Alexia Hilbertidou, founder of GirlBoss New Zealand.

When I was Year 12 at my co-ed high school, I was the only girl studying digital technologies; in Year 13, I was the only girl studying advanced physics. I was 15 before I met a female software engineer. When I went to coding competitions, I couldn’t see young women represented. I was confused because I knew that my female friends were competent and capable, yet often they wouldn’t have the confidence to go into these spaces.

So that’s why I started GirlBoss, an organisation to close the gender gap in science, technology, engineering, maths, leadership and entrepreneurship. We do this by running workshops in schools, which focus on encouraging young women to follow their dreams in these future-focused fields. We also run leadership, confidence building and resilience workshops. Girlboss is a network of more than 9,000 young women nationwide and our programmes have been in 55 schools this year.

In New Zealand, we’re really lucky we’ve got so many passionate teachers who are working to encourage more young people into STEM fields. Despite these incredible teachers, we often don’t get the numbers of young women choosing calculus or choosing physics, so what we really need these teachers to do is make a conscious effort to support young women to consider these fields.

Women sometimes do need that extra support – we see that young women lack confidence in these fields. When we look at mathematics in New Zealand, we see that NCEA mathematics grades are the same across genders, but if we ask young people to rate their maths confidence, young women rate themselves 33 per cent lower than young men.

If teachers can encourage young women to consider STEM subjects at a younger age, they can open their minds and start conferring the possibilities of these fields. We’ve seen some real shifts in young women starting to consider taking those subjects or choosing those career paths and that’s exactly our intention: for young women to realise just how creative and exciting these fields and subjects are.

The journey continues

It’s been an incredible journey from founding GirlBoss at 16 to working full-time in the organisation over two and a half years later.

Last month we travelled to the Cook Islands to conduct leadership and STEM workshops for schools, which was our first time holding workshops outside New Zealand. Being part-Samoan myself, I have a real passion for uplifting Pasifika young women. We hope
to expand to a number of other Pacific countries over the next
12 months.

This year we also launched the GirlBoss Awards, a nationwide search for trailblazing young women aged 11–18 who are defying stereotypes and creating change in their communities. We wanted to highlight and recognise inspiring young leaders, facilitators, role models and innovators.

It is important for young women to be exposed to women in these fields, because we can’t be what we can’t see. If you imagine what a coder, scientist, engineer or CEO looks like and see someone so far from what you see in the mirror, it can be a huge barrier. We want to give young women role models they can look up to and show young women that they can go into fields such as technology; they can come up with incredible inventions and they can create change in their communities.

I would encourage young women to create a tribe and connect with other young women who share their passion. Sometimes it can be isolating if you are passionate about an area and your friends have completely different passions. We hope to create a tribe, a support network, which is really important to retain young women in these fields.

I want young women to realise they are never too young to make change and they are never too young to make an impact in their communities. The best time to start is now.

As told to the Education Gazette.

For more information, visit www.girlboss.nz.

Women in STEM

  • Only 2% of NZX CEOs are women.
  • In the NZX 50, there are more CEOs named John than there are female CEOs.
  • In 2017, women received just 2.19% of global venture capital funding.
  • Women make up only 13% of New Zealand’s engineers.
  • In 2015, women’s participation on New Zealand’s private sector boards was 17%.
  • On average, women retire with almost $80,000 less in their KiwiSaver than men.

Source: Education Gazette

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