Tarika Barrett ’96, CEO of Girls Who Code
Last April, Tarika Barrett ’96 stepped into the role of CEO of Girls Who Code, where she had formerly served as chief operating officer since 2016. The organization was founded by former CEO Reshma Saujani nearly a decade ago with a mission to close the gender gap in the technology field. It has since educated 450,000 girls in coding and computer science.
Barrett’s background as an educator and community organizer equips her perfectly for a role within an organization that is defying the barriers of race, gender, and status that have held back girls in tech for decades.
“We think our work means that hiring women in the industry can be an incredible force for good,” she says.
Barrett was invited to the August 2021 summit for cybersecurity to meet with President Joseph Biden. Representing the education sector, she addressed the ways that early education can increase the number of historically underrepresented people in tech and change the face of cybersecurity as a result. “You have to show folks that they have a place, that they can have a seat at the table,” says Barrett. Just one month after the summit, a partnership between the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency and Girls Who Code was announced. The partnership was formed with the goal of empowering young women and girls to pursue careers in technology and cybersecurity.
Barrett’s time at Brooklyn College earning a bachelor’s degree in political science helped lay the groundwork for her lasting passion for community involvement. She recalls belonging to multiple extracurricular groups and taking courses in various subjects as foundational experiences.
“My early lessons in agency, my early lessons in political power, my early lessons in friendship happened at Brooklyn College,” she says. “And it was so deeply empowering.”
As Girls Who Code’s programming shifted to the digital space during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Barrett was faced with the challenge of overcoming both the demands of remote education and the limitations already faced by many marginalized youths in educational settings. They ended up coming up with a flexible mix of asynchronous and synchronous offerings.
“These disparities have existed for a very long time, and now they are being compounded by this tragedy,” she says. For her, it is important that Girls Who Code, which has partnered with Penguin Books, American Girl, and entertainment figures like Lizzo, empowers girls to enter technology by breaking the preconceived notions of who can be a computer scientist.
“We have to slowly but surely dismantle the stereotypes of who belongs in tech and get more women to actually enter the field and persist,” says Barrett.
She emphasizes that the work is not done after girls are educated.
“How do we create meaningful pathways for girls to access companies that are actually looking to hire and then beyond that, so that they get these jobs? How do we support them? How do we give them mentors? How do we ensure that they’re successful?” asks Barrett. “We know that closing the gender gap is critical. If we don’t close it, we’re failing to prepare our girls for these exciting, thriving careers of the future, the ones that are going to give them the upward mobility and quality of life that a career in tech can provide.”