Women rush to mentor tech girls

News News & events

21 Jun 2016

Christchurch's female engineers and IT professionals have rushed to support an initiative that demystifies the sectors for secondary school girls.

ShadowTech brings the students into IT and engineering workplaces and allows them to 'shadow' professional women in the technology industries for one day, next Thursday 23 June.

40 mentors were quick to sign up to the scheme run by NZ Tech in Christchurch, Wellington and Auckland; facilitated by Ara Institute of Canterbury in Christchurch.  The mentors in Christchurch represent a range of backgrounds and careers from website designers, software engineers and marketing specialists, to structural, technical, sustainability and civil engineers. Guest speaker Hazel Bradshaw, founder and director of DriedFrog Ltd, holds a doctorate in Human Interface Technology, representing emerging disciplines in ICT.


Occupying just 28% of professional IT roles in New Zealand according to 2014 research*, women are very much in the minority and the number of female students enrolling in ICT-related programmes at a tertiary level is falling.

The mentors are keen to show girls that the technology sectors offer careers with great opportunities and twice the New Zealand average pay rate. These workplaces need talent and diversity - gender-balanced companies demonstrate improved employee productivity and performance; and report better financial results.

"My motivation for joining ShadowTech is because I want to encourage women into the IT Sector as I believe that we bring with us a unique set of skills to the job, I also enjoy helping people grow and progress along their career path," Tanya Stone, the city council's Acting Team Leader - Corporate Data Management and Maintenance, ITII Integration and Interoperability Team, said.

ShadowTech Day is a collaboration between industry, education and regional economic development agencies in participating regions; for Christchurch this includes Ara, Careers and Transition Education Association NZ, Careers New Zealand, NZTech, FutureinTech and Canterbury Development Corporation.

"Careers New Zealand is committed to supporting opportunities to connect young people and employers through its education to employment initiatives," Careers New Zealand Education to Employment (Initiatives) Advisor Lynnette Morgan says.

"ShadowTech for Girls will provide students a real insight into the world of work, and an understanding of how subject choices at school relate to career and learning pathways. Students will also get to see first-hand the skills and behaviours that employers are looking for in the workplace."

50 students from a range of schools will return to Ara in the afternoon to learn about study pathways and STEM initiatives. 

According to the New Zealand government sector reports there are more than 124,000 people employed across the technology sector – ICT and hi-tech – but with annual growth rates exceeding any other sector the biggest challenge to maintain that growth is finding sufficient skilled and experienced talent.

There is a growing gap between the talent being produced and the needs of a rapidly expanding technology sector. A recent NZTech member survey suggests that the sector will require up to 10,000 people to fill new roles over the next three years.

Engineering needs at least another 500 graduates per year from 2017 and also suffers from a lack of diversity with only 13% of engineers being women according to the government's Engineering Education to Employment initiative.

ShadowTech Days in Auckland and Wellington were popular with 230 young women participating overall. NZ Tech plans to build on the initiative next year.

Ara Institute of Canterbury runs STEM-related programmes for secondary school students such as Aerodynamix, Ecobot, Mission to Mars and Sport Smart.  

* Dr Alison Hunter, Principal Lecturer in the Faculty of Business and Information Technology at Manukau Institute of Technology (Hunter, 2014)