujani: And there's no better example of that for me than Girls Who Code. In a country where, at the time when I started Girls Who Code, I feel like less than one out of a hundred kids was learning how to code, you were really looking to see, well, can the public school system actually make a change in teaching girls to code?

[00:09:39] Reshma Saujani: And it just wasn't happening fast enough. And so I built a nonprofit Girls Who Code where over the past 10 years we taught over 500,000 girls to code in America and then reached over a half a billion through our work. So it was just an example of like, you can actually make change outside of the system and not rely on the system [00:10:00] to catch up to what people need.

[00:10:02] Anna Stoecklein: Mm-hmm. That could take a while and yeah, making change outside of the system is gonna then contribute to changing the system itself. So I think that's a great way to look at it. And my last question on just change in general before we dive into the specifics of what exactly you are changing is I kind of see change happening through two key ways: doing the thing, so being the activist, being the politician, breaking the glass ceiling, but also then just demonstrating to others that it can be done. Your work with girls who code, you're going around and you're seeing how few girls are participating in this industry, and surely that's gonna impact the number of girls that decide to go into that profession. So can you just talk to the importance of representation from your perspective and what's its role in driving change?

[00:10:53] Reshma Saujani: Yeah, I mean, I think you wanna have as many diverse people sitting around the table if we're going to actually make a difference. I mean, the example I give of like [00:11:00] why I'm so passionate about girls and technology is something simple, like I love to wear gold hoops, and if I have my apple AirPods on and I'm walking down the street, what happens? Let's like clink, clink, clink. And the person on the line is like, what's that sound? And I'm like, ah. You know what I mean? I have to stop in the middle of the street and like take my hoops off.

[00:11:17] Reshma Saujani: Cause the problem was, whoever designed those Apple AirPods probably didn't wear hoops and just couldn't have thought that the technology that they were building would not be able to be used by everybody of every use case. And more egregious example is a major use of Google Home or Alexa is by perpetrators of domestic violence, who use those devices to turn the music up real loud or to lock women out.

[00:11:41] Reshma Saujani: Again, most of the engineers that were designing this were not probably victims of domestic violence and could not have thought that their technology could be used that way. A real example too is like Lyft and Uber, it took them forever to put in a button to say, if you've been sexually harassed, please report it here.

[00:11:59] Reshma Saujani: Now, if you [00:12:00] and I had designed that, that would've been the first thing we put on there. We might miss out on finding a cure to cancer, covid, or climate if we only have men or white men sitting around the table. And so I think diversity gets us closer to making real change, and I think that's why representation really matters in a real way because you just can't have one perspective sitting around the table. And, and I think the problem that we have today about when we talk about representation is like it makes people who are not typically in the room, women, people of color, trans, gay, right? Feel like, well, if I'm in the room, it means I snuck in somehow and I wasn't prepared and I wasn't qualified.

[00:12:44] Reshma Saujani: And the reason why we feel that way is because we've actually never had a conversation about unearned privilege. For so long this country was built without us. And so we've been trying to fight our way in and to say, I belong, I'm [00:13:00] here. I'm qualified, I'm prepared, I have something to say. And we've been pushed out because the thing is, once you have power, people don't give up power easily.

[00:13:09] Reshma Saujani: And so I think for so long we just have the wrong conversation about representation. It's like we still have to prove that diversity is a good thing when we have should be having a vastly different conversation in 2023, which is, how do we get people to give up privilege they did not earn?

[00:13:29] Anna Stoecklein: Yeah. And to see what seems so obvious to yourself, myself, and so many others, which is what comes with diversity.

[00:13:38] Reshma Saujani: Yeah. This is why the country, it's like there's this big challenge to critical race theory and to teaching our young children about heroes like Dr. King and Mahatma Gandhi, and Girls Coding because it is this constant conversation around power, and we just haven't had, I think, as a [00:14:00] society, we haven't come together and had a really honest conversation about it.

[00:14:03] Anna Stoecklein: I agree. Well, maybe we'll have you on another day and we can just get that conversation started.

[00:14:08] Reshma Saujani: Mm.

