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New Ministry For Women guide aims to boost the number of young women going into tech

Mikayla Stokes.

The Ministry for Women has released a guide called Decoding Diversity to help education providers attract and retain more women into the tech industry. It offers tips on how to combat the stigma that stops girls in schools and women in university seeing STEM subjects as an attractive career path. 

The guide is based off interviews conducted with 70 women in New Zealand aged 16 to 23 about their thoughts on technology as a career.

It offers tips on how to help attract and retain girls and women in tech education based off these insights and is intended for secondary school teachers, university lecturers, code club volunteers and other community group leaders, potential employers, career advisors, industry professionals, recruitment personnel, students and parents.

The release of the guide comes after research has shown that despite digital technology being the fastest growing industry in New Zealand, women only make up only 23 percent of those employed in the sector.

These figures show women are underrepresented when contrasted with New Zealand’s wider population, as women make up 51 percent.

The Absolute IT Remuneration Report released last year also showed a diversity gap, with men making up 79 percent of New Zealand’s technology sector and women making up just 21 percent.

NZTech and the Ministry for Women believe the problem starts with education, as the number of women studying technology is low.

In 2015, only 350 of 1600 studying an IT degree were women, and this figure hasn’t shifted much in the past 20 years. Yet women are more highly qualified in tertiary educations than men, with women making 64 percent of all the degrees awarded that year.

NZTech national director of government relations Andrea Hancox says everyone within the tech sector should be working towards more diversity, as it means better business.

“The business case for greater gender balance is strong. Tech firms that have equal number of women and men are up to 40 percent more profitable. Women make up 51 percent of the population,” she says.

“Studies show more diverse organisations deliver better revenue and profitability, a clear sign tech is a great career for women. Tech companies often don’t reflect the customers they are trying to sell to and therefore under-represent their reach and capabilities.”

When Idealog spoke to 16-year-old ASB Bright Sparks winner and OMGTech youth rep Mikayla Stokes, a young woman making moves in New Zealand’s technology space, she said the barriers for getting young girls into tech were high.

“It’s hard getting my friends to take an interest in tech-related stuff because it’s intimidating. It’s like getting into a brand-new sport. Imagine there’s an all-boys team and you are the only girl – it’s tough,” Stokes said.

Hancox says young women she’s spoken with say often there are only a few other girls in their tech classes and they often end up being assigned less technical tasks than male students are, making them feel less valued.

“This must change. If tech is what young women want to study then go it. It will be a fantastic and highly-paid career,” she says.

She says parents, caregivers and teachers need to examine what advice they’re giving young women on their career choices when they leave school and whether they’re encouraging them to look at the technology sector as an option.

“I appeal to all families, schools, organisations and companies to encourage females into tech. It will make a huge positive economic difference for New Zealand,” Hancox says.

Top tips from the Diversity guide  

Seven ways to attract girls and women into tech education

1. Get better at saying what’s brilliant about a career in digital technology.
2. Show the range of jobs that use tech, the opportunities tech provides, and the kinds of people who have tech careers.
3. Be clear about requirements and any alternative pathways.
4. Take action to promote inclusiveness and openly celebrate and acknowledge the business benefits of diversity
5. Provide opportunities for career advisors and parents to better understand tech pathways.
6. Avoid stereotyping.
7. Keep an open mind and encourage all potential students equally.

Four ways to retain girls and women in tech education

1. Support women in tech clubs. If you don’t have a club, promote initiatives that will support their learning, such as Rails Girls and She#.
2. Mind your language. More positive encouragement will build confidence and retain women in tech education.
3. Promote teamwork. Group activities support learning and dispel the common perception that working in tech means sitting alone at a computer all day.
4. Consider your teaching style. Recognise different levels of understanding, experience, and ability.

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