Getting ambitious on the tech gender gap - #10KWāhine
For years, those of us in the Aotearoa tech sector have been talking about the underrepresentation of wāhine.
As a woman and a managing director in the industry myself, it's something I'm asked about a lot - and the 'why' is obvious. In New Zealand, only a quarter of the tech sector is female, and that percentage drops even further when it comes to senior or board-level roles.
On the other hand, almost every local tech company has struggled to find enough people with the right skills to keep up with exploding demand for digital services and tools, let alone enable growth into new markets.
How can we help solve one issue by addressing the other? It can't just be about opening our borders. First, it's worth noting that many women simply don't see technology or digital-focused roles as realistic options.
In October 2021, Microsoft did some research into what women really think about our industry. The first revelation was hugely encouraging. Around 38 per cent of the women we interviewed would consider a career in tech. But with that result came some concerns. Answers revealed a lack of relevant skills - or the perception they didn't have the right skills - had stopped over half of women pursuing a digital career.
Meanwhile, more than 90% of women in our survey said they weren't currently being offered training or assistance to help increase their digital skills.
The results also showed we in the industry have a job to do in helping New Zealanders of all backgrounds and genders (not only women) understand exactly what skills we need on our teams. As we can attest, creativity, relationship-building, problem-solving, project management, communication and empathy are all just as essential to success as programming and engineering. Yet less than a third of respondents identified these as important.
That's why we need even greater collaboration and partnership across the tech sector to really shift the dial on bringing more women into our industry and showing them that tech can be a rewarding career.
Microsoft has now launched an ambitious new programme, #10KWāhine, to provide tech skills to 10,000 wāhine across Aotearoa over the next 12 months, by bringing even more partners across our ecosystem together. We want New Zealand businesses, Microsoft partners and education providers to come together to give 10,000 female school students, tertiary students, career-changers and women returning to the workforce the right skills for a digital career.
PwC is one example of a business that's already doing great work with its own Ignite programme. We're helping provide certification and training to interns in the programme, who have changed careers to embrace what the tech world can offer. I had the privilege to meet two of the participants, ex-flight attendant Mere Rewi-Leaunga and travel organiser Ruth Langi, who are already inspiring others to follow in their footsteps through talks to students at their old school, or by encouraging family members to give it a go. Ruth's husband now works at PwC himself!
Imagine what more partnerships like this can do to close the gender gap and provide opportunities to many more women and girls at all stages of their career. Rather than running these programmes in isolation, we can make so much more impact if we work together. We want to encourage more businesses to get on board.
What does #10KWāhine entail?
Through the programme, wāhine will be able to attend a series of different events covering everything from cloud and enterprise skills, to courses offered through Microsoft's training partners, to gain experience and certifications. There will also be mentoring and free training courses available through Microsoft Learn.
Some of the key initiatives include:
- Enterprise Skilling - We'll be working with our customers and partners to create programmes that support wāhine within their organisations to acquire new digital skills
- Microsoft Learn - Our free online learning platform where wāhine can discover new skills, find certifications, and advance their careers with interactive, hands-on learning paths.
- Global Skills Initiative - Through the Global Skills Initiative, people worldwide will have free access to training content on Microsoft Learn, LinkedIn Learning, and GitHub Learning Lab. Additionally, a set of Microsoft Certification exams aligned to in-demand jobs are available to those who self-attest that their employment has been impacted by COVID-19 at a significantly discounted fee of $15 USD, helping job seekers demonstrate their skills to potential employers.
- Hour of Code - A partnership with OMGTech! to reach 2,500 young women aged 8-12 from underserved communities through Hour of Code events delivered by volunteers from the technology sector.
- DigiWāhine - A series of in-school events inspiring year 9-13 wāhine to consider roles in technology. We're working with our partners to provide hands-on experiences and career discussion circles with inspirational wāhine working in digital and technology roles.
If you'd like to get involved, or you'd like your teams to participate in any of the initiatives, get in touch with us. The past two years have been years of incredible change - together, let's create even more.
Vanessa Sorenson is Managing Director, Microsoft New Zealand
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Many of the primary school girls at my wife's school, where she's a teacher, get very excited when as part of lessons she shows videos of robots doing cool stuff and similar material. Suspect that much of the shortfall of females in engineering is down to insufficient early motivating events and environment to spark that passion.