Reshma Saujani builds social movements by telling other people's stories. Because in her mind, when people feel seen, and not alone, they can connect to a bigger goal and work towards it.
In the latest episode of the Positive Leadership podcast, JP speaks to the founder of Girls Who Code and the Marshall Plan for Mums about the practical steps you can take to start your own social impact movement.
JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: I'm Jean-Philippe Courtois. This is Positive Leadership, the podcast that helps you grow as an individual, as a leader, and ultimately, as a global citizen.
RESHMA SAUJANI: Historically, in the United States, workplaces have never been built for women, right? Women were only allowed to enter the workforce after World War II, because the men were off to war, and when we did have women in the workforce, you know, in that period, we provided healthcare, we provided paid leave, we gave them support, and then when the men came back, we pushed women out, and mothers have never had the structural support that they need to thrive, and so, we're on this kind of false search for a quality that we're never actually going to get, because you can't get to a quality without structural change.
JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: The data are very clear. Diverse, inclusive teams drive innovation. To get there, we need to mobilize. That's, according to my guest today, the incredible Reshma Saujani. Reshma leading thinker in understanding the underlying levers that drive inequality. She's built not one, but two movements to fight for women and girl’s economic empowerment. Girls who Code, the movement started to close the gender gap in the tech sector, and more recently, the Marshall Plan for Moms, the movement advocating for policies to support moms impacted by the pandemic. I was super excited to meet her and have her as a guest on the podcast.
RESHMA SAUJANI: Thank you for having me. It's great to be here.
JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: So, I'd like to start at the beginning of your story, if I may, your childhood. You grew up, I think, in a small Midwestern town to parents who had escaped persecution in Uganda in the 1970s, and they had come to the U.S. in their twenties with no family, no job, and no support. So, very early on, you decided you wanted to make a difference through activism. Can you tell me how you arrived at that decision?
RESHMA SAUJANI: I think my parents coming here as refugees and as immigrants was, like, very profound for me. You know, here were two people in their early twenties coming to a foreign country. They didn't have any family, they didn't have any friends, they didn't speak the language, and they were just getting by, but they were so grateful to be alive and to have a shot, you know what I mean, at creating a better opportunity for their children, that they had such deep love and affection for their new home, and so, for me, I think, from the youngest of possible ages, I wanted to give back to the country that had literally saved my parents' life, and I think that desire to give back and to serve I think connected to this idea that one can be expelled from their home because the colour of their skin. You know what I mean? I think those are the things that really pushed me towards wanting to be an activist and wanting to make the world a better place.
JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: Super clear, super clear, I would say, moment of awakening, I guess, in your early days, and one thing I often find, talking to leaders, is that there's a moment when the mindset shifts from ‘me’ to ‘we’ thinking. So, before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, I found success is all about growing others. You know, I got a very good discussion with a guest on my podcast, Reshma. His name is Michael Bungay Stanier. He's a bestselling author on coaching habits, and he says that we unlock our greatness by taking on the hard things, by taking on worthy, things because it serves the world and also unlocks our own individual greatness, and looking at your journey, it seems to me that that shift happened when you decided to leave your job as an attorney and run for Congress in 2010. In your Ted Talk, you described it as the first time you did something truly brave. So, what inspired you to take that first big, huge risk at the time?
RESHMA SAUJANI: Misery. You know, I was coming home and in this job I didn't want, this life that I felt like I was stuck in, and it wasn't what I was meant to do. You know, I'm a very spiritual person. I believe in, like, you're put on this earth to pursue a certain destiny, and it just felt like it was just like, this can't be it, and so, for me, that's what really inspired me to take this big leap and to run for Congress. I'd always wanted to run for office. I always wanted to serve. I romanticized politics, and so, that is, and I naively thought that I would win, that I could meet every, you know, shake every hand, meet every voter, and I would unseat a, you know, 18-year incumbent, and so that's, and I'm not going to say that, you know, I wasn't terrified, JP, like, in the process. I, you know, here I was 33 years old. I'd never run for office before. I was walking into senior centres. Going on, my first interview on television was with Chris Matthews. I mean, it was like big stake stuff that I had no idea what I was doing, and I didn't, you know, I couldn't call my father and be like, how do I run a campaign. He didn't know. Like, none of us knew what we were doing, but that is what, in many ways, was just so exhilarating. Right? I always say I have never felt more alive than I felt when I ran for that congressional race, because everything was terrifying. Everything was hard. Everything was just doing it for the first time and figuring it out.
JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: It is really all about exhibiting a growth mindset, Reshma, as we say, right, because learning again what it takes from becoming an attorney to run in a political campaign is like a huge, huge shift in a way. So, who kind of supported you in that process? Who coached you in that journey as you tackled those big stakes moments?
RESHMA SAUJANI: I don't know. I think my peers, my friends, you know, my, now my husband. I really felt like for, in that particular example, quitting my job, running for office, I do feel like a lot of it I had to, I figured it out on my own, and I had a lot of anxiety and a lot of panic attacks and a lot of, like, moments of like, what am I doing, and maybe that's what has allowed me to do the crazy things that I do now, is that I had this very foundational experience at 33, where I figured it out, and it didn't work out, but it didn't, that was the most defining moment of my life.
JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: I just want to pause for a moment to reflect on what she's saying there. When Reshma ran for office in 2010, the average age in Congress was 69. No South Asian woman had ever run for U.S. Congress before. She was doing something completely new, and although she didn't get elected, that loss taught her something very important: that failure doesn't break you. If you want to do amazing things, you need to accept that failure is a fact of life. You'll have to stand on the mountain of no’s before you get to yes. So, come prepared with a right mindset. Not getting elected to help Reshma build that mindset, but at the time, it was incredibly painful. She’d wanted to serve her whole life, and this was such a public loss.
RESHMA SAUJANI: I remember waking up the next morning and thinking about how many people were laughing at me right now and the newspaper headlines and the things that, you know, the jokes that they made about how much money I spent for like, you know, a handful of votes. I mean, it was, because I got crushed, and so I, but even that public humiliation, what I learned is like it didn't break me. You know, I cried day, two, got a dog a week later, and that was it. I was done. I drank a lot of margaritas, and I moved on. So, that was such a gift, because, you know, in life, I've suffered a lot of other challenges and obstacles and heartaches and heartbreaks after that race, and that race really set me up to deal with grief and to deal with loss and to deal with all those hard things. Right? So, I think I'm very grateful for that.
JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: It's clear to me that, through that experience, you built an incredible resiliency that you've been able to use, I mean, in many steps of your life in the way you've been recovering all the time from some tough challenges or failures and reinventing yourself multiple times in your life. Now, I'd like to talk about the passion I think we share, Reshma. I’ve been working in tech industry for 40 years, almost, of my life now, and I think it's fair to say that we've got a problem in terms of diversity and inclusion in the tech sector overall, and as every company in the world is becoming a digital company, not just technology companies, every other business is becoming digital, I think we see a bigger problem when it comes to really make that workplace more inclusive for women, for people of colour, of people with disabilities, underrepresented population, and bring them to the table, and so, I’d like to come back to the moment where, I think, during your political campaign back in 2010, you actually visited local schools and saw the gender gap in the computer classes. That's the moment, I think, where you started thinking about creating Girls who Code. So, why did you feel compelled to act at the time and do something about those girls who didn't code at the time?
RESHMA SAUJANI: Well, you know, in 2010, tech was starting to boom here in New York City. You were starting to have these big social media companies like Instagram and Facebook and Twitter, were CEOs were men, but the consumer base was female, and then I learned that you can make $120,000 as an incoming software programmer, and I was like, what, and the daughter of refugees in me was like, wow, like, and I would go into these classrooms. There were no girls, and I was like, wait a minute here. These are good paying jobs. We need to get more girls, and why are girls not going in, because these are opportunities for girls to kind of march straight up into the middle class, and so, for me, it started really as trying to understand where were the women in tech. Why were there not women in tech? And as I talked to, you know, people in the technology company, they were like, well, I want to hire women, and I want to hire people of colour. I just can't find them, and at that moment, in 2010, if you looked at the data, you would've agreed that it was a pipeline problem. You had less than 18% of those that were graduating from computer science classes were women, much less black or Latina women. Like, you know, you're at 2%, 3%, and so, one could have arguably said, okay, well the problem is we just don't have enough people going into this field, and so, Girls who Code really started as wanting to solve that pipeline problem by, and the goal was to teach a million girls to code and get them to basically major or minor in computer science and then take a job in the technology workforce.
JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: Let me talk about bravery as well. I mean, you said, I think, some people worry about the federal deficit. I worry about a bravery deficit. This is what you wrote in Brave, Not Perfect.
RESHMA SAUJANI: Well, I mean, part of what it was so fascinating teaching girls to code was the sense of the, really, being known by perfectionism, you know, and so, I tell the story about like, you know, when girls were first coming to my program to learn how to code, a student would call her teacher over, and she'd say, I don't know what code to write, and the teacher would look at her screen, and she'd see a blank text editor. So, if she didn't know any better, she thought, oh, my student spent the past 20 minutes just staring at the screen, but when the teacher pressed undo a few times, she saw that her student actually wrote code and then deleted it. So, instead of saying, hey, I wrote this line, I know the semicolon’s in the wrong place, what should I do, she'd rather show nothing at all. Perfection or bust, and so, I told the story in my TED Talk, and I walk off and I'm inundated with these messages of women who are like, I do this too, and what they meant by that was like, whether they were a doctor, a teacher, a dancer, a lawyer, black, white, gay, straight, trans, rich or poor, 50 or 15, somewhere along the line, they had learned how to give up before even tried. Right? They want to run for Congress, but then they talk themselves out of it and think of all the things that could go wrong, right, and so, this idea of like the socialization of perfection, right, because, and what's the, and how is that connected to giving up before you even tried, and what is the role of bravery in unlearning perfectionism, and that was really what my book was about and what I spent years and still spent years kind of teaching and writing and talking about.
JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: And I must say, for all listeners that, as a company of Microsoft, we've been actually very proud of working alongside the organization for many years, Reshma to support Girls who Code, and I see the same passion, the same challenges globally, by the way, not just in the U.S., I believe, and we do have the same kind of partnership with different types of NGOs across the globe in Africa and Europe, in Asia, because there's still a long road, actually, to take on to get to a place where there's a pipeline of talents, but there's also a need for the right mindset, the right diverse mindset in the corporate world to find them, to onboard them, and to create and work the right environment, so that they can actually thrive in a workplace.
RESHMA SAUJANI: And we have to really understand that. I mean, listen, JB, like the pandemic was a game changer in terms of shifting virtual learning around the world. You can literally get on, you know what I mean, Khan Academy, Girls who Code, like all these different, and learn how to, you know, learn python, learn how to build an algorithm, learn how to make a sprite dance. Like, all of this stuff is so much more accessible than it's ever been. So, the thing we need to watch is are we providing, are we removing barriers for these opportunities. Do girls have laptops? Do you have disparate Wi-Fi, etc., but the second part is then are these companies actually hiring them.
JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: That's the big question, the big issue. Girls who Code has been so successful at doing what it's set out to do. It's taught over 500,000 girls to code and to be brave in their career choices, and it's reached half a billion through their work, and now, if you look at the graduation rates of girls from Harvard, Yale, Texas University, you are at between 30 to 40%. MIT, you are 50%. So, the pipeline has been filled. Now, as Reshma says, the issue is about whether companies will actually hire them and keep them, and that leads to the work that Reshma is doing now.
RESHMA SAUJANI: What we're finding is that, if a company has been built without women and people of colour, even if you're desperate for talent, you are going to find ways, in many ways, unconsciously or consciously, well, you'll have stereotypes about who you think a smart, a good computer scientist is, who you think a good engineer is, who do you think is the right fit, and oftentimes, what we find is that very competent women who have the qualifications don't get the opportunities because of this bias. That's what we have to change.
JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: And we must be aware of intersectionality. For listeners who may not be familiar with this term, the definition is the interconnected nature of social categorization, such as gender, ethnicity, class, as they apply to individual or group. They're regarded as overlapping any independent system of discrimination and disadvantage. So, when we talk about gender, for example, some people within this categorization will face more discrimination than others. So, my question, I think, Reshma, is how far have we got, as an industry, now, I'm talking about the technology industry in particular, do you think, looking at recruitment practices, looking at the interview questions, looking at the way we see or don't see, actually, those diverse talents, and the way we onboard them properly in our companies to make sure they can do their best work?