[00:14:09] Anna Stoecklein: To look now at what we need to change. I mean, there's obviously quite a lot, but zooming out and looking at where we are on this long march to equality, I'm curious what you see as some of the biggest challenges that we still face. I mean, obviously your current work with Marshall Plan for Moms and everything you're doing for working moms in the country is at the forefront following the pandemic.

[00:14:35] Reshma Saujani: I'm dedicating my life to creating support for working moms and for mothers generally. And I think the key to the fight for gender equality lies in the way that society has showed up to support its mothers.

[00:14:45] Reshma Saujani: The reality is, is that workplaces have never been built for women in mind. And our culture treats childcare, for example, as a personal problem that you gotta solve rather than a business problem or central infrastructure. And it's because for so [00:15:00] long it's like we've treated women in the workforce as a nice to have, and not a must have. And so we keep telling women when we're not getting to equality or you're applying for an opportunity, or you have two children, but your childcare support's not there, and you're exhausted and you're tired and you're not able to raise your hand for that promotion or that opportunity, we make you feel like that's your problem.

[00:15:22] Reshma Saujani: There's something wrong with you, right? It's like we just haven't admitted that having it all is just a euphemism for doing it all. And so we keep trying to fix women rather than fixing the structure. And so I just think the time has come now where we have to fix the structure.

[00:15:40] Reshma Saujani: This is a very big problem to me. This sits in the same place that climate change sits. The lack of infrastructure for women to both work and be mothers is at the center of every conversation around equality. It should be at the center of every conversation around equality in the globe.

[00:15:57] Reshma Saujani: You talk to women in Ghana. You talk to women in [00:16:00] India. You talk to women in the UK. You talk to women in the United States. And if you ask them what is standing in the way of you and true freedom, and they'll say childcare, they'll say paid leave, they'll say I actually make less than minute I become a mother. And so we know that when you change these three things, you get far closer to equality.

[00:16:19] Reshma Saujani: And you have examples of that in Norway, in Canada, other countries that have been actually fixing the structure rather than trying to fix women. And so this to me is at the heart of the conversation that we need to have around gender equality right now.

[00:16:34] Anna Stoecklein: Absolutely. So I'm curious to hear if you have any examples of people that are doing it well. Is there any country that has it so right, that we can all follow their lead or we take bits and pieces from different countries that are doing all right?

[00:16:49] Reshma Saujani: Well, I think, you know, Norwegian countries, for example, give moms several years off once they have a child. Right? America's the only industrialization that doesn't offer paid leave.[00:17:00]

[00:17:00] Reshma Saujani: So in America, one in four women return to work two weeks after having a child, and they're doing two thirds of the caregiving work at home. America's the only, I think, industrialized country that really has this motherhood penalty, right? We make 58 cents for every dollar a father makes, right? For the same exact job.

[00:17:18] Reshma Saujani: So we are mommy tracked and expected to supplement our paid labor for unpaid labor. There's no better example of this than during the pandemic when the school's closed. So what I find is very fascinating about that, I wish I want someone to do like an investigative piece on it, is that when the pandemic hit in March, 2020, the school shut down and daycare center shut down.

[00:17:40] Reshma Saujani: But we still had to show up for work and for those of us who were able to work remotely, right, we were basically homeschooling our kids, logging on Zoom all the while maintaining our full-time job. And mothers who were working in retail, in teaching, in nursing were making huge, huge sacrifices. [00:18:00] Huge amounts of stress basically show up as heroes for our country.

[00:18:03] Reshma Saujani: All the while time they were becoming moms and everyone knew this was happening because America does these things called time and you surveys. So there was no question that moms were doing, again, two thirds of the caregiving work while they were working. And we knew that because again, we track this.

[00:18:23] Reshma Saujani: And so in September, when September rolled around and as a country, we decided to just close the schools and introduce hybrid learning while, again, we knew who was gonna suffer from that decision, moms. Other countries like the UK, they closed the restaurants, they closed the bars, they closed everything but the schools, because they knew if they closed the schools that women would not have childcare, and it would fall upon them.

[00:18:53] Reshma Saujani: So the United States, because we decided to tackle it this way, we lost 11 million women from the workforce [00:19:00] overnight. So you saw so many women having to downshift their careers, move in with their parents, move into their cars, become homeless, defer dreams and opportunities to go from being Uber drivers to nurses because this happened and no one said anything. And no one did anything.

