Empowering a generation of ‘Girl Bosses’ in healthcare, science and sport

Issue: Volume 102, Number 7

Posted: 1 June 2023
Reference #: 1HAa5Q

GirlBoss New Zealand’s most recent offering, GirlBoss Edge Healthcare, has supported a new wave of wāhine to forge their own path into industries like health, science and sport – and to be unapologetically ambitious in reaching their potential. 

With the upcoming FIFA Women’s World Cup Australia and New Zealand 2023™, now is the perfect time to create and deliver new and exciting opportunities for girls and young women.

Mana wāhine at a GirlBoss Future CEO Summit.

Mana wāhine at a GirlBoss Future CEO Summit.

GirlBoss New Zealand founder and CEO Alexia Hilbertidou says participants in their latest programme are “part of a wider movement and wave of empowered, confident women who are stepping forth into these industries and are having an incredible impact in these fields.”

GirlBoss Edge Healthcare took place over the April school holidays as an interactive 10-day school holiday programme. It was rolled out online and featured a series of Facebook Live events, Q+A sessions, team challenges, kōrero and one-on-one mentoring from over 150 healthcare professionals including doctors, surgeons, midwives, and CEOs.

Edge Healthcare application numbers were estimated to sit at around 400. To the great surprise and delight of GirlBoss NZ, the series garnered nearly 1,000 applications. They were granted extra funding to offer full ride scholarships to 825 young women.

The programme was funded by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment to raise the profile of women and girls in society as part of
co-hosting the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023™.

Across all of the GirlBoss NZ programmes, there is focus on enabling engagement and interaction between the mentors and the network of young women.

The virtual events are carried out in a way that champions collaboration and strays away from a traditional speaker and passive listener interaction. This sets them apart from other online programmes and is why their community keeps growing. 

“You’ll never see a GirlBoss event where a young woman is just sitting there passively in the crowd, listening to someone else speak on stage and then going home. We’re not in that game. We’re in the game of action and genuine confidence, which is built through experiences and pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone.”

Edge Healthcare speakers and mentors included health industry professionals like Jazz Thornton (mental health advocate), Dr Hinemoa Elder (psychologist, forensic psychiatrist, and neuroscientist) and Dr Justin Sung (former medical doctor, author and co-founder of Foster Our Future, a New Zealand registered charity aimed at reducing education inequities).

Like all GirlBoss initiatives, Edge Healthcare was designed to be active rather than passive, with participants expected to execute plans, and move from a state of inspiration to real action. 

“We teach them how to introduce themselves to somebody, how to go up to somebody at an event, how to do an elevator pitch. They’re learning everything, and then they put it into practice the next day, which is cool. They can solidify their learning.”

Participants of Edge Healthcare were given an unmatched experience and skills that will benefit them when taking the first steps on their professional journey. 

“What we’re doing is teaching key career skills, they’re getting a CV worthy experience, and joining a community and network. Every single day they’re doing different things and it’s a very challenging environment because we want them to emerge with genuine confidence.”

In addition to gaining industry connections, learning CV preparation and creation, and undertaking problem solving challenges, it was hoped all participants would leave the course with something far more important and invaluable – inner confidence and self-assurance. 

“Every single young woman who did that programme now knows how to introduce themselves, how to answer the question, ‘what do you want to do once you leave school?’ and say it in a really positive and compelling way.”

Following the commencement of the programme, feedback from attendees showed that 90 percent of alumni felt the course was life-changing for them. For Alexia, that is the key metric to measure success of the programme, and it’s also the ‘why’ behind what she does.  

The girl boss behind GirlBoss

Alexia Hilbertidou.

Alexia Hilbertidou.

GirlBoss NZ was founded in 2015 by Tāmaki Makaurau local, Alexia Hilbertidou. At 16 years old, while a student at Albany Senior High, Alexia developed the now 13,500 member strong network of young women.  

