Girl Bosses to Mana Wāhine

Issue: Volume 99, Number 8

Posted: 2 June 2020
Reference #: 1HA7rr

More than ever, Aotearoa is going to need confident, energised and resilient leadership and the founder of GirlBoss New Zealand, Alexia Hilbertidou, is making sure that New Zealand’s young women are well equipped to meet the challenges of the future.

Alexia Hilbertidou founded GirlBoss New Zealand in 2015 when she was 16 – its mission is to close the gender gap in leadership, entrepreneurship and STEM (science, technology, engineering, maths). Her latest initiative GirlBoss Edge was launched just prior to the nationwide Covid-19 lockdown and saw 230 young women from throughout New Zealand being inspired and empowered by mentors and through a range of online platforms.

GirlBoss Edge: Healthcare Edition, a 10-day online career accelerator programme for young women aged 15–18, was held in May with high-profile mentors such as Dr Hinemoa Elder from Brain Research New Zealand and tech entrepreneur Dr Angela Lim.

“A big part of this programme is around young women being future industry leaders, pioneers and problem solvers – and in the midst of Covid-19, there’s no shortage of problems. Now is a very scary time for young people; many of them will be stepping into the workforce for the very first time in a recession,” says Alexia.

“I think now more than ever, the purpose of this programme is to really keep the hopes of these young women up, keep them inspired, motivated and give them a connection to employers. When they go on the programme, they can build their professional networks without even leaving home,” she says.

One-to-one digital networking

Alexia is passionate about using digital technology in innovative ways to reach and support as many young women as possible.

“For example, in this current programme we’re using Facebook Live and integrating with a streaming software that allows all the participants to put in their questions for a mentor. The questions are polled, and the most popular question is picked to pop up on the screen with their face and it’s really cool – they get really excited and it’s all real time.

“We’re using online networking software that facilitates one-to-one networking completely online. The young women sign up to software – they get matched with another girl on the programme and discuss the question on a card that pops up. Five minutes later another girl pops up onto the screen and they discuss that card and it’s really fun and interactive – it’s a bit like speed dating,” she says.

Equity of access

About two-thirds of the GirlBoss Edge: Healthcare Edition participants have received support from the Ministry of Education and schools have funded some of their students as well. The Ministry is keen to understand how digital engagement programmes like this can provide access to advice and mentoring to all at any time and in any place.

“A big part of this programme is really around equity of access and democratising role models. We’ve always been really passionate about supporting regional and rural New Zealanders. Half of the young women on this programme are Māori or Pacific; all of them are being mentored live and online by inspirational role models,” says Alexia.

The power of community

At high school, Alexia found herself the only girl in senior technology and physics classes. Disparaging remarks from boys in her class when she won a Year 12 coding competition lit the fire that inspired GirlBoss.

“No girl needs a permission slip from the boys in her class to follow their dreams,” she told attendees at the One Young World Summit(external link) in London in 2019, where speakers included Richard Branson, J.K. Rowling and Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex.  

For the past five years throughout New Zealand, smart and ambitious girls have been finding their soulmates through GirlBoss’s workshops, courses and initiatives.

“Our biggest feedback from young girls,” says Alexa, “is that it’s a relief to find other girls like them – particularly our young women from regional and rural New Zealand. They say, ‘I didn’t know there were girls out there who were like me. To actually meet other young women who share my passions is so inspiring and motivating, and I no longer feel like I’m alone’.

“From this latest course, we’re already organising meet-ups because a lot of students are going to university for the first time, and for them to already have friends and a community that they can rely on is going to be really powerful at addressing the inequality that we so often see in higher education.

“Often girls in STEM don’t have that community and are already at high risk of dropping out because they don’t feel like they belong when they arrive. I hope it can address inequalities now – and going forward in their career journeys.”

For Alexia, the greatest satisfaction is when she hears from young women: ‘I’ve just got into medical school’, or ‘I’ve got my first internship in my second year of engineering degree. If I didn’t have that GirlBoss community, I could never have imagined I would be working in a tech company as an intern’.

“A real highlight for me was when we ran GirlBoss programmes in the Cook Islands and later I saw a photo of four of those young women at the Auckland University Cook Islands Association all enrolled in engineering together.”

Where to next?

GirlBoss Edge plans to do intakes for a variety of career interests. The next cohort will be for young women with a passion for Law, Policy, and Governance.

“As we rebuild our nation, now, more than ever, we will need effective leadership and equitable outcomes.

“Currently only 20 percent of board members in our NZX are women. Only two percent of our NZX CEOs are women, and numbers for Māori and Pacific women barely register,” says Alexia.

The first online course has been so effective that Alexia says she is now thinking about how they can make more elements of the business become more efficient and future focused.

“An interesting perspective on Covid-19 is that we had to quickly throw everything into Edge and I think it’s our most innovative and exciting programme yet. I have been amazed at how we’ve been able to build such a strong community completely online,” she says.

Schools, teachers, parents and students can register their interest in a future cohort at link).

Tamahine kōrero

Some participants in the May programme share how GirlBoss Edge has impacted them.

  • From being a shy person in front of crowds, this course has allowed me to overcome and grow out of this shyness and be a more confident young woman in today’s society. This programme has reassured me that I can reach my goals and to not give up on myself even in hard times. Jessica, 16, Auckland. Dream job: paediatric doctor.

  • This programme has introduced me to a community of empowering young women and has strengthened my drive to achieve my career goal. The modules and the guest speakers have helped me develop skills that I will be able to apply not only to my medical journey but also to life. Cushla, 17, Auckland. Dream job: A Pasifika representative in the department of neurology, or a general practitioner.

  • On the first day of the course we all instantly became best friends. We made group chats and talked for hours. I have met so many amazing girls that also share a passion for midwifery and healthcare. I am incredibly grateful for all the friends I’ve made and the amazing people who we’ve had the chance to talk to. Especially Alexia: none of this would have been possible without her. Elizabeth, 16, Opunake. Dream job: midwifery.

  • The GirlBoss Edge: Healthcare programme has been incredible. I feel so much more confident in myself and my abilities thanks to the modules and inspiring talks from wonderful wāhine such as Dr Hinemoa Elder and Shalini Guleria. I’ve also had the chance to bond with other young women passionate about making a difference in healthcare. Most importantly I’ve learnt, as Dr Hinemoa put it, ‘to not compromise on being mana wāhine’ and how to be a GirlBoss. Bridie, 17, Riccarton. Dream job: biomedical engineering to create prosthetic limbs.

  • The GirlBoss Edge: Healthcare Edition programme is like a dream come true: my confidence in communication has increased by 100x in my own home! While being in a community with over 200 like-minded young wāhine, I am no longer fearful of the future. Siying, Auckland. Dream job: biomedical engineer, while also getting more young women into STEM fields!

  • Without this opportunity I would never have grown the skills I have and made lifelong connections that will help my transition to university next year. I feel more empowered to embrace who I am and be fearless in my pursuit of success, knowing that every failure is a step closer to achieving my dreams. Amber, 17, Otumoetai. Dream job: biomedical research or neuroscience.

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BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 8:21 am, 2 June 2020

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