[00:19:16] Reshma Saujani: Now, if you look at other nations who attacked this problem in a different way, like the UK and Canada, they didn't have the same amount of millions of women being pushed out of the workforce, right? So they're still on track for gender equality where we've been set behind 30 years.

[00:19:31] Reshma Saujani: So again, I think that this is a very symptomatic to the United States, and you have to ask yourself, well, why? What is it about the US where we seemingly are a country of family values, but keeps continuing to treat moms and women as a nice have and not a must have. Why are we still post pandemic in any federal legislation that's come up, we still haven't passed childcare. 40% of parents go into debt because of childcare. The cost of childcare is greater than [00:20:00] inflation, but yet in these two years, we've failed to do anything about it, and we've failed to provide support. I mean, any parent right now who has a kid in the middle of the triple pandemic recognizes.

[00:20:11] Reshma Saujani: My son, I have a two-year-old and a seven-year-old, my baby has terrible asthma. I've been in and out of the emergency room for the past year. This past weekend we were in Atlanta. I was getting an award, so we're there with my family and I'm supposed to be coming home and my son suffers a severe asthma attack.

[00:20:26] Reshma Saujani: So I'm in Atlanta now. You know, I have my own organization so I could say, hey guys, but the vast majority of moms in our country would get fired for that because we don't have, again, paid sick days, we don't have the support to deal with again, what is also happening in our country with the virus. Every kid is terribly sick and has been for years.

[00:20:50] Anna Stoecklein: Mm-hmm. Yeah. The entire system was designed with a stay-at-home wife in mind.

[00:20:56] Reshma Saujani: I think the problem is that it's untenable [00:21:00] because most people have to work.

[00:21:02] Anna Stoecklein: Yes.

[00:21:03] Reshma Saujani: I mean, with rising costs, we have to work, so..

[00:21:06] Anna Stoecklein: Mm-hmm.

[00:21:07] Reshma Saujani: ..You've just put women in a double bind because we have to work, but we're also expected to be doing the caregiving, and we've set up society as if we have a choice to not work and it's not the case.

[00:21:19] Anna Stoecklein: Yes. Yeah. I'm gonna read a quote from your book. I liked this point because of how just simplified this is and how obvious it seems to the rest of us that, "It's basic math. Take two people put both in demanding jobs with full-time hours. All things being equivalent in terms of education, skill and ability, they're on equal footing. Now add an entire second job to one of their plates, literally an entire second job that that person is meant to do on top of an existing job. The game is lost before it's even begun because there's no chance for equality in the workplace with odds stacked against them like that."

[00:21:55] Anna Stoecklein: And exactly your point, that it's that [00:22:00] decision that so many women come to of doing a second job. Or doing in the eyes of society, no job.

[00:22:07] Anna Stoecklein: So I wanna talk about how we got here. You kind of asked the rhetorical question, why is this symptomatic to the US? And you write in your book about the big lie and tell a great story of how we arrived to this point, you really illuminated that story. So can you kind of summarize and take us a bit through time and how did we arrive at this point?

[00:22:29] Reshma Saujani: Yeah, I mean, the big lie as I say is that if we just lean in and girl boss our way to the corner office, everything will be fine. And so corporate feminism has really brushed over the deep systematic issues and they've put them under like this pretty pink rug.

[00:22:43] Reshma Saujani: But you have to really trace back what it was like, or what it meant to become a working woman in this country. And I think the untenable agreement was that, like you can work, but you have to basically hide the fact that you have a child. You know, when you trace the [00:23:00] history, which I did in my book Pay Up, when I talk about the shift from like Rosie the Riveter, right to these shoulder padded professionals of the eighties, right?

[00:23:07] Reshma Saujani: Think about Rachel in Friends, and it's almost as if there were no children anywhere. But that is really not the reality. And so pre-World War II women were needed to go back into the workforce because the men were off to war. And so when you look at that time period, we did actually have paid leave. We did actually have childcare. We thought about all the ways to make it possible for women who were mothers to work.

[00:23:32] Reshma Saujani: And then when the men came from war, we just pushed the women out and we started selling them dishwashing detergent and again, encouraging the Leave it to Beaver be at home. And for women who had to go into the workforce or wanted to go into the workforce, again it was this kind of tacit rule that you did that while taking care of your children and not complaining about it. And so the entire design of a workplace was designed for a man. Think about the school day, right? It's [00:24:00] eight to three, but the workday's nine to five. Like if we were designing school days for working women, we would basically have it exactly overlap, but we didn't do that because we were never really, again, going back to the math, it's basically the assumption about a worker is that he's a man with a wife at home.

[00:24:18] Reshma Saujani: But that's actually never really been true for quite a long time. And I think we did all the acrobatics that we had to do to make that possible for us. Like, I mean, most of us, I'll say this even for myself, we breastfed in closets. We never put pictures up of our children. We would put networking lunch up, if we had to take our kids to a doctor's appointment. And then the pandemic happened, and now you have these kids that are basically coming into your Zoom screens and you can't deny the fact that you're a mother anymore.

[00:24:50] Reshma Saujani: And in a pandemic, I think that there was some empathy for it, especially for the men. There's always been empathy for the men about it. But now post pandemic, you realize that people are not [00:25:00] okay with it, and whenever were never really okay with it. They wanna go back to the old normal, which was essentially like, do your two-thirds of caregiving work over there on the side, and show up and be an ideal worker, which means that you're always on and always available.

[00:25:12] Reshma Saujani: And it's untenable. And it's untenable because we've broken the childcare structure. Half of our daycare centers are shut down. The cost of childcare has greatly increased since the pandemic, and I think women have also, we've realized, wait a minute, this is messed up. This is not okay. This was not just my private hell, 40 million of us are having the exact same experience. Hmm. That doesn't feel right, and that's the excitement. I'm excited, right, that this awakening is happening. I mean, listen, even for myself personally, I was a working mom, but I was experiencing this, but I thought I was doing something wrong. I thought my husband was just not doing his part.

[00:25:54] Reshma Saujani: I just thought I didn't have my balance right or I was working too hard. I didn't think about the structural piece [00:26:00] until the pandemic happened, which why stepped off of my CEO job as Girls Who Code and started the Marshall Plan for moms, a new organization to fight for these structural changes.

[00:26:09] Anna Stoecklein: Really lifted the curtain on everything, and that just seems to be a common thread with the long march for equality is, everything we feel is just personal to us. And then, oh, boom, we realize it's not just us. There are other people experiencing this, and it's actually a system to blame, not just ourselves.

[00:26:28] Anna Stoecklein: So yeah, equally as excited that this is being talked about more, that people are recognizing and realizing and mad about it, I'm happy about the anger. And I wanna talk about the Marshall Plan for Moms and everything that you're doing and what you see as the solutions, but I also just wanna see if you can talk to us about what the ramifications of all of this are.

[00:26:50] Anna Stoecklein: Obviously, we know women are burnt out, they're dropping out of the workforce, they're unhappy. It's untenable, mental health. We can deduce a lot of it, but in terms of the [00:27:00] economic cost, what this does to families, nations, economies, can you talk to the wider ramifications of having a system doesn't support mothers and families?

[00:27:13] Reshma Saujani: It's huge in terms of the cost for families, right? It costs $18,000 per child per year to raise a child. As I said, 40% of parents are going into debt just to pay for childcare, right? 75% of moms say that they're robbed of their savings because they had to take unpaid leave off from work just to have a baby.

[00:27:32] Reshma Saujani: This is causing a tremendous amount of havoc for families. Now, on top of that post Roe, we've entered this period where we're actually forcing people to have children in the 26 states that have the most regressive abortion policies, they offer the least amount of support for moms and their families. So this is literally pushing families into poverty.

[00:27:54] Reshma Saujani: That does not have an account for the amount of innovation that we're losing [00:28:00] by women not being able to reach their fullest potential because they're constantly having to downshift. And is not even talking about how expensive it is for companies that basically, have attrition rates of women leaving the workforce because they have no support on childcare.

[00:28:16] Reshma Saujani: So if you have somebody who's rotating every two years, and you have to find new talent that's really expensive. If you're Walmart or Purdue or Amazon, and you have women who are missing days of work because they have to take sick children, you're losing out. It's very clear to me from an economic perspective that if we started actually taking care of families and we started fixing the broken model of childcare, if we started offering women paid leave, you would actually see a massive amount of cost savings, and there's a tremendous amount of data that really just proves this out.