RESHMA SAUJANI: Yeah, I don't think we've made progress. I think there's a real reluctance to kind of look at that aspect of it, and really, you know, I always say basic things like, for a lot of these companies, they have great internship numbers, and then their workforce looks like it makes no, there's no progress, and so, what is that about, and really understanding. People don't tell the truth in exit interviews. You know, we did a study with Accenture that 50% of women in tech will leave by the time they're 35 within the first five years of having a job, and so, if you're losing half your workforce, you know what I mean, but you're not spending, you know, you cannot change what you cannot measure, as Bill Gates says. So, you're not spending the time really trying to understand, well, what is that about, and so, I do think that that work, that analysis, that introspection is not being done, and part of it is because there's no accountability. Right? Nobody is coming and saying, okay, like, you should be at, 50% of your technology workforce should be female. When are you going to get there? What's your goal? You know, and if you don't get there, what's the price you're going to pay? Like, there really is no accountability. So, you know, we, companies themselves have to say that this is the value, this is something that we want to focus on. This is something that we want to do. So, you have to be committed to it, and you have to stick with it, and you have to invest in it.
JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: I agree with you, and, you know, I'm an optimist, Reshma and recently, I was actually speaking in my podcast with my colleague Emmy Hood. Emmy is our CFO at Microsoft, and she was talking about the importance of first string real sense of belonging for people, and belonging, of course, is critical if you want to welcome in a new talent from wherever she's coming from. It's about ensuring that people get a place at the table, they're respected, they can speak up, and they get the support they need actually to do their best work. So, what additional advice would you give any of our listeners working in the corporate world to create that sense of belonging for diverse talents? What else do they need to do, on top of that accountability, for sure, that they need to take on board, to make it more, you know, appropriate, more actually much more welcoming as an environment for all those talents?
RESHMA SAUJANI: I mean, I think you have to invest in really understanding your own biases, you know, and your own, where they creep in. You know, they all, we always say, like, failure is often a privilege for men and not women, and so, when women oftentimes make a mistake or don't meet, you know, don't miss a quarter or, you know, don't do something perfectly, we criticize them, and we're more critical of women of colour. So, where are these biases popping up? Where are you quick to be like, this isn't working out, you know what I mean, and where are you making assumptions based upon race or gender or, you know, again, you know, background? So, I think that we have to just assume that we all have a set of biases and do the work that it takes to kind of root them out, and then at the second time, I know. Look, I get so irritated when people are like, well, we have to stop proving the case for diversity. We just know that, like, the more diverse team you have, the more money you're going to make, period, and so, I don't need to prove that to you anymore, and so, if you care about that, if you care about competing, and, you know, and again, if you look at this next generation, this is so fundamental to the way that they live, and so, if you are going to make the products that are going to be bought and, you know, sold by the next generation, you better live your values, and so, I think a lot of this stuff is really going to come to terms in some really big ways.
JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: Yeah. I'm like you. I'm actually an optimist in a way. I think the new generation pushing all of us to change, clearly, the standards and the rules of the game, in a way, to make it possible. I'd like to come back to a eureka moment you had during the pandemic, where you found yourself working, I think, in your organization and trying to look after two little kids, something you said that almost broke you, and this is when you'd been writing your new book, Pay Up, that you realized that we need to start trying to fix the women, and we need to fix the system now. So, you wrote an op-ed calling for a comprehensive plan of economic and societal recovery for mothers, which later or grew into the organization of the Marshall Plan for Moms. Can you tell us more about that shift in your thinking, and why you decided to set that organization up, to create a new Marshall Plan for all those working moms?
RESHMA SAUJANI: Yeah, I mean, listen, I think this is something that's happened globally across the world during the pandemic, and so, I think people will, you know, relate to what I'm about to say, but, you know, I think in 2020, before the pandemic, many women were kind of, already two-thirds of the caregiving work across the globe is done by women. So, in most households, women are doing the cooking, the cleaning, all of that, and then they're working full-time, and it's always been this, you know, again, balance that was never really a balance. I always say having it all just a euphemism for doing it all, and then the pandemic hit, and in the United States, a big, big tipping point was the closure of schools, because a lot of parents in America relied on schools as a source of childcare. For example, in the UK when the pandemic hit, they closed everything down, but they didn't close the schools down, and that is why they didn't actually have the same amount of women leaving the workforce. In America, we closed schools, and so, because of that, you had 11 million women that were pushed out of the workforce. At the beginning of the pandemic, for the first time in the history of America, 51% of the labour force was female, and the vast majority of them were mothers. So, then the pandemic hits, and all these, a lot of us are saying, wait a minute. Like, I got to either leave or downshift or move in with my parents, make a dramatic change, because I can't log on my kid in Zoom and teach him how to read and be on 20 work calls or go into a restaurant and make food or be a teacher and teach in a classroom. So, this was a breaking point, and it really was an eye-opener for a lot of us, I think, you know, to say, wait a minute here. Like, this has always been a breaking point. Like, we were just, you know, so we live in this hot, what, we live in a country that has no paid leave. 25% of women go back to work ten days after having a baby. 75% of them literally dip their entire savings into having two weeks to just hang out with their, to be with her child. What? That's unconscionable. Wait. We live in the only industrialized nation that offers no support really for subsidized childcare, that 40% of parents go into debt to pay for preschool, like no mandatory paid leave. Like, again. So, all of these structural things have always made it untenable for women to work and have a child, and this is why we have these conversations in terms of, why are there not more women that are Fortune 500 CEOs, why are there not more women in manager positions. Why are there not more women starting venture-backed companies? Why there are not more women running for office? Because all of this comes down to the lack of support when you become a mother.
JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: Reshma argues that the pandemic is an opportunity for us to redesign a broken workplace. 80% of the workers who left the labour force in the U.S. in September 2020 were women, four times the number of men. More than one million single mothers, many of whom were already living below the poverty line, lost their jobs. In 30 years, the place for women in the workforce could be erased in a matter of a few short months, then there are serious problems with the system. With the Marshall Plan for Moms, she's looking to seize the moment and build back better.
RESHMA SAUJANI: I mean, I think we need to really go deep and understand what is it about American culture and American society that leads us here, right, and part of it is, I think, in America, we treat women in the workforce as a nice to have, not a must have, and it's the same thing when you see the pullback of our reproductive rights and our abortion rights. You know, again, it's very rare that a country takes away a right, and the decision of to have a child or not to have a child is a foundational decision, especially economically. Like, when you decide to have another child, you're like, can I afford it, right? That's the first question people normally ask themselves, and so, to mandate that in a nation that doesn't provide any support when you become a parent, you have to really ask yourself why. You know, why are the same people that are advocating for the lack of abortion rights not also advocating for parental leave and affordable childcare? And I think, again, I think, culturally, we still think that a woman's place is at home, and we don't want to give her the choice to decide, nor the freedom to move in and out of the workforce as she pleases, and that is for a multitude of different reasons, but I think that that's the piece, culturally, that we have to kind of move from, and listen, I think we've made real change, when I think about same-sex marriage. You know, like, we have evolved as a culture, as a country, as a society, in recognizing that different people can love each other and get married, and that's right, and so, we have the capability to progress, but in this particular aspect, we haven't, and I think part of it is because we've never really forced ourselves to face our own discrimination biases in the way we think about a woman's place. Even if you think about it on magazines, or it's funny. I've been, part of what we're doing at the Marshall Plan for Moms is really kind of making mom cool, because if you think about it, like, part of the reason why we don't have these policies is because nobody wants to be a mom. You know what I mean? Nobody wants to own being a mom, and I was talking to a makeup brand, and they're like, yep, the last customer that we would, like, build a campaign around is a mother, because, and we want to, but oftentimes, motherhood, mom is not seen as an inspirational figure that you want to be like, that you want to aspire to. Right? When you sell things, you want to be aspirational. I want to be the guy that has a Lamborghini or a Ferrari, and the reality is, JP, it's like this, to me, this issue is like climate. It's so fundamental to where society is going to be, how are we going to progress, what does the future look like for our children.
JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: So, what does it mean in terms of what it's going to take to fix the system, Reshma? Because listening to you, obviously, and I think you are so right, you are talking about a deep transformation about the DNA of the country, about the culture, about the mindset of so many people, starting at the very top of the country, I guess, running into the office as well, running office. So, what would you do, what would be the top three decisions you would make if you were at the top here, to make a systemic change in fixing the system? What would that be?
RESHMA SAUJANI: I'd have federally mandated paid leave. I'd have childcare supports and benefits. I mean, I think where Biden had started was, you know, like again, no family should pay more than 7% of its income, you know what I mean, for childcare supports. Third, I would get rid of the motherhood penalty. I mean, part of the reason why moms doesn't stay in the workforce is the minute you become a mother, you lose almost 20-30% of your income. You're penalized for it. So, you're making an economic, okay, should I go work, or should I pay for childcare? Now, childcare's so expensive. I'm not getting paid my fair share. You drop out of the workforce. So, that, and that is a huge loss in terms of the innovation of our country, and so, it's interesting. Like, these are not, oh my God, like finding a cure to cancer. Like these are pretty obvious.
JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: It’s not rocket science.
RESHMA SAUJANI: I could, if I had a wand, I could fix it tomorrow. It's just a, but the hard part is getting the will of the country and companies and us to say, I demand this. I think the minute we decide, it's the same thing with abortion. You know, I say if you look at what's happening in Afghanistan and Iran and that these women are putting their bodies on the line, and they decide enough, and it will change. When we decide enough, it will change, and so, that is also the work that I'm doing to make women feel like, again, feel like you deserve these things. You can ask for these things. You don't have to be a martyr. You are worthy, and it goes back to the work I was doing with Girls who Code and Brave not Perfect, and again, so much of it is undoing so much of how we are raised and learned and taught, and like I always say, like in this particular issue, men are not the problem. They're not. You know what I mean? Like, the problem is like we have to basically become single issue voters, and this needs to be the thing that we decide that we need and we demand, potentially, over other things.
JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: Super clear, I think, super clear call for change. Reshma, I think you made it actually very vibrant again in your book and in your, actually, on your website, where everyone can actually see where you stand, and the way you want to create that set of actions. So, I'd like to come back to this moment, a revelation, not just you had, but I think many of us had, and expand that thinking. I'm talking about the pandemic and the impact of the pandemic on the people mindsets, reflecting on their lives, not just as working mom as well at home and having to do all the work and taking care of the kids and all that together, but it entails the impact for leaders, and I want to talk about leaders in a broader sense, because you be a leader in a family, you can be a leader in a company, you can be a leader in a community, you can be leader of an NGO. What are, to you, the key lessons learned that you had in the pandemic in terms of leadership lessons that you think are going to be critical for us globally, not just in the U.S., to adapt to the changes at and in society?
RESHMA SAUJANI: Yeah, I think we had an opportunity to do things differently until, and so, for example, in terms of designing workplaces, you see a lot of innovation happening on like four-day work weeks. You know, you see a lot, we really learned that remote work works, that there wasn't a productivity loss, but still, there's kind of this push to go back to the old normal, even though the old normal wasn't happening. So, I think the first leadership lesson is like, don't resist the temptation to go back to something you knew, even when you know it's not working, and really think about what, you know, what did, what, in this experimentation that was the past two years, what did you, what was good, what are the things you want to take from it, what are the things that you want to bring. I think the second thing is, you know, people love to talk about like quiet quitting, and I always say that I don't think people are quietly quitting. I think they're loudly living. I think, and I will say this for myself, like, I was on two planes, two trains. It took me five years of, you know, to have my babies, and I never saw them, and I never went on vacation. I never, I was never not on my phone or not on the meeting or never fully off or, you know, I was still doing inbox here on vacations, and so, I don't want to go back to that, and I find myself, especially this fall, and I was like, why have I been on 50 flights. Like, I wasn't doing, you know, I decided, and so, you get pulled back in to the way it used to be, but you realize, I don't need to do it that way. Like, I learned, like that's not what made me successful. That's not what made me teach 500,000 girls. Like, it's just that it's the way that people think it has to be, and so, I think that like really, really getting committed to living life and reading and sleeping and exercising and hanging out with your kids and your dog and your family and prioritizing that, I think is really, really, really critical.
JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: No, very interesting, because in essence, what you are talking about, Reshma, is a decor of positive leadership and my school of thought in this podcast, and it starts with each one of us, with you, me, reflecting on our energy level, reflecting on our health, on our quality of sleep, reflecting on the purpose we have, or we don't have, actually, in our life, and the way we want to take our destiny into our hands and have a bigger impact with others' lives and other, and having, also, a bigger impact in the world, eventually.
RESHMA SAUJANI: Yeah, and I always think that I have to say yes to everything, because I think for, some reason, that the opportunity is not, is going to go away, and so, that's what I really also want to leave like a lot of your listeners with, is asking yourself, why do you think the opportunity won't be open to you again.
JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: The question that Reshma wants us to reflect on there is a really profound one. We often talk about how saying yes to opportunities is the best decision, but saying no to opportunities or no for the moment is very important too, because the truth is you can't do everything all at the same time, but saying no to an opportunity you want takes a certain amount of confidence, confidence that you'll get another shot later down the line. When the odds are stacked against you, you can't be sure that will happen. So, it makes sense to say yes to everything all the time, which can have devastating consequences for your wellbeing, your physical, and mental health. I wanted to ask Reshma about something she's spoken about lately, about how, when she was the CEO of Girls who Code, she suffered a series of devastating miscarriages at the time. She forced herself to push through to carry on working despite the pain of those losses, because, well, that was what was expected. Looking back, would she do things differently?
