As part of Morrison Foerster’s ongoing celebration of Women’s History Month, MoFo’s Meghan Poon moderated a conversation with Reshma Saujani, bestselling author, activist, and the founder of Girls Who Code and the Marshall Plan for Moms (now known as MOMS F1RST). Reshma has spent more than a decade building movements to fight for women and girls’ economic empowerment, working to close the gender gap in the tech sector, and most recently, advocating for policies to support mothers impacted by the pandemic.
In response to the disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on America’s mothers, Reshma launched MOMS F1RST to advocate for policies that value women’s labor in and out of the home. Reshma has successfully worked with House and Senate leaders to introduce legislation at the federal level and is continuing to act as an outside agitator to change culture through creative awareness campaigns.
Though there have been improvements to work-life balance in recent years, women are frequently forced to choose between their careers and families. “For far too long we’ve been trying to fix women and not fix the structure,” she said. “If we created workplaces that worked for working moms, they would work for everybody.”
This includes changing attitudes surrounding remote work. Reshma argued that there should be a balance between in-person and remote work. Additionally, she explained that gender neutral paid leave should be incentivized to support men who want to do more. Globally, caregiving work is disproportionately done by women. However, through her work, Reshma has found that most men do want to take paid leave but are often discouraged by their colleagues. “That’s deeply in American culture,” she said. “So how do we change that? And how do we go one step further and incentivize it?”
Another contributing factor is economics. “Forty percent of parents are in debt because of childcare,” Reshma said, and on average, women earn less income than men. When the price of childcare is weighed against income, Reshma explained that mothers often leave their jobs because it is more financially beneficial for their families.
“Men are fundamental to this,” Reshma added. “We need more dads to start talking about the care work that they’re doing—and not for that pat on the back—but for that real sense that they understand.” She noted that dads of daughters are some of the most passionate funders of her movement. “There’s a lot for them to do, and I think that there’s a lot that they can do and want to do.”
However, Reshma explained that it is also important for women to reexamine their own behavior in relation to gender work. “It goes back to why I changed [Marshall Plan for Moms] to MOMS F1RST, because that idea is so radical to us,” she said. “And we need to sit with that and say, ‘Well, why?’ How do you build that muscle of saying I deserve to be put first?”
Learn more about Reshma and her work.