[00:28:52] Anna Stoecklein: The problem is, is just the way that we have thought about this in this country, is that again, these are your personal problems. Like we don't [00:29:00] even think about how messed up it is that teachers that take care of our children and educate our children, literally have to plan pregnancies in the summer because teachers, think about it, they don't have paid leave. So they're saving up their sick days, their vacation days. And these are the people that are taking care of our children.

[00:29:22] Reshma Saujani: Same with nurses, right? Same with any essential workers. And we don't take a step back and be like, that's fucked up. Right? Like, why that's not okay. And most of us, I think, I've never really even thought about that. Or the fact that we pay our zookeepers more than we pay our childcare workers, but we pretend to be this country. That cares about children so much that we're like forcing women to have birth. The hypocrisy, the inconsistency is just untenable.

[00:29:57] Reshma Saujani: What I'm also very fascinated about, [00:30:00] how did we become that? Because it's a very American thing, shockingly. The richest country in the world, but yet we treat women and children as if we're the poorest country in the world, but we're also a religious country and we have real strong moral values, but yet we don't have moral outrage that we force women to go back to work when they're baby's a week old.

[00:30:24] Reshma Saujani: We don't think that there's something wrong, right, even though all the data bears out, that that is, again, you'll have a reduction in healthcare costs, in diabetes costs when you actually invest in early childhood education and care. So I've been really doing a lot of work and really just examining the culture to understand what is that about?

[00:30:45] Anna Stoecklein: What is that about and how do we go about fixing it?

[00:30:50] Reshma Saujani: How do you change it? And, and I think this is the very interesting piece, is I do think it starts with us.

[00:30:55] Anna Stoecklein: Mm.

[00:30:56] Reshma Saujani: I do think that when we decide as women 'Uh uh, nope, [00:31:00] not gonna do it', it will change because I think they're terrified of mothers. I think the problem is, is for so long we've been gaslit. For so long, we have been made to feel like it's us. I always think about that when I take my little kids to any other country. You'll be in France and you'll be getting a croissant, you have your kids, and 'Madam, Madam come to the front. Come to the front. What do you need?'

[00:31:28] Reshma Saujani: Go to India. Go to Jamaica. Right. It's like here you bring a kid on a plane and it's as if you're like...

[00:31:34] Anna Stoecklein: Oh yeah.

[00:31:35] Reshma Saujani: Or like at a restaurant. I can't tell you how many times I've been seating outside in New York City and been told to take my kids home cuz they're being too loud.

[00:31:43] Anna Stoecklein: Oh my God.

[00:31:44] Reshma Saujani: Oh yeah.

[00:31:45] Anna Stoecklein: Seriously?

[00:31:46] Reshma Saujani: But I think this is why we are always apologizing and saying sorry, and hiding and feeling like God, it would just be easier if I just didn't have this job or this opportunity or this [00:32:00] thing, and it's cuz of the way we're made to feel.

[00:32:03] Anna Stoecklein: Mm. What can we do?

[00:32:06] Reshma Saujani: I think we say no more. I think we say no more. And so part of what I'm doing at the Marshall Club for Moms is really trying to organize workplaces and then build an apolitical, bipartisan group of moms who are putting motherhood first before party, and literally saying, this is the stuff that I'm voting on, childcare, paid leave, pay equity. It's like there's something about my identity as a mother that I want you to show up for as a public servant and support me, and it's the same thing at the workplace.

[00:32:35] Reshma Saujani: I'm gonna work for an employer that treats me with respect and recognizes that I'm actually providing a duty and a service, as a mother, and I need support. And so no more breastfeeding in closets and asking about what is your paid leave policy? Do you have a gender neutral paid leave policy? Have you thought about childcare?

[00:32:56] Reshma Saujani: An example where this has really worked as IVF. So a few [00:33:00] years ago, less than 1% of companies offered IVF. Now everybody does, especially in Fortune 100, 500 companies because people started coming in and saying, what are your fertility benefits? And it became a competitive advantage.

[00:33:14] Reshma Saujani: And we're not doing that yet with childcare, cuz again, we still think I gotta figure it out. No, you can't work unless you're childcare. So it's an economic issue and so it's something that your employer's gotta help you figure out. And so really having that mindset change is really important.

[00:33:31] Anna Stoecklein: Yeah, having a mindset change and there's lots that we can do, but obviously as we've already said a few times, we know it's not a fix the women, and I can't help but think about how this still feels like it's on us. I guess it's always on us to drive change, right, but is there anything you can speak to about what employers can be doing?

[00:33:53] Reshma Saujani: Okay. And I'm not saying it's on us to, I'm saying it's on us to feel like we deserve [00:34:00] more.

[00:34:00] Anna Stoecklein: Ah. Yeah.

[00:34:02] Reshma Saujani: I'll give you an example of why I think we have to play a role. So I think employers should subsidize and provide childcare. I think employers should provide gender neutral paid leave policies. I think employers should get an algorithm and root out the motherhood penalty. There is no reason why any mother in America should be paid less than a father for doing the same exact job.

[00:34:24] Reshma Saujani: One of my students could build an algorithm to do it. There's no excuse for it. We should not be fighting flexibility. It's like we should be giving women what they need to be productive and to show up as parents. So I read about this in Pay Up, they're very clear things, policies, HR policies that employers should do.

[00:34:43] Reshma Saujani: But here's why our voice matters. So I was talking to a bunch of CEOs about this and they said, you know what's interesting, Reshma, we just did a survey to our employees. And we said, bring the top five things that you need. Childcare wasn't on the list. The first thing on the list was pd, [00:35:00] professional development, shock, but not shocking, right?

[00:35:03] Reshma Saujani: Because we think that we're supposed to again say the right thing, even though we want childcare, we know, we're not crazy, that we're penalized when we become mothers. So if we say childcare, you're gonna take something away from me. So we say what we're supposed to say and this is what I want us to change. You hear what I'm saying?

[00:35:25] Anna Stoecklein: I do. I do. It's recognizing and speaking the truth. I mean, as you say, women have been gaslit for...

[00:35:32] Reshma Saujani: Yeah.

[00:35:32] Anna Stoecklein: ...the entirety of this time in the workplace, and like you said in your book on this long march for equality, the motherhood part was just left behind, the motherhood part of the identity. So it's recognizing that.

[00:35:46] Reshma Saujani: And it's really important. I've done like a thousand talks now, by the time Pay Up came out, and I would talk about this, okay, we'd have this conversation. I'd be looking at the women in the audience and they're looking at me like I'm crazy, like I'm talking about some [00:36:00] far off land.

[00:36:01] Reshma Saujani: And I'm like, no, no, no. I'm talking about Norway. And it's why I start, I kept thinking about those faces. And it's because we have been so indoctrinated to believe that this is a fantasy. That's why I think that the change comes from us too, deep down inside, that anger and the rage that we feel turns into, no, no, no, no, this isn't right. Because when we decide to fight for something, we get it.

[00:36:29] Reshma Saujani: And this is hard stuff, especially I think at workplaces, because we've a certain way that we've approached women's empowerment. It's interesting the amount of conversations I've also had with CEOs about remote work and about how many female CEOs have said, I just, you know, I think we gotta make the women come back to work. Because the men are coming back to work. And if the women don't come back to work, we're gonna be set back. And I said, well, why aren't we actually approaching this the opposite way? Which is basically saying we need to basically design a [00:37:00] workplace where everybody has quote the flexibility instead of continuing to operate and design it for them.

[00:37:06] Anna Stoecklein: Mm-hmm.

[00:37:06] Reshma Saujani: Just cuz they didn't wanna come back doesn't mean that we have to come back.

[00:37:09] Anna Stoecklein: Mm-hmm.

[00:37:10] Reshma Saujani: And so again, it's like we don't feel empowered, even at this most senior level, to think that you can bring about that change, that's what needs to shift.

[00:37:21] Anna Stoecklein: And also looking at why those women aren't coming back in the first place!

[00:37:24] Reshma Saujani: Because they can't! Cause your kids are sick.

[00:37:26] Anna Stoecklein: Exactly. Okay. So I wanna get into some specifics. You know, talking to our listeners directly about driving change, about being a part of this revolution that you call for. But first, real quickly, I wanna ask a question about you and how you got to be where you are leading multiple movements at once, being the founder of multiple organizations.

