The importance of women in New Zealand technology

Opinion piece by Mahsa Mohaghegh
The importance of women in New Zealand technology

Please note: this article was first published in August 2014.

The constant drive for development in science and technology influences more and more fields every day.

Such is the rate of change that opportunities and new markets are emerging at a rapid rate, because advances in one area often make changes possible in others.

As a result, the number of jobs in technology is increasing significantly, but finding skilled people to fill them is an issue across the world, including New Zealand, and will remain that way unless certain measures are taken now.

Another trend  New Zealand’s technology sector shares with the rest of the world is the gender gap in science and technology.

A post on the Harvard blog in 2014 shed some light on why women are ‘turning off and tuning out’  and the significance of the issue is underlined  when Google commits $US50 million to close the gender gap.

SEE ALSO: The Importance & Advantages of a Diverse Board

The reasons for the gender imbalance may differ from country to country but many believe there is an overarching issue in the way computer science is perceived by young people, particularly girls.


Shifting technology misconceptions 

Many view it as a field which has little room for creativity or design, and instead software or technology development is associated with a computer desk and endless lines of code.

These were all points that were highlighted in the study Google did in researching the issue.


Mahsa Mohaghegh

There is no denying the benefits of having a mixed gender base in work environments and the tech sector is no different.

Frequently, women bring a different perspective to men and technology sector would be better off with more of what they can offer.

Efforts are also being made in New Zealand to encourage and inspire women to consider technology.


Role models key for change

Auckland based group – She Sharp – aims to help high school-aged girls interact with women studying computer science in universities, and also with successful women in the industry.

Nothing is more motivating to girls either studying or considering computer science as a career than to see other women in the field sharing their experiences, challenges and successes.

New Zealand is not short of  female role models. Victoria Ransom, Leanne Graham, Geraldine McBride, and Julia Raue readily come to mind.

If we can show what a diverse and exciting field science and technology is, and the inspirational stories of women who are helping shape the future, then we may be able to help girls get involved at early stages at school.


1 in 10 female

At Unitec, we are working on trying to encourage young women to consider technology as a career path.

Recently we held an app development challenge asking Year 12 and 13 girls from high schools across the country to design and develop a mobile app over a weekend.

The winning prize was free tuition fees for our three-year Bachelor of Computer Systems course. I have lectured within this course for over 5 years, and each semester we only have around 10% of female students on the roll.

It’s our belief that if we can get girls at high school – or even earlier – interested in the opportunities that Technology provides, they will hopefully see it as a viable career path.

Society  is in the midst of a period of great change because of digital advances. New ways of living and doing business are being created. Being part of this change and helping shape the way of the future would certainly benefit from the thinking, creativity and unique input that women can bring to the game.

So, if you have a daughter, granddaughter or niece, encourage her to consider being an agent of change by thinking about the wonders of technology and the way it is reshaping our world, and how she can be part of that.

SEE ALSO: The Importance & Advantages of a Diverse Board


Mahsa Mohaghegh is the Outreach Development Manager at Unitec Institute of Technology

She is responsible for liaising with industry professionals for in-class workshops and demonstrations, as well as running departmental promotional workshops. As part of her role, Mahsa has led a push to promote computer science in high schools as a career option. In 2012 she won Google’s Anita Borg Scholarship and in 2013 she become director of the Auckland branch of Girl Geek Coffees, a group dedicated to supporting girls in technology, computer science and associated fields. Mahsa won the Emerging Leader category at the 2013 Women of Influence Awards. 

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