A bestselling author, TED Talk speaker, and former NYC public advocate, Reshma Saujani has dedicated her career to fighting for women's and girls' rights across every sector. In the decade since she launched Girls Who Code to help close the gender gap in tech, more than 450,000 K-12 girls have graduated from its educational programs. Since 2021, the former attorney-turned-activist has turned her focus toward dismantling another barrier to women's economic empowerment: motherhood — one made all the more existential by the COVID pandemic.

''Moms don't break, and we're broken — which means we're really broken,'' Saujani said. In response, she designed the Marshall Plan for Moms, a movement to center working moms in the national conversation as it pertains to broader economic recovery, paid leave policies, and affordable childcare. She sat down with Chief Member Niki Allen, Chief Information Technology and Operations Officer at Boeing, to share a behind-the-scenes look at her social entrepreneurship journey and why she believes the path to gender equity lies in the private sector.

On Why Mothers Need the Bailout, Not Airlines

''I found myself in January 2020 on top of the world. Girls Who Code had a Super Bowl ad. I was having my second child via surrogate, and so I was really anxious about being able to spend that time with him that I had missed in not being able to carry him. (I have autoimmune issues, so I couldn't carry him.) I was taking that maternity leave and I was gonna enjoy it! Then the pandemic hit three weeks after my son was born, and I found myself having to go back to work when he was three-weeks-old, having to homeschool my kindergartener, having to literally save my nonprofit from being shut down. Most of my leadership team were working moms of young kids, and we were barely holding on.

''I got COVID-19, but it barely registered. My liver failed. From a health perspective, I was a mess. What we would say to each other was like, 'We've just got to hold on until September, and when the schools open, everything will be fine.' When the schools didn't open that September, and we all got a note from our DOE saying, 'Congratulations, we've come up with this thing called hybrid schooling where you get to log on your kid at nine o'clock, 10 o'clock, 11 o'clock, all while you maintain your full-time job.' I was waiting for the second email to say, 'Reshma, can you do this? Do you have time?' No one asked us, and at that point they knew who was doing the home schooling in March, April, May. They knew that the beneficiaries of this new program were going to be moms.

''It's been two years and the government has not done it. We've bailed out airlines, but we haven't bailed out moms. It's going to have to be the private sector that innovates and comes to our rescue.''

On Why Childcare Is a Business Imperative

''The private sector has got to start subsidizing childcare. It makes business sense. The cost of attrition is actually higher than subsidizing your childcare, and we've already gone down that road. Most companies spend more for egg freezing than for subsidies on childcare. So you're going to help me prolong birth, but when I have kids, the support disappears. It doesn't make sense.

''Whether it's building an in-office daycare center [or] it's paying for Care.com, studies show that employees are more loyal; they stay longer. You can have a race to the bottom on salaries, but if people stay for six months, you are out of money. It's better for you to pay for the childcare or later pay for their elderly care. The companies that start moving in that direction, start offering that, are the ones that are going to win the talent war.''

On What Companies Should Really be Focused on

''I think it's shifting the conversation. We all just went through Women's History Month, and International Women's Day, and Pay Equity Day. And, instead of having more conversations about how to get a mentor or a sponsor, or raise your hand, or speak more, or learn how to invest, we need to have conversations about, How do we get our companies to mandate paid leave? What are the implications of our corporate policies on gender inequality at home? What are we doing to potentially exacerbate gender inequality? I think it is really about focusing on equality, unpaid labor, and all the things that working women need right now. Set some KPIs on that. Set some goals of where we want to be as a company. How do we want to value our workers? Where are we at with flexibility and remote working. Are we pushing up against it?''

On Realizing She Was Part of the Problem

''The big Aha that I had for me was that, for the past 10 years, I've been telling young women to barnstorm the corner office, to lean in real hard, to girl boss their way to the top. I found myself in COVID with two kids and my organization, and I barely made it, and I have support. What I learned the hard way was that having it all is just a euphemism for doing it all. I was so wrong, because this isn't about getting a mentor, or a sponsor, or color-coding your calendar. This is about the fact that we do two-and-a-half jobs before we show up to our next job. Feminism has never talked about this other job. And, because of social media, we think it's our shame — our partner, we didn't train him right, you know? We have never, ever, ever reconciled that, unless you have equality at home, you can't have equality in the workplace. All that stuff that we have been doing has been in vain, so we've got to have a very different conversation today than we've ever had.''

On Setting Tangible Boundaries at Work — and at Home

''I have two little kids (a two-year-old and a seven-year-old). At my house, my husband does the nights and I do the mornings. At 6:00 PM, if I'm sitting around watching Netflix and [my husband] Nihal will be like, 'Hey, can you warm up the bottle or just change the diaper?' I'm like, 'No, no, no, you do nights.' So, at six o'clock, I leave, I book a girls' dinner, I have dinner by myself, but the whole point is I'm out. I've set a tangible boundary in my home that just doesn't move. That doesn't get shifted. And those boundaries extend into the workplace: no calls after six, don't call me on the weekends.

''We as working women always fall into, 'Okay, fine. I'll just do it.' We're really bad at boundaries. Because we feel bad, and we feel guilty, and we want to be liked, and all these things.''

On Reframing the Narrative From Fixing Women to Fixing the System

''It has a lot to do with the American culture and that we often think that these are your personal problems. It is your personal problem to solve your childcare issue. It is your personal problem to handle what happens when your child is sick or a parent is sick. [We need to reframe] that this is an economic issue. When the birth rate is at an all-time low, that is an economic issue. When people can't go to work because they can't afford childcare, that's an economic issue, just like healthcare was an economic issue. It's this recasting and this reframing of why it matters, why government intervention is actually necessary.

''[Similarly], I think that we've always tried to fix the woman and not fix the system. I feel like we should also banish the word 'work-life balance,' because even in that it's like, 'If you're not having balance, that's your fault. Maybe you should meditate more, or go for a walk, or do some yoga.' Moving forward, all of the focus needs to be on the structures and how we are fixing the workplaces.''

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