Reshma Saujani, the founder of the nonprofit Girls Who Code and a pro of unorthodox career advice, encourages young women to think outside the box a little when it comes to pay negotiation.
“I was a daughter of refugees, so I always have a funny relationship with money. I feel guilty every time I ask for money. So I always ask for less,” Saujani said during a panel at the Forbes Power Women’s Summit in New York City on Sept. 14.
That changed when she started to get more speaking opportunities. She recalled, “One time, I was at a conference in Vegas. I’d gone to speak. I did not know speakers get paid before. I was sitting next to one of the co-founders of Facebook who got paid bazillion dollars to be in the same panel as me and was flown first class. I was like, what? This is why I’m not getting what he’s getting?”
“I immediately went to my website and made a fake address of some ‘Susie’ at ReshmaSaujani.com,” she said. “And when I got a [speaking invitation] email, I would negotiate as Susie and not Reshma.”
“It totally [made a difference]. I also learned what the market was,” Saujani said. “Part of it is learning how to advocate for myself in a way I felt comfortable with. And second, sharing that with other women in my network.”
Girls Who Code was built on a mission to increase the number of young women in science and tech fields as a way to close gender pay gaps. The nonprofit organizes summer programs and after-school clubs that teach coding to women between the ages of 16 to 25. Its programs have served nearly 600,000 students since inception in 2012.
Saujani, a lawyer on Wall Street before being a social entrepreneur, stepped down as CEO of Girls Who Code in 2021 to launch her new venture, Moms First, a nonprofit aiming to spur changes in childcare policies in workplaces and on the government level.
After helping young women sharpen computer skills for a decade, Saujani, 48, now believes, that in order to achieve pay equity on a systematic level, the issue needs to be discussed differently.
“For so long, we’ve talked about pay equity as if it’s a women’s problem—it’s your problem that you don’t ask for more, you need to stand in the mirror, practice exactly how you should ask, get more confidence, throw your shoulders back—and it’s not our problem. We are not the problem,” Saujani told an all-female audience on Sept. 14.
Pay gaps between women and men are often tied to a workplace phenomenon known as “the motherhood penalty,” where women’s pay decreases after giving birth while men’s pay tends to increase after becoming fathers, Saujani said. “If you simply just got rid of the motherhood penalty, we would be far closer to pay equity.”
Saujani is known for sharing counterintuitive tips for achieving career success. In 2019, she told Money magazine she encourages her employees, especially women, to send at least one professional email with a (preferably inconsequential) typo in it because she wanted young women to embrace imperfection as a way to extinguish their insecurities and career fears.
“Yes, I really want you to do that,” said Saujani. And once you send it, “you’ll realize that nothing’s going to happen,” she said.