Moving the dial – one girl at a time.

 |   Aidan Clifford

Microsoft NZ hosted nine year-12 girls from Auckland Girls Grammar School at our head office in Auckland as part of Workchoice Day

We’ve heard it before – we need more women in technology.

Even though one in three IT grads are women, government figures show that only 21% of IT employees are women. It’s one thing talking about the issue but what are we, the industry, doing to change this?

A couple of weeks ago, Microsoft NZ hosted nine year-12 girls from Auckland Girls Grammar School at our head office in Auckland as part of Workchoice Day organised by The Skills Organisation.

Workchoice Day is a full one-day programme which connects local companies and employers with young people, so they can get real experience of the modern workplace. And Microsoft was fortunate enough to be one of the employers opening our doors to the next generation.

We started the session with an introduction to Microsoft and a career story by our very own Sarah Bowden, Small to Medium Sized Business Lead for Microsoft NZ, who has had a career full of changes. We then asked the girls what brought them to Microsoft as part of Workchoice Day, hoping that they would be super excited about us as a company.

Their responses were bluntly refreshing, to say the least.

One by one they timidly told us, “I just came because my mum told me I had to”, another admitted, “It was compulsory,” and finally, “Microsoft wasn’t my first pick.”

When asked if they were considering a career in technology, most admitted they haven’t yet decided. It’s not uncommon for people not to know the answer to this question at the age of 16. Heck, some of us still don’t know when we’re adults!

We quickly reassured them that it’s OK not to know and that’s why they were here today – to make more informed choices about their careers.

When we asked how much they knew about Microsoft, we had two responses: “Word” and “Excel”.

The room broke out into laughter.

We moved on to a panel made up of our grads and interns. The women on the panel all stressed how they wish they had learnt to code, or had done an engineering/computer-science degree at University because it would have opened more opportunities in the workforce.

It’s a growing trend, companies are calling for more technically skilled employees, yet the workforce is not keeping up, particularly amongst women. As the panel went on, the girls began to open-up. What is coding? What is the Cloud? Do you have internships? They were surprised to find out that Xbox and Minecraft are both owned by us!

Later in the afternoon we took them on an office tour. It’s fair to say that the modern way of working is not what they had imagined. The couldn’t believe we could work from home or at the café if we wanted to because technology made it possible and flexible to do so.

We ended the day with a HoloLens demo by one of our interns. This is known as Mixed Reality. If this is the first time you’ve heard of it then learn more here: https://www.microsoft.com/en-nz/hololens

The girls were walked through a few demos but the one that caught their attention the most was the Solar System Education Demo by Pearson. This demo let them walk, listen, as well as see and interact with 3D holograms. The crowd goes wild! The girls were woah-ing and pulling out their camera phones to take videos and photos as they watched the live-stream of each girl demoing the HoloLens.

One girl came up to us and told us how her mum kept pressuring her to decide what she wants to do. She said she came in not knowing but is leaving knowing there are far more options out there beyond being an accountant and lawyer. The girls walked out of our offices different to how they walked in. Excited, engaged and enthused about the possibilities of a career in technology.

It doesn’t matter whether you engage with one girl or a hundred girls at a time – every girl counts.

Written by Anna Lim and Anurati Mathur, Two young women in IT