Comics superheroes show girls the way into tech
A global competition encouraging schoolgirls to harness their technology skills for good is launching in New Zealand.
Australian Dr Janine Beekhuyzen officially opened the 2017 Search for the Next Tech Girl Superhero competition last week, to encourage schoolgirls to get involved in science, technology, engineering and maths subjects.
This is the first time New Zealand students can enter the competition, which challenges Australian and Kiwi schoolgirls to build an app to tackle an issue in their community.
Beekhuyzen has been travelling around South Island schools to encourage girls to think about technology careers.
‘‘It was amazing. We had about 50 girls pitching ideas in front of the audience and we gave them feedback,’’ she said.
At least one team from New Zealand will be flown to San Francisco next year to take part in the global Silicon Valley Technovation competition.
‘‘We might take more than one team, it depends on how good the ideas are,’’ Beekhuyzen said.
Beekhuyzen founded the Tech Girls Movement in 2014 in Brisbane. The non-profit organisation promotes opportunities for school-aged girls to get involved in science, technology, engineering and mathematics to encourage diversity.
‘‘It’s a basic economic issue we need to address,’’ she said.
‘‘There’s a real lack of women working in the tech industry all around the world. Otago University has two women studying information technology out of 60 in the class.
‘‘Women make up only 20 per cent of the tech industry across Australia, New Zealand and the US.’’
Registration for Tech Girls Are Superheroes opened last week and closes mid-April. The competition runs over term two of the school year. Last year more than 500 girls entered and Beekhuyzen is expecting 2500 this year.
The teams are mentored for an hour a week over the 12-week competition by a woman who works in technology.
‘‘They act as a role model and help create a professional network. They stay in touch after the competition is over,’’ Beekhuyzen said.
The teams come up with a problem to solve and Tech Girls Movement helps them build a business plan, teaches them how to build their app, and how to finance the project.
‘‘They look at pricing models, competitors, how to position it in the marketplace, and then pitch it in a YouTube video. It’s very entrepreneurial.’’
After three years of success in Australia, Beekhuyzen decided to broaden the competition to New Zealand. She also wants to include girls across the Asia Pacific, with Singapore possibly being the next stop.
One reason the figures are so low for women in tech is a lack of female role models. To address this, Beekhuyzen wrote the comic book, Tech Girls Are Superheroes, featuring female superheroes based on women who have inspired Beekhuyzen throughout her life.
In movies with a technology focus ‘‘it’s always the white, nerdy man, and that’s not the reality of what it is or what it needs to be’’.
After the competition, Beekhuyzen hopes to set up a New Zealand Tech Girls Movement. ❚ Search for the Next Tech Girl Superhero is open to all girls in New Zealand aged 7 to 17. Entries do not have to be through a school and close in mid-April.
The Tech Girls Movement is going global.
Dr Janine Beekhuyzen