Encouraging Young Women To Enter Tech

young women in tech

ShadowTech is a TechWomen initiative that has been running since 2014, with the very first ShadowTech Day giving girls and young women the chance to shadow a tech professional for a day.

In 2021, the ShadowTech programme evolved to focus on secondary school teachers to widen the programme's impact. After a two-year hiatus due to Covid-19, ShadowTech returned this year with participation from 51 schools.

Tech is the fastest-growing industry in New Zealand and is key in helping to solve some of the world's most challenging problems.

TechWomen executive director Yvonne Gill said ShadowTech Day is a fantastic opportunity for students to experience the wide range of career opportunities available to them in the sector.

Gill explained that half of the New Zealand population is female. A recent NZTech survey (Digital Skills Aotearoa: Edition 3) found that women comprise only 29 percent of the country's digital IT workforce.

"This diversity challenge begins in education, with females making up only 40 percent of NCEA technology students and 24 percent of IT graduates," said Gill.

Gill added that such programmes help break down barriers and myths around gendered roles or career paths.

An essential aspect of ShadowTech is that ākonga is introduced to careers in technology in ways they may not have considered or been exposed to before.

The "day in the life" experience has them sitting in on meetings, witnessing the communication and interaction between peers, and seeing what a typical day is like in the industry.

"If students see the work, then hopefully they can see themselves doing that in the future."

Giving students this experience in Years 9 to 11 gives them enough time to form education pathways that might lead to tech sector roles.

Gill explained that the gap was a "bit of a perception issue".

"It takes a lot of time to change those ingrained perceptions and see that come through to the workforce."

"Mind-provoking and exciting"

Education Gazette was able to attend two ShadowTech visits: one with Wellington Girls' College and Kuranui College, who spent the day at Westpac in Wellington, and one with St Margaret's College, who spent the day at Trimble in Christchurch.

Over the day, the students tried out new technology, such as coding and AI tools, and spoke with veterans of the profession.

Trimble also invited the University of Canterbury's Women in Tech Society (WiTSoc) for women (cis and trans) and non-binary people studying STEM-related degrees.

This gave ākonga from St Margaret's College a unique opportunity to ask questions about studying technology subjects at university, all while in the industry that might hire them one day.

Students visiting Westpac had the opportunity to pose challenging questions to leadership and witness some of the behind-the-scenes mahi of banking, including ATMs, cards and EFTPOS, cybersecurity, Kubernetes, engineering streams and the overall workplace culture.

Zara from St Margaret's College said that she found Spot, the robotic dog, interesting as she had been learning about the potential future of robots in the workforce for Future problem-solving.

"We had been researching Spot, so it was awesome to see the robot in real life and learn more about how it works," said Zara.

Teachers were equally excited. Leesa Lawgate from Botany Downs Secondary College said one of my most significant highlights was the opportunity to meet diverse women within the company, each sharing their unique roles and responsibilities.

"The knowledge gained was invaluable. I wholeheartedly recommend this day to students and staff, and I'm enthusiastic about encouraging more girls to attend next year," said Lawgate.

A digital technologies teacher at Ellesmere College said their students had the incredible opportunity to visit Capgemini, renowned leaders in digital, data and cloud technologies, stating that the Capgemini team graciously shared their expertise, providing students with a firsthand glimpse into the world of digital technology.

"Their warm welcome and insightful guidance illuminated the diverse and exciting pathways within the industry, particularly emphasising the empowering prospects for women globally," said the teacher.

"The ShadowTech event was invaluable, and we eagerly anticipate future engagements, shaping a positive trajectory for our students in the digital landscape."