Girls Who Code CEO explains refusal to engage with Trump

29 Sep 2017

Girls Who Code participants. Image: Girls Who Code

Reshma Saujani, CEO of Girls Who Code, believes any collaboration with Trump will reinforce hatred.

Girls Who Code provides coding training and resources free of charge to girls in primary and second-level education in the US. It began with a group of just 20 girls, and now has more than 40,000 young women learning to code in after-school clubs and summer immersion programmes all over the country.

A call from Ivanka

In late January of this year, Ivanka Trump’s office made a call to CEO Reshma Saujani to invite her to meet and discuss the possibility of Girls Who Code participating in a new STEM initiative. Although Saujani had voiced her dislike of US president Donald Trump’s policies in the past, she thought there may have been a small chance to advance the aims of her organisation.

Saujani eventually refused the meeting, as she wrote in The New York Times yesterday (28 September), because three days after that call, Donald Trump signed the executive order that became known as the Muslim travel ban. For her, the Trump administration represents “hate and bigotry”.

Many of the young women in the after-school clubs run by Girls Who Code are from the countries listed on the ban, and Saujani – a daughter of refugees herself – was shaken by the order: “If I agreed to work with his administration, how could I look these girls in the eye?

“And what good would it do to advance my organisation’s educational mission if I offered implicit support to an administration that didn’t see these girls and members of their families as fully American, let alone as the leaders we hope they will become?”

Trump investing in STEM

Saujani’s op-ed comes as the Trump administration announced this week that the US education department will invest a minimum of $200m of grant funding annually in STEM education, part of the scheme spearheaded by Ivanka Trump.

Saujani voiced scepticism in the face of this news: “I do not believe this initiative – nor any partnership with this White House – can reverse the harm this administration has already done in attempting to legitimise intolerance. Indeed, collaborating with this administration, on any issue, emboldens it only further.”

She urged that private and nonprofit sectors alike “not take part in it any more, at any level”.

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects