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Laura Seitz, Deseret News
Breanne Gardiner, Rebecca Marchant, Amber Anderson and Kilie Milberger, seventh-graders at Juab Junior High School, participate in an activity during the launch of the Utah Girls Who Code Club Network at Dell EMC in Draper on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2018.

DRAPER — She's the daughter of political refugees, a graduate of both the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard and Yale Law. In 2010, she became the first Indian-American to ever run for congress, and growing up she hated math and science.

On Thursday, Reshma Saujani, the founder and CEO of girlswhocode.org helped Utah's STEM Action Center launch a statewide initiative aimed at preparing girls and young women for the job opportunities of the future. Saujani pointed out to the 200 or so Utah seventh- through 12th-grade girls gathered at Dell EMC's office in south Salt Lake County Thursday morning that the technology they likely use everyday, from companies like Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat, all have a shared trait.

"The crazy thing is what all those companies have in common, even though their consumer base is mostly girls, is that their creators are mostly men," Saujani said. "I belive that girls are change-makers. I belive that technology is going to help you get to that path of being a change-maker."

Tamara Goetz, executive director of the STEM Action Center, said her organization will use Saujani's platform as a teaching module for the Utah Girls Who Code Club Network, with plans in place to have 50 clubs at schools, community centers, libraries and various organizations across the state to help close the tech employment gender gap.

"We've been looking for an opportunity for young girls to get engaged with the core skills that are, and will be, so in demand," Goetz said. "Learning how to code in this setting will allow these girls to learn teamwork, communication, build their confidence ... and dream big."

Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox was on hand to introduce Saujani and underscored just how out of balance the gender demographic is when it comes to who's filling tech and innovation positions and who isn't.

"These are great jobs that pay a lot of money," Cox said. "The problem is when it comes to tech jobs, only 12 percent of them are being filled by women. It’s not cool, right?"

Cox also offered an enthusiastic and heartfelt encouragement to the students to not only embrace the opportunity to acquire in-demand skills, but to go big when it comes to thinking about their futures.

"You’re going to change the world when it comes to tech and women in the workplace," Cox said. "I need you to make your voices heard on things that are important to you. I need you guys not just to program computers, but I need you to run for office and stand up and be heard and be loud and proud about it."

Goetz said the program was off to a blazing start and expected that by the fall term of school, when the code club officially begins, they will likely exceed the hoped for 50 chapters for the their first year. Industry partners will help play a role in financing and finding facilitators, who Saujani noted did not need to have coding or computer skills to be group leaders. Those partners currently include Dell EMC, Adobe and Microsoft, with more local businesses expected to join the effort.

Janice Peters, Adobe's program manager for sustainability and social impact, said in a statement that her company was committed to playing a role in breaking down stereotypes. Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen noted during his presentation at the recent Silicon Slopes Tech Summit in Salt Lake City that his company had achieved complete pay parity among its 15,000-plus employees.

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“Through our commitment to Girls Who Code, we are able to raise awareness and visibility of technology among young women and help shatter the perception that the tech industry is only for males,” said Peters. “We’re excited to help kick off this program in Utah to equip young girls with coding and creativity skills that will allow them to share their unique voices, perspectives and ideas.”

Saujani launched the nonprofit girlswhocode.org five years ago with a group of 20 students in New York City. By year's end, she expects to have 50,000 participants across all 50 states.

To learn more about the STEM Action Centers Girls Who Code Club Network, visit https://stem.utah.gov.