PAAC Hosts Informative Fireside Chat

On December 7, Chapin’s Parents of Asian American Children (PAAC), an affinity group within Chapin’s Parents of Children of Color (PoCC), hosted an engaging fireside chat between Head of School Suzanne Fogarty and celebrated guest Reshma Saujani.

Ms. Saujani has spent over a decade building movements to fight for women and girls’ economic empowerment. A mother of two, Ms. Saujani is a lawyer, the founder of Girls Who Code—a nonprofit organization that aims to close the gender gap in computer science by equipping young women with the necessary skills to pursue 21st century opportunities—and is also the founder of the Marshall Plan for Moms, which advocates for policies to support mothers impacted by the pandemic. Ms. Saujani was also the first Indian American woman to run for the U.S. Congress.

Ms. Saujani is the author of three books, including international bestseller “Brave, Not Perfect” and The New York Times bestseller “Girls Who Code: Learn to Code and Change the World.” Her forthcoming novel, “Pay Up: The Future of Women and Work (and Why It's Different Than You Think),” is set to be published in spring 2022 and confronts the “big lie” of corporate feminism while presenting a bold plan to address the burnout and inequity that's harming America’s working women today.

“In essence, Reshma is fighting to make the world easier, and perhaps kinder, for our girls when they leave 100 East End Avenue,” PAAC Chair Ngan Nguyen said in her introduction to the virtual audience. “And while they’re in the building, Suzanne will make sure that each of them has the right skills and attitude to succeed.”

Smiling from their Zoom boxes, Suzanne and Reshma greeted community members and set the tone for an engaging webinar, as their mutual respect and passion for supporting and uplifting young women radiated through.

To begin, Suzanne asked, “How did you start professional career? Did you have a career plan in your 20s or did you explore and go with the flow?”

“I grew up as the daughter of refugees, my parents came here in the 1980s,” Reshma began. “When I was young, my father would sit me down and read to me about these amazing changemakers – like Dr. King and Mahatma Gandhi – and I knew I wanted to make a difference. I had the feeling in my heart, but I didn’t know how.”

At age 33, she said she had the courage to run for office, though it didn’t pan out the way she envisioned. “I got crushed,” she laughed. “It was the first time in my life that I really failed at something – and everybody knew. I thought I’d feel broken, but instead I felt free. I thought, what else have I talked myself out of because I was scared of failure? It set my life off on a different course.”

When asked about her proudest achievement, which she wholeheartedly believes is Girls Who Code, Reshma said, “I’m blessed, as you know, to be in the company of girls. I see my students building an algorithm or writing code for a video game to teach about Black Lives Matter. Girls will heal us, save us and change us.”

Reshma shared that the cultural assimilation she observed growing up strongly influenced her as a child. “We didn’t have the same amazing conversations that young people have today about race,” she said, claiming that she found her voice through her desire to make a change.

“I love that you’re teaching Debate at Chapin,” Reshma continued, noting Suzanne’s mission to seize upon the students’ current excitement for Debate and expand programming in all divisions. “Because I ‘fight’ with my words,” Reshma noted. “I’m able to articulate my pain or anger through my words. It’s an important skill and a muscle I built because of my parents.”

She later revealed that the “Big lie of corporate feminism is: ‘If you try hard enough, if you keep doing all that child work and domestic work, you will make it’ but it’s rigged against us [as women].” With so much pressure for girls to be perfect, she wondered, what can we tell our children that’s different this time around?

“I, for one, will never cost myself my mental health, happiness or joy,” she firmly stated. Reshma emphasized the importance of paid leave – not only for mothers but fathers as well – subsidizing childcare, and for women to stop apologizing profusely. “I want my sons to be caretakers too, so I hope to break gendered perspectives.”

Suzanne and Reshma touched on other timely topics including their hopes for post-pandemic life, the importance of recognizing the female scientists who are leaders in the Covid-19 fight and vaccine development, and the flood of technology and social media platforms that children interact with.

“There’s a difference between consumption and creation,” Reshma explained – as today’s advanced technology offers myriad tools that can inspire kids to create and design. “We want to encourage our girls to build, create or even fix a broken toilet!” Ultimately, she said, young women should be emboldened to pursue anything they set their minds to.

Ngan concluded the informative session with many thanks, saying, “I see some incredible leaders on this call right now. Thank you, thank you!”