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As part of TechWomen’s ShadowTech Day in September, around 600 wāhine in Years 9, 10 and 11 spent the day at one of 50 companies across Hamilton, Cambridge, Wellington, Tauranga, Christchurch, Dunedin and Auckland. The aim? To inspire more girls to forge a path in the rapidly evolving tech sector in Aotearoa.
St Margaret’s College students learning about Trimble’s history.
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 impact of the programme. 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 Aotearoa New Zealand and is key in helping to solve some of the world’s toughest problems.
When you ask TechWomen executive director Yvonne Gill about the importance of the initiative she says, “ShadowTech Day is a fantastic opportunity for students to experience the wide range of career opportunities available to them in the sector.”
Tackling the diversity challenge
Yvonne explains that half of the New Zealand population is female, but a recent NZTech survey (Digital Skills Aotearoa: Edition 3) found that women make up 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.”
Tauranga students enjoying pizza together between their learning.
Yvonne adds that programmes such as this help break down barriers and myths around gendered roles or career paths.
An important aspect of ShadowTech is that ākonga are introduced to careers in technology in ways they may have not 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,” says Yvonne.
Giving students this experience in Years 9–11 gives them enough time to form education pathways that might lead to tech sector roles.
Yvonne explains that the gap is a “bit of a perception issue”.
“It takes a lot of time to change those kinds of 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 presence of the industry that might hire them one day.
St Margaret’s College ākonga learning about Trimble’s products.
Students visiting Westpac had the opportunity to pose tough questions to leadership and witness some of the behind-the-scenes mahi of banking, including with ATMs, cards and EFTPOS, cybersecurity, Kubernetes, engineering streams and the overall workplace culture.
Feedback from students included, “It was amazing to learn how welcoming a place a job in tech is and how people from so many different diverse backgrounds can work there,” and “The whole thing was mind-provoking, exciting, and a new experience. Thank you so much for the opportunity and encouraging more women into the tech business.”
Zara from St Margaret’s College says, “I found Spot, the robotic dog, interesting as we 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.”
Spot was a fan favourite for most students on the day at Trimble, including Ida in Year 10 who says, “Personally I really enjoyed seeing the Boston Dynamics robot and learning about what it did.”
Teachers were equally excited. Leesa Lawgate from Botany Downs Secondary College says, “One of the most significant highlights for me was the opportunity to meet a diverse group of women within the company, each sharing their unique roles and responsibilities.
St Margaret’s College student interacting with a Trimble product.
“The knowledge gained was invaluable. I wholeheartedly recommend this day to both students and staff, and I’m enthusiastic about encouraging more girls to attend next year.”
A digital technologies teacher at Ellesmere College says their students had the incredible opportunity to visit Capgemini, renowned leaders in digital, data and cloud technologies.
“The Capgemini team graciously shared their expertise, providing our 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.
“The ShadowTech event was invaluable, and we eagerly anticipate future engagements, shaping a positive trajectory for our students in the digital landscape.”
Shay Cowley from Te Kauwhata College adds, “It was a great day for our learners, the honest conversations the speakers had with the students gave them a lot of insight into possible future careers as well as general career advice.”
St Margaret’s College ākonga outside Trimble in Christchurch.
The Ministry of Education is a proud supporter of TechWomen’s ShadowTech. To attend a ShadowTech event next year, make sure to subscribe for updates on when registrations open.
There is also a list of resources that NZTech collated from mentors during their 2022 programme.
Visit shadowtech.nz(external link) for more.