RESHMA SAUJANI: I would've, like, not showed up. I wouldn't have gone from a hospital room where I just learned I didn't have a heartbeat to a, you know, 5th Avenue penthouse of a donor and given a speech in front of 300 people, because then sometime, like, it was a bad example. You know what I mean? To myself, to the people that, you know, worked for me, because you have to have empathy for yourself, and listen, I grew up in the 80’s and 90’s and that was the model female leadership. You were just tough. You sucked it up. You know what I mean? You did the, you know, you did the conference call, you know, while you're on your delivery bed. You didn't complain. You didn't talk. You didn't cry, and that, none of that was good. Like, none of that actually led to you being an effective leader, to you being, having connection with people, to you being vulnerable, to you being honest and true to yourself. So, I think that that's been a big shift.
JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: And do you see that happening with the new generation, Gen Z today?
RESHMA SAUJANI: I think so, but listen, I think the thing that's hard right now is I don't think we have good role models right now in leadership. I mean, look at what we see. You know? It's so, and I think there's a lot of distrust for leadership. So, I think that there's a wide space opportunity here right now into creating kind of new models, but I do think that the young people, that's how they live their life. So, like, that's how we have, to have any sort of respect in their eyes, I think you have to show up that way.
JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: Yeah. Reshma, I'd like to finish, actually, with a bigger question about kind of the next steps you are taking on, and I think that, hopefully, many people are trying to take on as well, which is, in a way, building the change you want to see in the world, and I think you are doing that. You've been doing that, actually, for many years of your life, but you're taking on a bigger, an even bigger summit or bigger mountain right now, and I think one of the things you're able to do that makes you really stand out as leader to me is your ability to build not just an organization, but a movement. I was actually speaking to someone you may know or not, his name is Akhtar Badshah. He is a social entrepreneur. He has worked for Microsoft leading philanthropy many years ago, and he did a book recently on purpose, actually, the Purpose Mindset, a wonderful book, and what he said about the movement, he said that the skillset you need is not about managing. The skillset you need is about synchronization. So, I was wondering how do you do that? How do you go about synchronizing people's desires and purpose and pushing them, so that it becomes a movement? What practical advice could you share with the listeners to launch their own movements the same way you are doing it right now?
RESHMA SAUJANI: Yeah, I mean, I think the thing is, is like you to figure out what it is that you're fighting for and have people connect to that. So much of the, I think people want to be seen, and I think people want to, and so, so much of that is, to me, in storytelling. I build movements by telling other people stories, and I think that that makes people feel seen and not alone and that they want to be a part of it. I think the second piece is to make people feel like you can be a part of something that's really big change. So, at Girls who Code, it was like, we're teaching a million girls to code, you know what I mean? Here, it's like we're going to get paid leave and affordable childcare in the next five years. So, I think it's like people want big goals and big things to kind of dream about and move towards.
JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: I totally agree with Reshma’s last piece of advice, and it’s something I'm really passionate about. It is so important to connect your inner purpose to the bigger mission you want to accomplish with others, and storytelling is a great way to help to build a movement and build change at scale. There was so much to take out of that conversation about the importance of self-care and how we need to be rigorous in examining our biases at an individual and organizational level too. I’m super excited to see where Reshma is going to drive deep systemic change with the Marshall Plan for Moms. So, with that, Reshma, we would really like to thank you so much for being wonderful.
RESHMA SAUJANI: Thank you. Thank you for having me, JP.
JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: A wonderful speaker, guest, and inspiring so many people out there, not just in the U.S., but globally. So, please keep it up and looking forward to supporting you in your next movement.
RESHMA SAUJANI: Thank you so much. Thank you.
JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: Thank you so much, Reshma. You've been listening to the Positive Leadership Podcast with me, Jean-Philippe Courtois. If you've enjoyed this episode, please remember to leave us a comment or rating. If you've not done so already, do subscribe. We’ve got lots of other inspiring episodes for you to listen to, and we are available on YouTube as well as the usual podcast platform. Until the next episode, that's it for me. Goodbye.