[00:37:50] Anna Stoecklein: I wanna talk a little bit about that cuz you wrote something in Brave Not Perfect that I wanna read real quick, you wrote, "Girls Who Code as a global organization that has taught more than [00:38:00] 90,000 girls." This was in 2019, I think you said that number now is 500,000. "Taught these girls that they have what it takes to pursue a career in technology. But don't kid yourself that it's founder knew what she was doing when she first started."

[00:38:14] Anna Stoecklein: And I think that message is so important because it's so easy to look at you and feel like you're just on another playing field than the rest of us, which perhaps in some ways you are, but you weren't always. So I'm wondering if you can just kind of talk to that point, and what have you learned along the way, and when we're feeling like we wanna join in and then seeing someone like you, how do we bridge that gap?

[00:38:36] Reshma Saujani: I mean, when I started Girls Who Code, I was not a coder. I had never started a nonprofit. I had just come off a losing race. I had lost my congressional race. I mean, I got crushed, like less than 19% of the vote. I had like no money in my bank account. I was broke. I didn't have a job. But I have this deep passion to make a difference. I led my first march when I was 13. Grew up as a brown girl in a working class neighborhood. I was bullied at school. So I've been working on these issues [00:39:00] since I was 13, or I should say I've had passion about these issues since I was 13.

[00:39:05] Reshma Saujani: But oftentimes, my parents are refugees I've had to figure things out myself. I knew I had this deep conviction inside Girls Who Code just started in many ways as an experiment. Like borrow a friend's conference room, find 20 girls, teach 'em how to code. I wasn't trying to build a movement, I was just trying to make some change.

[00:39:25] Reshma Saujani: But then, you know, my eyes are very big. So when I start something, I'm like, ah, let's teach a million. What I'm doing today with Marshall Plan for Moms is actually even much harder than Girls Who Code. And I, to be honest, I thought it would be easier because I already did it before. But when you're dealing with trying to help women and girls, most people don't care, which is why we're still oppressed.

[00:39:51] Reshma Saujani: And so what you're fighting against, what you're fighting for is really hard. Especially women. People like to help [00:40:00] girls, but women, it's another thing. So you have to really dream big so you can continue to push yourself and you have to not give up.

[00:40:12] Reshma Saujani: Every day I feel like right now, and it was very similar when I started Girls Who Code is like, it's like a battle to get people to understand what you're saying, why it's important, why they should invest, but it's also, similar to Girls Who Code, it's like unicorns and rainbows.

[00:40:33] Reshma Saujani: I will say the minute I decided to build Marshall Plan for Moms and started talking about this topic, change started happening. The right supporters, like Melinda Gates. I got moms saying to me, oh no, I feel this. I feel, you know what I mean? It resonated like I was saying something or feeling something that millions of people were feeling and needed a champion, not just in me, but needed an organization [00:41:00] to be built to help them. And that became very, very, very clear to me. And so in many ways, I always say, you gotta follow the signs of like when the world is saying to you, build, build, build, build, build, create.

[00:41:16] Reshma Saujani: But it's gonna be hard along the way. It's funny, I always think, I was thinking to myself the other day, I was praying, both when I was praying and I was like making a wish with my son, we had found a wishing well, and you know, a lot of people wish for, I don't know, a million dollars to something to happen for them. I always wish for, to be successful in the change that I'm making. And now I wish for paid leave in the United States.

[00:41:40] Reshma Saujani: And I've always kind of been that person from the time I was a kid to a mom. That is what I want when I blow out my birthday candles. And it's the thing that makes me sad when it's not moving the way that I want it to make. So in many ways, I always say like, I don't have a choice. I am who I am. [00:42:00] I'm just not the person who's gonna be sitting on a beach in Hawaii, just chilling. I wanna be, trust me, like there are times where I want to be able to just take a break from all these things I'm feeling and seeing, but you almost have to follow your destiny and kind of what you're put on this earth to.

[00:42:19] Anna Stoecklein: Yeah. Well, I think we are all very happy that this is what you were put on the earth to do because you are making things better for the rest of us. So thank you for all of your work. I'm glad to hear that it's not stopping anytime soon. So, just to kind of start to wrap,

[00:42:39] Anna Stoecklein: if people take one thing away from this conversation with you today, what would you want it to be?

