Why 3% is not good enough

Women account for just 3% of CEO roles on NZX-listed companies; only 3% of venture capital funding goes to women and a mere 3% of New Zealand’s 15-year-old girls are pursuing a career in technology.

For Alexia Hilbertidou (pictured left), Founder and Director of GirlBoss New Zealand, these figures are unacceptably low and she has set herself a mission to change them. With a rapidly growing network of some 10,500 people behind her, she is already making her mark on the business world and has become a sought-after public speaker on her work with GirlBoss NZ.

Auckland-based Alexia is aged 19 and her full-time job is encouraging young women to pursue their interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects. She has been named a Westpac Woman of Influence, has been a Leadership Facilitator with NZ Air Force and was the recipient of the 2018 Queen’s Young Leader Award for Services to the Commonwealth.

Alexia explained she started GirlBoss NZ as a school project when she was 16 and it has now taken off to the point where she employs two full-time staff.

“I was the only girl in my Digital Technology and Advanced Physics classes and I was concerned that young women were opting out of these challenging, future-focused fields due to misconceptions of difficulty and a lack of role models and community,” she said “I looked for a network for other young women who were trying to make it in traditionally male fields and I couldn’t find any. So I started my own.

“I did not anticipate that I would end up working full-time on my organisation once I finished school but here I am. I am completely challenged and fulfilled by my work and I am working for a purpose larger than myself. What more could I ask for?”

The GirlBoss network is mostly comprised of 11- to 18-year-old girls from New Zealand. Alexia explained that supporters also included parents and corporate partners, and as such, it had female and male membership.

For the past two years there has also been an Australian chapter - www.changemakeher.com - run by students at Brisbane State High School.

“We hope GirlBoss will help to see more women into higher leadership positions, entrepreneurship and STEM areas, fields in which they can make a significant impact and thrive socially and economically,” Alexia said. “I am driven by a desire to see the power positions in society be based on merit - both in terms of skill and character. I am strongly motivated by fairness. I believe that if ambitious young women were to unleash their full confidence and resilience then they can and should be there at that top table.

“If I can play a part by inspiring others and being a role model for them then I am doing my job.” Alexia said that the professional expectations and desires had changed with this generation wanting faster career progression based on merit. But they also want good pay, great work, inclusive work practices, a positive work culture, high trust environments, flexibility and opportunities to be creative and intrapreneurial (where employees are engaged for specific projects in the same way entrepreneurs would operate).

“Our generation is definitely connected globally,” Alexia said. “We are hyper connected and stimulated by global digital content and connections every minute of the day. Those who are not yet 20 cannot remember a time when they were not connected.

“Our generation is overwhelmed, over stimulated and over connected. We are looking for security and a sense of belonging.

“We grew up in the global financial crisis, we have Trump, Brexit and a housing crisis, and we are concerned about our prospects with automation. We may not be reading the newspaper, but we are being exposed to content all the time and we are absorbing all of the fear around us.”

Alexia’s advice for those working in the recruitment and staffing industry is to take the time to understand the younger generation to understand their world and experience of reality so everyone can work together.

“My suggestion to recruiters is to foster relevance, add value, foster relationships with young people and show us that you can be trusted to do the right thing,” she said. “Be transparent. Be authentic. We can spot a fake a mile away.

“Ideally, companies need to connect with young women while they are still at school so that there is a larger pool of talent to work with later. The drop off in STEM subjects happens around 10-12 years old so we need to support programmes which intervene much earlier.

“Start building your brand reputation in high schools by partnering with organisations who are working in those spaces. STEM is traditionally male dominated and the confidence gap starts early on in girl’s education.

“The lack of role models and bro culture have been widely publicised and a lot of work needs to be done to make these spaces more appealing to women.

“If our members pick the most challenging paths now, whether it is by persevering in physics or starting their own leadership project they will begin to develop the skills and attitudes, which will enable them to have a chance at reaching the highest positions.

“We are a community of support who say it’s okay to be ‘bossy’, to stand out, to be ahead of the curve. You are not alone; we are a community of ambitious young women and many of us share these traits. We challenge our members to be satisfied only with the most audacious goals.”

Visit www.girlboss.nz. Alexia will be a keynote speaker at the RCSA New Zealand Leadership Summit on May 15 and a speaker at RCSA conference in October.

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