By: Amy Williams
Look into any number of classrooms around the country where technology and sciences are taught, and you may find only one girl among a room of boys.
A number of organisations are working hard to address this imbalance, which is feeding a shortage of women in technology roles in the workplace.
Alexia Hilbertidou knows what it’s like to be the only girl in a classroom of boys – two years ago, as a 16-year-old, it spurred her to set up the organisation GirlBoss, to encourage young women to develop their knowledge and skills in science, technology, engineering and maths.
“It’s gone from a real point of isolation when I was the only girl in my IT class, to a community of 8000 women across the country, in the space of a few years,” says Hilbertidou of the online network she created that connects school-aged girls to like-minded peers and mentors.
“At GirlBoss we’re urgently focused on closing the gender divide and fighting gender stereotypes, and really raising awareness of future-focused education so that young women are making smart decisions for their futures.”
Girlboss is among non-profit groups, including Refactor and NZTech Women, working to encourage women into an industry where they’re a minority – women occupy just 23 per cent of professional IT roles.
And technology is big business. Last year, hi-tech accounted for 10 per cent of New Zealand’s exports, with the top 200 technology companies surpassing $10 billion in combined revenue for the first time, according to the Technology Investment Network.
In a recent MYOB Women in Tech report, the online accounting software provider warns the number of women working in the tech sector is likely to decline unless the industry bands together to address the gender gap.
There’s industry consensus about why the gender divide exists – a misconception that science and technology subjects are difficult and boring, a lack of understanding about what jobs are available, and a lack of female role models.
GirlBoss recently received sponsorship from the University of Auckland’s engineering school to run 35 workshops in schools across New Zealand, educating girls about technology and the types of careers it can lead to.
NZTech Women works to help inspire girls into technology, support the growth of women in tech roles and to help develop policy and actions for improving diversity in the tech workplace.
Edwina Mistry has spent her 30-year career in various technology and education roles, and now oversees NZTech Women as its executive director, and a passionate advocate for women in tech.
She says there is still a misconception that technology is just about computer programming.
“We need to break that barrier, to educate our young girls that technology is part of every career, part of every business. It’s not so much about technology as careers in general, and technology is part of that.”
Mistry says the New Zealand tech industry is a dynamic growth industry to work in.
“Any job in technology can be done by a female or a male – anyone. We need to educate young females about tech jobs, that they can do any job.”