[00:42:45] Reshma Saujani: Join my fight. Join our fight for moms.

[00:42:47] Anna Stoecklein: Yes. Join the Revolution. Is there one thing that you would advise for how people can join? How can they show up maybe for moms and for non moms?

[00:42:58] Reshma Saujani: Yeah. I mean, go to Marshall Plan for [00:43:00] Moms and join our movement. Listen, especially if you're a non mom, this fight is for you, is to make sure that you have the choice to decide whether you want to or not be a parent, and don't let society's inability to support you take that choice away from you.

[00:43:15] Anna Stoecklein: Any further wisdom or inspiration you care to share?

[00:43:18] Reshma Saujani: I'm grateful to be here. I think that we're at a critical juncture, I think as women where everything is on the line. And I do think, I'm gonna say one observation, it's like before Roe, and I would say before the pandemic, I think we're making a lot of progress towards gender equality.

[00:43:34] Reshma Saujani: Women were 51% of the labor force. You just felt the sense that we could like fly our feminist flags high. And the pandemic and the Roe decision changed everything. And there's really been this movement away from gender and gender equality. I always say like, women are not in vogue. From the fact that I think philanthropy, there's not the same philanthropic dollars that are going [00:44:00] to women's issues, to the fact that media is not making shows about brave girls anymore, and you really see this change that we're no longer relevant, important.

[00:44:15] Reshma Saujani: And that should scare all of us. And so we have to not feel, because we do feel so gas lit and so exhausted, we have to not concede the focus on our issues. We have to actually fight harder than we ever have. Put on your pink hat again. We gotta wake up and realize that there's a lot of progress that we have made that people are really rolling back every single day. Even our people, seemingly our allies.

[00:44:47] Reshma Saujani: And so this is a very, very, very, very critical moment for everybody who has power, who's in a leadership platform, who's in a community to really just stand up. If you're a mom of a young girl, make sure that [00:45:00] you are pushing her to be strong, to use her voice, to not shrink herself.

[00:45:05] Reshma Saujani: If you're a librarian or a teacher, making sure that our books are not getting banned or taken out of our schools, and our libraries. Now's the time to run for school board, to be part of your community. Now's the time to really step up if you're part of your ERG at work and say, ah, what are we working on? How much money are we giving away to women's issues and women's causes?

[00:45:24] Reshma Saujani: I mean, now's the time to go to the ballot box. Now's the time to get active and to join an organization. Like now's the time to basically dust off your exhaustion and say, okay, I'm paying attention. Because oftentimes in moments where we are so tired is when the most regressive policies come against us, and it takes a long time when you've taken away rights to get them back again.

[00:45:52] Anna Stoecklein: Mm-hmm. Can't just continue the fight forward when, in that moment, when Roe overturned and it's top of minds, but it's the year [00:46:00] after. It's the times after when, exactly as you say, when we're tired, when the fight on the other side continues forward. So now, now is the time. And again, you made that very clear in your book as well, of capitalizing on this moment. Now's the time.

[00:46:16] Reshma Saujani: Now's the time.

[00:46:16] Anna Stoecklein: That's a great note to end on.

[00:46:19] Reshma Saujani: Thank you so much for having me. Thank you.

[00:46:21] Anna Stoecklein: Thank you so much for being here. It was a pleasure to talk to you, so keep up the fantastic work and we're excited to see what kinds of movements you lead next. Let's get this one done with first.

[00:46:32] Reshma Saujani: Thank you.

[00:46:34] Overdub: Thanks for listening. If you’ve enjoyed this episode, and think we need more of women’s stories in the world, be sure to share with a friend! And subscribe, rate and review on Apple, Spotify or wherever you listen to help us beat those pesky algorithms.

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[00:47:17] Overdub: And in exchange, you’ll receive my eternal gratitude and good nights sleep knowing you are helping to finally change the story of mankind to the story of humankind.

[00:47:28] Overdub: This episode was produced and hosted by me, Anna Stoecklein.

[00:47:32] Overdub: It was edited by Maddy Searle. With communications support by Jo Cummings.A special thanks to Amanda Brown, Kate York, and Dan Kendall for their ongoing production support and invaluable advising.

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