With an ambitious new initiative, the nonprofit Girls Who Code is putting a backbeat (and visuals) to its goal of bringing together young women and achieving gender parity in computer science within the next 10 years. Sisterh>>d, a new visual album that features contributions from Lizzo, Tiffany Gouché, Madame Gandhi and comedians Sasheer Zamata and Aparna Nancherla is being unveiled in the lead-up to International Day of the Girl on Thursday, Oct. 11.
The project was developed with creative agency Yours Truly, whose strategy director, Sonia Salvador, tells Billboard how Girls Who Code approached them looking to talk about “sisterhood” for International Day of the Girl, “because they thought that it was something really essential in today’s activism.” She continues, “[They thought] it would basically be their contribution to the movement beyond what they do on a daily basis as the organization, which is obviously to help close the gender gap.”
Girls Who Code was formed in 2012 by Reshma Saujani and offers a wide variety of programs for women and girls of different ages, while creating a supportive environment and close-knit network for them in the professional world. With tracks themed around topics like healing and the relationship between sisterhood and self-definition, the visual album seeks to strengthen and provide a soundtrack for those connections.
“We embarked on this project for our girls — who we already know are capable of changing the world,” Saujani said in a statement. “This album is designed to remind them that they are not alone; they have a Sisterhood behind them — for support, laughter and celebration — while they pursue that change.”
To make that happen, the Yours Truly creative team was brought in, along with a film crew that Salvador says was around “90 percent women.” They also established an “advisory council” of young women and girls from Girls Who Code programs around the world that provided input and acted as a sounding board during the creation of the record. One major contribution of theirs was getting 27-year-old Native American tech activist and filmmaker Robin Máxkii involved in Sisterh>>d.
“We realized we didn’t have that much representation of any indigenous cultures in the campaign, so we were like, ‘Hey, does anybody have a recommendation or is anyone aware of anybody out there that’s really inspiring you these days?’ And they sent us this name and were like, ‘We love this girl, she’s so cool,'” says Lydia Fine, Yours Truly’s creative director. “We tracked Robin down through her Tumblr page and she was so interested. We ended up doing a whole video with her about how her culture overlaps with the tech world and how she’s taken coding and it’s kind of opened up her world. She equates it to being kind of like a tapestry in her culture and that it’s really beautiful.”
And while Girls Who Code seeks to blaze a trail for women and girls in one of the world’s most cutting edge industries, Sisterh>>d is also inspired by legendary, progressive music of the past. The album’s first single (billed as the “Anthem”) is an updated take on the beloved 1970 Five Stairsteps song “Ooh Child,” featuring Chika, Tiffany Gouché and Regan Aliyah and production from DJ Khalil.
“Part of what we liked about it, beyond it being connected to a period of time where activism was big and it having its own social component to it, we also liked the messaging within the song,” says Fine. “The end chorus is saying ‘right now’ and the whole point of this entire album we’re hoping is that people understand that they don’t have to wait for this big change to happen — they can go out and do things right now and it doesn’t have to be this intimidating, big movement.”
The video features girls who are part of various Girls Who Code programs, and its powerful message is driven home by stirring bars from Nigerian-American rapper Chika. Women in STEM fields earn, on average, $16,000 less than males in the same roles, a disturbing statistic that Chika addresses.
“I am much more than the surface/ More than time spent trying hard to seem perfect/ Pay me same wage for my time if I earned it/ It’s a new flame, it’s a fire steady burning,” she raps.
The album’s intro also pays homage to Lauryn Hill‘s groundbreaking The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. That LP, which in 1998 became the first hip-hop record to win the Grammy for album of the year, showcases the same ambitious and heartfelt perspective as Sisterh>>d and the broader Girls Who Code organization.
“It was just something that really resonated with us, and I think that openness, for a lot of young people who listened to Miseducation back then, allowed them to feel like they could be honest about the things that they were going through and feel like they weren’t alone,” says Yours Truly creative producer Alexandra Thurmond. “So I think that feeling is something that we really wanted to create with this visual album. [To have it be] a way to tell girls, ‘You can do these amazing things. It’s not always easy, but there are other people here who are experiencing similar things and they are here for you also and there’s a community around you.'”
Jayne Andrew with Yours Truly, who oversaw music supervision for the project, tells Billboard that selecting artists was a collaborative effort within Yours Truly, but the overall intent of the campaign was always about “empowering all girls.” She says, “Whatever color or shape or size or background, be you born female female or not. Are you a girl? We’re talking to you. Go be dope and don’t let anyone convince you to slow down.”
Ultimately, Thurmond says there are strong similarities between the kinship music fosters and the work of Girls Who Code.
“I think that definitely music is always something that can really create a sense of empowerment in you … and I think that has always been a huge part of Girls Who Code’s mission. It’s not just about teaching girls to code, it’s about giving them a skill and teaching them something to help them walk away with this feeling of accomplishment, knowing that they are able to really harness their own intelligence and skills to do something and create something on their own,” says Thurmond. “So that’s always been part of the ethos of the organization that we felt was really tied to music.”
There is still much work to be done in the tech sphere to create a truly equal space for women and minorities, but thanks to the work of Girls Who Code and Yours Truly on Sisterh>>d the movement has tools and an uplifting anthem to fuel their fire.