Throughout her education, Alexia went to a number of schools dotted across East and West Auckland and the North Shore. Raised by a single mum who worked as a teacher, furthering knowledge and seeking higher education were values held in high regard in the household. Naturally, Alexia has come to love education in all forms, both educating and being educated.

“You can have a conversation that provides an experience to a young person which completely changes the trajectory of their lives. That’s something very special and unique in the education space.”

GirlBoss NZ programmes help young women who are looking to enter into, and succeed in, fields such as science, technology, engineering, maths, entrepreneurship and business. Their various offerings equip participants with LinkedIn accredited skills, ongoing mentoring, specially developed professional coaching, and a large network of supportive wāhine.

Seven years on, the GirlBoss NZ community has seen immense growth – both by way of member numbers and the empowerment gained by being part of the network. Over 13,500 young women from one hundred secondary schools across Aotearoa are involved in GirlBoss NZ and the initiatives rolled out by Alexia and her team. 

If not me, who? If not now, when?

Science and technology were where Alexia’s interests and passion lay, and she spent much of her senior years in the high school labs. As she sat in her Digital Technology class, she noticed all of her classmates were male.

Alexia knew there was nothing inherent about these subjects, or human biology, that made the young men sitting next to her more suitable for science-related careers. Nevertheless, this gender disproportionality was evident across her other science and technology classes.

“I started to wonder, ‘Where are the young women like me? Why aren't they going into these fields?” says Alexia.

Despite her academic skills which matched and sometimes exceeded classmates, Alexia felt a sense of displacement among her peers. At 16, the term ‘imposter syndrome’ wasn’t part of the everyday vernacular of high school students, but it was what she and many young women in male-dominated fields experienced and continue to experience.

“The biggest reason women drop out of STEM is the lack of community, they don't feel like they belong. They do belong there, but they think they don’t.” says Alexia.

Alexia wasn’t aware of any mentoring or career services that specially catered to young women, or women in STEM, which meant she could only call on her lived experiences to make sense of it all.

Rather than brushing this aside and getting distracted with study, she set out to challenge the status quo.

“I said to myself, ‘Somebody's got to do something about this’. And then I thought, ‘Well, if not me, who? If not now, when?’”

The success of GirlBoss NZ, and the many accolades earned by Alexia, didn’t come overnight, nor easily. While developing the organisation Alexia continued to struggle with imposter syndrome, but she knew if she didn’t see it through, she wouldn’t be part of the change she had been so adamant to see.

“One of the biggest challenges I had to overcome when building GirlBoss was my own self-doubt. I was only 16 at the time. And I wondered, who was I to solve the problem of the gender gap in technology and business, especially being only 16, and in high school?”

Alexia’s determination to empower others and perseverance despite obstacles sowed the seeds for the now ever-growing GirlBoss community.

“My experience has gone from feeling so isolated and alone to now working with thousands of young women who share my passions. We're dedicated to ensuring that all young women, regardless of their background, have access to the tools and support they need to succeed.”

Bright and bold leaders

GirlBoss NZ is funded by corporate and government sponsors including Spark, PwC, ANZ and the Ministry of Education and Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, which allows them to roll out their initiatives at no cost to participants. This was imperative to Alexia and the philosophy of the organisation.

“It’s all about breaking down bad boundaries and barriers. Because if we want to change some of the statistics, we can only do that by making it more accessible and equitable to everyone.”

Many young female school leavers and university graduates enter the corporate world without any previous experience of professional environments or knowledge of socially agreed norms of professional conduct, says Alexia.

When these circumstances are paired with other systematic disadvantages like race, poverty and levels of education, young women are even less likely to thrive professionally compared to their male peers. 

“What I’ve seen through my journey as someone who came from a single mother background in West Auckland, to now being in Forbes 30 under 30, being a Queen’s young leader, working with senior leaders across the world, is the biggest barrier for young woman from low income backgrounds, who are first in their family to go to university, is the ability to navigate corporate and professional environments.”

They also tend to have to navigate these changes alone, without the same wraparound support that classmates or university peers can provide. 

“Even the most talented young women – bright and bold leaders – as soon as they’re put into a corporate environment, I will watch them shut down, become a shell of themself. They’ve got imposter syndrome – no one in their family has worked in a corporate job before. There’s so much inequality that comes into play, which has nothing to do with their capabilities or potential as an individual.”

Feelings of inadequacy, uncertainty and imposter syndrome are natural when transitioning to new stages of life. Regardless of the universality of these feelings, they are still no less difficult to deal with. 

“It’s okay to feel fearful. But it’s not okay to let that fear get in the way of your contribution to this world,” says Alexia. 

In high school, Alexia noticed opportunities like internships and self-development programmes were largely given to her peers in traditional leadership roles or were more accessible to those with a higher socioeconomic status and established connections.

With GirlBoss NZ, Alexia champions the principles of equity and accessibility, so there are no prerequisites or fulfilment criteria that participants must meet in order to be part of the community. 

The only unofficial attribute or requirement of members is that they are engaged, want to join a supportive community of young wāhine, and determined to make positive change in the world. 

GirlBoss aims to break down barriers at Future CEO Summit.

GirlBoss aims to break down barriers at Future CEO Summit.

Building on momentum

The momentum GirlBoss NZ has already gained, alongside their grassroots connections, will ensure a continuous delivery of events and programmes that exceeds expectations.

Over May and June, the GirlBoss NZ team is travelling across the country to run activations at campus Career Expos, attend several speaking events, and host ‘Hackathons’. 

The latter is what Alexia is most excited for following the success of last year’s all female Hackathon, ‘We the Women’. The 2022 Hackathon was sponsored by Spark, PwC, and ANZ. Off the back of the event Spark gave 25 percent of participants paid employment and ongoing mentorship. 

“We never just let the sponsors be passive. We want to give our young women exposure to these careers and fields, get connected in corporate organisations, and get work experience.” 

The upcoming Hackathon has a focus on the UN Global Goal (SDG 5) – Gender Equality. It will see a community of young women come together to hear from inspiring speakers and work in teams to develop and present a problem-solving policy. 

“We’re really encouraging young women to be unapologetically ambitious, to dream big, to realise that they already have everything within them to go out there and achieve their fullest potential – they don’t need permission from anyone else.”

GirlBoss-es of the future



Aleynna, 16, Manurewa College 

Aleynna says before GirlBoss Edge, she struggled to get out of her comfort zone and socialise with others.

“I met many extraordinary young women who have the same interests as me. I have become so much more confident. The key thing I take from this programme is no matter where you’re from, you can be successful just by following what you’re passionate about.

“I love to help others, whether it’s mentally, spiritually, physically, socially, or culturally. A positive change I want to make in the world is to encourage other Pasifika students to embrace and explore their cultures because it’s a big part of their identity and also to help and encourage other Pasifika students who want to be a part of the medical industry who are afraid of failure or think they aren’t capable of being in the medical field.”

Leticia, 17, Marist College

Leticia says her whole entire life has changed, along with her views on the healthcare industry and the professionals that work within it.

“I feel as though I have a chance to participate in the industry and create a positive impact. Honestly, it’s mind-blowing how much I have learned within 10 days of this programme compared to my entire 17 years of living.

“A drop of a leaf on a calm lake can create endless ripples of change. A positive change I would like to make in this world is to design technology that can help people. I aim to study biomedical engineering, or maybe I may choose some other path to be a researcher or some sort of pharmacist. Either way, it is fulfilling to use my skills to make people’s lives easier and more manageable.”

Darcy, 15, Marist College

Darcy says before GirlBoss Edge, she was struggling to find encouragement.

“I genuinely had no idea what I wanted to do with my life after high school and didn't have the slightest clue on how to achieve my dreams. I was unmotivated, bored and, quite frankly, lost. In this programme, there were many elements that I will forever be inspired by.

