Brave, Not Perfect: How failure led one woman to her dream career

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Work/Life is Stylist’s regular column about the professional routines of successful women. Here, Reshma Saujani, founder and CEO of Girls Who Code, takes us through her one-day diary, from morning latte to lights out.

Reshma Saujani, 43, is the founder and CEO of Girls Who Code. She lives in New York.

MY ALARM GOES OFF…

At 7am. Mornings are my ‘me’ time. I try not to pick up my phone immediately; my goal is to get to the bathroom and take my beagle bulldog, Stanley, for a walk before I look at it. Then I get my son ready for school and head to the gym. For breakfast, I’ll eat egg whites with spinach and feta, or yoghurt with berries. I live two blocks away from my office, so I walk to work. 

I’M RESPONSIBLE FOR…

Closing the gender gap in science and technology through Girls Who Code. More than 185,000 girls have been through our summer and after-school programmes to date. I’m also responsible for building a bravery movement to give women and girls the tools to thrive and be joyful.

Girls Who Code
She's passionate about closing the gender gap in tech and science.

I GOT THE JOB…

By failing as a politician. I’ve run for office twice and lost twice. When I started Girls Who Code, I had zero experience running a non-profit and zero experience in coding, but I was passionate about creating opportunities. I took two years to learn about the problem. Then I bought the URL, developed the programmes and grew from there – we’re growing at 300% every year. I think my naivety actually helped. I wrote my book after doing a TED talk in 2016 on socialising girls to be brave, not perfect, and five million people watched it. It became a movement. I was in Vegas two months ago and a woman grabbed me – she had ‘brave not perfect’ tattooed on her arm. 

MY TYPICAL DAY…

Begins at my office, which is a lot of women, excitement and posters of the girls we work with. On my way in, I might have listened to The Daily podcast or music. I think it’s too easy to get sucked into the world and its craziness, so I try to keep myself feeling inspired and light in the morning. I’m obsessed with Robyn’s Dancing On My Own. When I arrive, I sort through briefing documents, scroll through emails and have a conversation with my assistant, Gloria. Then I’m into my first meeting or event.

Girls Who Code Reshma
Reshma regularly meets with the girls on her programmes.

I’m on a plane at least once a week. This week is bad – I have speeches in Philadelphia, Charlotte and Houston. Last week, it was Seattle, Washington DC and LA. It’s brutal. I used to be on calls in between flights and my head was spinning, so I try not to do that now. I’m also conscious of what I eat and that I need to get to the gym. On an office day, I stop for lunch at around 12pm. Today it was chicken and broccoli. At Girls Who Code, I act as the strategist. We’re talking a lot about our international expansion right now – we’re in 137 schools in the UK – and I’m obsessed with figuring out how to teach refugee girls how to code. I try to finish in time to pick my son up from school at 3pm and take him for ice cream. 

MY MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT…

Is always our graduations. I hear the things our girls want to build and I feel like we’re going to be OK.

THE WORST PART OF MY JOB…

Is not being able to go backwards in time. I want to solve the gender gap yesterday.

THE BEST PART OF MY JOB…

The girls. Every time.

AFTER WORK…

I’m often at events or having dinner with friends. I’m watching Succession right now – so good! And I’m a big reader; I just finished Searching For Sylvie Lee by Jean Kwok and downloaded Ta-Nehisi Coates’s new book The Water Dancer. I’m prioritising sleep more, so I’m in bed by 10pm. Otherwise I don’t feel like I can function.

CHELSEA SAYS:

We had to include Reshma in The Book Of Gutsy Women. She’s really extraordinary and an inspirational figure for how she’s so doggedly persisted in her life. 

Photography: Tim Gibson, Girls Who Code

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Hannah Keegan

Hannah Keegan is the features writer at Stylist magazine.

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