As part of the week’s activities, Minister for Broadcasting, Communications and Digital Media Minister Clare Curran spoke to secondary school aged girls at Wellington’s ShadowTech event on Monday about the issues.

“Right now there’s a gender imbalance in the tech industry. The sector employs more than 120,000 people, but only 23 percent are women. I want that to change. It needs to be much higher,” she said.

At Te Auaha New Zealand Institute of Creativity left to right are Eva Sherwood Chair of Tech Women NZ, Simithmi Sathruwani student at Hutt Valley High School, Chalinor Baliuag IT Lecturer WelTec and Edwina Mistry Executive Director TechWomen NZ Tech.

“The median salary in New Zealand is $48,800 whereas the median salary for a worker identified as ‘Digital Technology skilled’ is $82,000 according to the Digital Skills Report.

“It’s also worrying to note that just three percent of 15 year old girls are looking at a career in technology. Sorting the gender imbalance can only be good for the sector and the country.”

Tech is a great option for girls looking at what career path to take, says the founder of ShadowTech and Executive Director of TechWomen Edwina Mistry.

“It’s not just the money. Tech is ideal for women as it is flexible. You can work remotely, and the varied nature of the industry means it’s never boring. I was the first women to work in an IT company in a technical role in a male-dominated country in a male-dominated industry more than 30 years ago. And I have been able to stay working in this industry as well as spending time with my family.”

Edwina has, among many things, been on NZQA panels for digital curriculum development for both schools and tertiary. Ten years ago, while teaching at the Manukau Institute of Technology she saw that firstly there weren’t many Maori and Pasifika students, nor students from low decile schools nor enough girls, studying technology. Secondly, she saw that while schools were teaching digital technology they lacked contacts with industry.

One of the programmes she developed in response to these gaps was ShadowTech.

ShadowTech gives secondary school girls the chance to experience the real world of ICT for a day.

“I thought what better way to attract girls into the industry than to take them into businesses partner them with women working there, and experience what it was like working with technology and to see what is possible in the industry.

“Our first ShadowTech was in Auckland in 2014, and 42 girls attended. ShadowTech is now run by TechWomen and NZTech in collaboration with other tertiary partners across New Zealand which has enabled it to go from strength to strength. This year 600 girls are participating in Auckland, Hamilton, Palmerston North, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin. In Auckland alone, we have 230 girls. Forty per cent of whom are Maori and Pasifika, and more than 100 of the girls are from South Auckland schools.”

Edwina explains that it is important to impress on girls how varied and fascinating digital technology is both as a subject and as a career, from Year 9.

“At puberty girls can become very self-conscious and are afraid to be perceived as, or seen as, failing.  Girls still think IT is nerdy and difficult, and that it’s for boys. As well, they want to be perfect at what they do so if something is too hard they don’t want to be seen making a mistake. And generally speaking, young girls don’t want to be thought of as someone doing that job.”

One Year 12 student from Hutt Valley High School Sithmi Hewage so loved visiting Trade Me with her ShadowTech mentor last in 2017, she came back for more.

“TradeMe blew my mind because it was so amazing what they were doing with tech there. I do coding at school and I couldn’t’ believe they were using the same coding in their programmes and on their website that I was studying. I really like going into companies I normally wouldn’t get the chance to see. This year I went to the Treasury. When they gave me my name tag I had no idea what the Treasury was. When we went there we went under parliament to see parts of the treasury that not many people get to see. It was so cool seeing how what I am studying relates to real world jobs. What they were doing was really diverse. They were doing programme management, creating budgets and designing programmes and apps to support what the government does.”

Sithmi moved to New Zealand in Year 9 and was thrilled to take Digital Technology as a subject as it wasn’t on offer at the school she attended previously in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). She loves the subject from the coding and gaming, to the design to photoshopping. As a result of taking part in ShadowTech last year she began a Girls Tech Club at Hutt Valley High School.

“We have a constant of eight girls. It can be hard to maintain interest for some girls as they might like the designing aspect but not the coding. The challenge is to keep it interesting and keeping it relevant to what girls are doing. If they’re creating stickers, or if they want to code a robot, that’s what they like doing, so we do that.”

Sithmi says it has helped that her Digital Technology teacher at Hutt Valley High Katie Long has a strong belief in getting more girls into the technology sector.

“My biggest passion is the environment. I did Peter Blake’s The Youth Envirolab where I learnt that climate change is not something that is happening sometime in the future it’s happening now. What ShadowTech helped show me was how I can use tech in an environmental career. Everyone has a phone so you can use that technology to influence people around the environment.”

The Ministry for Education introduced the new Hangarau Matihiko curriculum late last year. The curriculum content is about giving students an understanding of the computer science principles and programmes that drive digital technologies. The aim is to enable students to learn how to design their own digital solutions and become creators, as well as users, of digital technologies.

For more information on the Hangarau Matihiko curriculum go to: https://education.govt.nz/news/digital-technologies-and-hangarau-matihiko-curriculum-content-goes-live/

For more information on ShadowTech go to https://shadowtechday.nz/

If you want to know more about Techweek go to https://techweek.co.nz/

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