Comics su­per­heroes show girls the way into tech

The Press - - Business - RACHEL CLAY­TON

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

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