In an effort to inspire New Zealand girls to consider pathways in digital technologies, a group of Christchurch technology and education firms banded together to create an important hands-on experience that showed just how lucrative a tech career can be.
Ara Institute of Canterbury, ImpactED and Creative Trust, with support from the Ministry of Education, held a recent hui called Engaging Girls in Digital Technologies.
The aim of the hui was to provide a safe opportunity to understand and interact with digital technologies so that girls could see what kinds of career pathways they could take.
A group of girls, aged between four and 16, experienced a virtual tour of Christchurch. This tour was the brainchild of Ara student Jenna Hollis. Hollis is studying IT at the institute.
“I think events like this are important because a lot of the issue comes down to not knowing any girls coming into tech,” she says.
“I didn’t know anyone that had gone to university to do this but older students that I later talked to who have all the skills, they’re really good at coding, make me think ‘wow, it’s not just the boys that are really good at coding or business.’ It really pushes you, because you realise ‘oh I can do that as well!’”
ImpactED’s Arnika Macphail and her team are also passionate about taking the technology experience to younger girls. She believes that many girls find tech interesting, but few consider it to be a study pathway.
“That’s often something they fall into later in life, so we really want to encourage that integration of digital technologies and see that opportunity come to them as early as possible.”
She says the event attracted girls and women aged from four years old to 60 years old, all of whom were immersed in trying out new technologies, as well as coding.
“I think that this is really bringing out the girls’ passions; whether that’s sports or fashion, or coding and robotics, we can still make it more meaningful and help to design courses where they have an impact on the world,” says Macphail.
Both Hollis and Macphail believe that all girls need women to act as role models and to show that there’s more to tech than social media and video games.
“We have to realise that if we have too many of the same people behind social media programs that there’ll be a bias within algorithms that are being created and that can be hugely influential on our lives,” says Macphail.
Hollis adds that social media tends to present biases that don’t work well in terms of inspiring girls to think big.
“[We need more] things coming up on your page that are about women in business and being ‘girl bosses’, and this woman you know coded this amazing product, come and have a look at this. Instead of content like ‘are you worried about your fingernails?’ Because I’m a young woman, 20 to 25, they give me all this pink and bubblegum stuff!”
She points to a lack of girls in tech, even in recent years. When she started her degree, there were 18 girls out of around 100 students. With time and adjustment, it’s not too hard to overcome, Hollis concludes.