There’s no doubt that technology-based disruption is in overdrive. The technology sector is one of the largest contributors to New Zealand’s economy, with the top 200 technology companies last year bringing in a combined revenue of $10 billion. Yet a recent report by the Ministry for Women found that only 23 per cent of Kiwis employed in digital technology are female. In 2016, just under one in three IT graduates, and only a quarter of those at PhD level, were female.
Justin Gray, country managing director of professional services company Accenture NZ, says there has never been a greater need to ensure equality of opportunity in technology, engineering and mathematics.
“It’s clear that New Zealand’s technology industry requires a boost of female talent to promote a fairer and more gender-balanced workforce,” he says.
Girls4Tech is a global initiative by payments technology company Mastercard that aims to get girls aged 10–13 interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) principles to inspire them to study these subjects in later education. The initiative aims to help challenge societal perceptions of women in STEM.
More than 90 Rotorua girls recently had their eyes opened to the possibilities of a career in a STEM subject in a Girls4Tech programme at John Paul College. The Year 8 girls, aged around 12–13, tackled hands-on activities while learning about cryptology, algorithms and all things digital.
The activities included learning fraud detection techniques and discovering how digital convergence, near field communications (NFC) and biometrics can simplify life. They also learned that algorithms are everywhere and can help to solve all sorts of problems.
Patrick Walsh, principal of John Paul College, said the school was grateful to have had the opportunity to work with Mastercard on the initiative.
“It gave our girls the opportunity to learn from experts in STEM subjects in a fun and exciting way. We believe it’s important that our young girls are as equally equipped to pursue STEM subjects as their male peers.”
Based on global science and maths standards, the Girls4Tech curriculum was created in conjunction with top engineers and technologists at Mastercard.
“As a technology company, Mastercard is committed to supporting and encouraging young girls to develop their STEM skills throughout their school life as they become future leaders,” says Ruth Riviere, country manager for Mastercard New Zealand and the Pacific Islands.
“As a society, we need to encourage girls and women to think seriously about STEM and the incredibly diverse opportunities it opens up, while continuing to tackle gender bias that unfortunately still exists in the space,” she says.
“It was great to host Girls4Tech in Rotorua and to see the girls enjoying the many pathways of STEM, which will provide them with the confidence to pursue these subjects in high school and beyond.”
15 the critical age
Mastercard research into STEM barriers for girls and women found that 15 years old is the critical age at which girls decide whether or not to pursue STEM subjects.
Gray notes that girls’ preconceived notions of what a technology career entails may be derailing their interest in STEM subjects at that age, according to Accenture NZ’s research.
“Our findings showed that girls were put off technology careers because they were unclear about the career opportunities. The research also pointed to a disparity between girls’ and boys’ perceptions of technology subjects, with girls more likely to view them as ‘academic’ and ‘boring’. And there was a significant dip in girls’ enjoyment of STEM subjects, such as mathematics and computer science, as they entered secondary school.”
Gray believes that educators, parents, business and technology leaders must find creative ways to spark and sustain a passion for technology, engineering and maths for girls from pre-adolescence through to young adulthood.
He says the Ministry of Education’s recent $40 million investment to deliver a digital technology curriculum in New Zealand was a positive move in encouraging diversity in technology.
“As the subject becomes more mainstream, it is expected to become more attractive to girls. And irrespective of their eventual careers, girls with a foundation of STEM learning are better equipped to adapt to a huge variety of potential roles throughout their working lives.”
How parents can encourage daughters into STEM:
- Learn what technology resources will help girls to succeed, including smartphone/tablet apps.
- Enrol them in local events, such as the Hour of Code, to expose them to digital technology.
- Encourage your daughters to shadow friends and family who work in technology fields.
- Reframe your own attitudes to STEM to promote positive messages for your daughters.
- Learn more about local and global female technology leaders and share their stories.
- Introduce your daughters to coding through educational and fun computer games.