How to empower a new wave of women in tech

Women make up only 27% of Aotearoa’s digital tech workforce, according to a January 2021 Digital Skills Forum report. Although this is nowhere near the 51% that would be a true reflection of the country’s gender balance, that 27% marks a hefty improvement on previous years. 

It’s important to acknowledge our influence as parents, colleagues, bosses and educators on maintaining this upward trend. Keeping this percentage growing is entirely in our hands and can be tackled from three different angles: through education, exposure and encouragement. In which ways could you promote positive change?

Education: nurture young women to adopt a problem-solving STEM mindset

Student of Master of Technological Futures at Tech Futures Lab and proud-girl-mum Graz Kania-Knight is constantly creating opportunities for her daughter to solve problems, especially STEM-related ones. She does so with the help of online STEM learning platform Nanogirl, which challenges young girls to dabble in these subject areas.

“We will be leading our daughters and granddaughters astray if we don’t support their interests and passion for STEM.”

Graz Kania-Knight

Graz also goes to great lengths to ensure her daughter is aware of the discrimination faced by women, so she doesn’t see her gender as a limiting factor or become discouraged by the clear lack of females in the industry. This has included finishing off five books on the realities of gender inequality (not specifically tech-focused), all of which you can listen to on Auckland Library’s Libby app as a shared parent-daughter experience:

Exposure: ‘you cannot be what you cannot see’

The second strategy we can all take part in is ensuring the women and girls around us are exposed to examples of women in tech. The saying ‘you cannot be what you cannot see’ strongly applies in this context. If young women are not shown real examples of the women paving the way in tech – our very own Frances Valintine being one of them – they simply won’t see a path for themselves.

Take action in this regard by sharing stories about these women. Round up your kids, students or team and jointly watch them grace the stage at TEDx conferences, or listen to them speak their truth on podcasts. 

Start here:

Encouragement: lift each other up

This one is highly pertinent, being the lived experience of both our founder Frances Valintine and our General Manager Fiona (Fee) Webby. These women list the ‘there’s only space for one of us’ mentality as one of the biggest challenges they faced when entering the tech industry at the start of their careers. The very few women in the tech workforce at that time saw Frances and Fee’s entrance as a threat, and adopted an aggressive, disdainful attitude towards them: they were seen as competition. These toxic attitudes we hope are a thing of the past in today’s age, especially with job vacancies in tech being at a record 20-year high. There is room for all of us.

In light of their negative experiences while attempting to crack the tech industry two decades ago, both of these amazing women have made it their mission to lift today’s wave of young women up. Their advice to their protégés?

“Reach out and build connections with women in tech – chances are they will be happy to advise, direct, open doors, connect.”

Fee Webby

How will you influence the advancement of women in tech?

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