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June 04, 2014

From Girl Afraid of Math to Girls Who Code

This year Barbie is once again breaking through plastic ceilings and inspiring girls to follow their dreams. The 2014 career of the year doll is Entrepreneur Barbie. To celebrate her newest career, Barbie is honoring special women entrepreneurs to help start a conversation for girls everywhere, reminding them that - “If they can dream it, they can be it - anything is possible!”

Reshma Saujani is the founder and CEO of Girls Who Code and the former Deputy Public Advocate of New York City. Today, she has galvanized industry leaders to close the gender gap in STEM education and empower girls to pursue careers in technology and engineering. In 2010, Reshma became the first South Asian woman to run for Congress, promoting smarter policies to spur innovation and job creation.

What were your dreams as a little girl? What kind of impact did you imagine you’d make?

My parents came to America as immigrants who were forced to flee their home in Uganda, so I was always obsessed with public service. From a really early age, I wanted to help people like my parents and give back to the country that saved our family. Whether as a lawyer, a politician, or the CEO of Girls Who Code, I knew I would grow up to fight for opportunities for people who wouldn't otherwise have them.

Who was your role model?

I grew up worshipping Wonder Woman. I loved her mix of strength and strategy. I still try to channel her about once a day!

How did you play with Barbie as a child? What stories did you imagine?

I was so excited when Indian Barbie came out. She was wearing the coolest Bollywood clothes and I actually stopped giving my mom such a hard time for dressing me up in traditional outfits after that.

What were you like in school? What was your favorite subject?

I know it's hard to believe because I run a technology organization, but in school I was a girl who was afraid of Math. When my dad asked me what 2 + 2 was, I came up with "5" every time. I wish now that I hadn't given up so easily, so I always tell girls to push themselves in those science, technology, engineering and math subjects. Don't let anyone tell you you're not good at them — you are!

What were some major accomplishments or milestones in your childhood that influenced your future path?

When I was about to graduate from Middle School, I was bullied by kids at my school because I had brown skin and my mother wore a sari to the grocery store and a bindi on her forehead. It drove me to organize a diversity club at my school and lead a march in my community. That was my first real exposure to community activism and organizing, and it showed me how one person speaking up about an issue could make a massive difference if they inspired others to join them. That's what entrepreneurship is all about.

What helps you make good decisions? What do you do when you’re unsure?

I have what I call a "personal board of directors" — the people in my life who I trust to give me advice and support. When I'm making big life decisions whether it's to get married, change jobs, start a new organization, or even just get a pet (like my dog Stanley!) I like to get their input because I know they'll be honest with me.

At the end of the day, though, I think the risky decision is always the best one. Especially as women, we have to take bold steps and make big moves.

What makes you feel special or important?

Being the Founder and CEO of Girls Who Code is the most rewarding job I've ever had. I have never felt more special than when I get emails from girls who have gone through our program saying that learning to code changed her whole life. I really stand on the shoulders of (16 year old) giants.

Want to inspire the entrepreneurial spirit in your kids? Start the conversation with kid-friendly “What’s An Entrepreneur?” printable!
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