“From Jazz Thornton who taught me I have to prioritise myself, to Dr Justin Sung, who told me to push myself, they all produced words of wisdom I will carry with me through my life. I cannot describe how much I have grown in this short amount of time. Going out of my comfort zone, I made so many new friends I hope I will get to meet in the years to come.

“Alexia told me things that brought tears to my eyes, she is such a strong young woman who I hope to somewhat resemble when that time comes."

Diya, 17, Auckland

Diya says before GirlBoss Edge, she had no direction.

“I was confused, and I was lost. As the oldest child of an immigrant family, I was struggling to navigate through NCEA and future university applications. I joined GirlBoss to help myself so that I can help others. With the GirlBoss Edge, I now know how to chase my dream and exactly what to do.

“From a young age, I’ve always been passionate about making a positive impact in the world. As I’ve grown older, my passion has become more focused on creating a positive change in healthcare. There’s nothing more rewarding than knowing you’ve helped someone through a difficult time, and that’s what I hope to do in my life!

“I'm particularly interested in finding ways to improve access to healthcare for underserved communities and reducing healthcare disparities. In today's world, it's more important than ever to work towards creating a healthier, more equitable society.

Collaboration, not competition

Throughout July and August this year, Aotearoa will host the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023™ alongside Australia – it’s the world’s largest women’s sporting event and is expected to encourage necessary conversation on the representation and treatment of women in sport and media. 

As part of the Leverage and Legacy programme, the Ministry of Education and Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment have partnered with GirlBoss NZ to facilitate events for the duration of the World Cup. 

“This is an excellent example of how we can leverage major events such as the FIFA Women’s World Cup to empower future generations of Aotearoa New Zealand and leave a lasting legacy for our country and our communities,” says Kylie Hawker-Green, MBIE manager major events. 

The programme is supported by a fund to mobilise outcomes in four key focus areas: Mana Wāhine (raising the profile of women and girls in sport and wider society); Te Tangata (thriving communities); Te Ao (enhancing our international relationships), and Ōhanga (economic growth).

“Sport is such a good tool to talk about issues like gender equality and the gender pay gap. It can help when teaching key leadership themes like fear of failure, imposter syndrome, resilience, and confidence. It can also help reach young women that may not be engaged in other areas. These topics are very much on the pulse at the moment,” says Alexia. 

Another possible avenue for learning is the importance of teamwork which is innate to sports. Teamwork is an everyday principle practised in the GirlBoss community and it contributes to their overall success and objectives. 

“We talk a lot at GirlBoss around the importance of collaboration, not competition, and lifting each other up, supporting each other and making all of our dreams a reality. Because when we step into our potential, we’re not just changing our own lives, we’re changing the world,” says Alexia.

Alexia is grateful for the partnership with the Ministry and MBIE as it will allow the organisation to raise their profile further and extend their reach across Aotearoa. 

“We’d love for any young women or teachers to sign up to our newsletter. We’re always looking for connections in schools because it’s so important to have a teacher as a contact who can champion what we do. We want to keep doing the work that we do and reach more young women.”

Beyond The Pitch

Beyond The Pitch

FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023™ have launched an immersive tournament-themed classroom education programme aligned with The New Zealand Curriculum.

Beyond The Pitch is for primary and intermediate aged students and includes a range of lesson plans designed around the FIFA values of Diversity, Excellence, Equality, Passion, Respect, Authenticity and aligns with the Social Sciences, Health and Physical Education, Personal Health and Development, and Technology curricula.

Built in collaboration with New Zealand Football and Sport New Zealand, Beyond The Pitch sits alongside Sport New Zealand’s ‘In Our Backyard’ educational project, in the Kōtuitui learning module.

The hub includes a range of tournament-themed lessons and workshops, as well as an excursion section for teachers to arrange outside the classroom experiences by attending a match or a FIFA Fan Festival.

Find these resources at FIFA.com/beyondthepitch(external link).

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero, reporter@edgazette.govt.nz

Posted: 8:52 am, 1 June 2023

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