GirlBoss New Zealand

2015 –

GirlBoss New Zealand

2015 –

Theme: Education: girls and women

This essay written by Lynette Townsend was published online in Women Together: a History of Women's Organisations in New Zealand in 2019.

GirlBoss New Zealand (GirlBoss NZ) was set up as a social enterprise to address gendered inequality in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM), as well as in entrepreneurship and leadership. Founder and CEO Alexia Hilbertidou felt compelled to establish the organisation, at the age of 16, in response to her own experiences in school:

I was 15 before I met a female software engineer. At 16, I was the only girl in my digital technology class and at 17 I was the only girl studying Advanced Physics. I started GirlBoss because I knew that something had to change. [1]

GirlBoss NZ was initially born out of a school project, when Hilbertidou organised a two day feminist conference named ‘The Third Wave’ in Auckland in May 2016. About three hundred people attended, including many feminist leaders and high profile people, for example Jacinda Ardern (soon to become Prime Minister). Soon after, Hilbertidou set up the GirlBoss NZ website, developed a brand and started establishing online networks for young women. Hilbertidou invested her own money and various grants to get the organisation started, slowly building up sponsorship and streams of funding from corporate organisations, tech companies, government ministries, universities and local councils.

GirlBoss members

GirldBoss NZ, GC photography

Alexia Hilbertidou (fourth from left) and GirlBoss NZ members from Westlake Girls High School, 2018.

GirlBoss NZ’s key aim was to address the gender imbalance by working with young women, aged 11–18, to build their capability, skills and enthusiasm for areas of study and work traditionally dominated by males. In 2019 a further focus was to build up the number of women chief executive officers in New Zealand Stock Exchange companies.

To achieve its goals, the organisation offered a series of opportunities for students in Years 6–13, including educational workshops, an ambassador programme, and the ‘GirlBoss Awards’ – an initiative begun in 2018 in partnership with Trade Me, and financially supported by a range of corporate sponsors. By 2019, 100 schools across New Zealand and 5 schools in the Cook Islands had accessed the programmes. A satellite GirlBoss group in Australia was established and began running their own events and workshops.

The suite of workshops included the ‘Changemakeher’ workshop building capability in science, technology, engineering and maths, a ‘GirlBoss Lead’ workshop focusing on building leadership skills, and a professional development workshop for educators and corporates to explore strategies for attracting young women to careers related to science, technology, engineering and maths.

As well as having information about the workshops and a blog series, the website provided an opportunity to join the GirlBoss network. Members received information about upcoming talks and events (about seven per year). There was also a regular newsletter. Individual school-aged GirlBoss members numbered more than 10,500 by 2019, but through workshops and events, the organisation was estimated to be reaching at least 30,000 young women. While Hilbertidou’s keynote lectures, delivered to private corporate groups, government departments and conferences in New Zealand and overseas, had become an important source of funding and outreach, the organisation’s key focus remained true to its original goals and its aim to ‘empower confident, resilient, future-ready, young women to lead and change the world’. [2]

​By 2019, Hilbertidou had gained many awards and accolades for her work. These included the 2016 Westpac’s Women of Influence Young Leader Award, and the 2018 YES Emerging Alumni of the Year Award for making an impact and strong impression on New Zealand business. [3] In 2018 she became the youngest Commonwealth citizen to receive the Queen's Young Leader Award, conferred at Buckingham Palace.

Hilbertidou continued to pursue her own interest in science and technology, role modelling the opportunities GirlBoss advocates. In 2017 she became the youngest person to be involved in the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Sofia mission, joining NASA scientists on a flight over the Southern Ocean. [4] In 2018 she was selected for Facebook’s Community Leaders Program, as one of 100 people from 46 countries flown to the US for personal development, leadership and social media training, each person receiving $50,000 towards their community work. [5]

Lynette Townsend

Notes

[1] Hilbertidou, Alexia, introductory letter, GIrlboss NZ website, https://www.girlboss.nz/

[2] Girlboss NZ website https://www.girlboss.nz/

[3] ‘GirlBoss NZ CEO Announced as YES Emerging Alumni Winner’, Pacific Scoop, 10 Dec. 2018, http://pacific.scoop.co.nz/2018/12/girlboss-nz-ceo-announced-as-yes-emerging-alumni-winner/

[4] Shaw, Aimee, ‘Meet Alexia Hilbertidou, the 18-year-old founder of GirlBoss and the youngest person to be involved with Nasa's Sofiamission’, NZ Herald, 11 July 2017, https://www.nzherald.co.nz/business/news/article.cfm?c_id=3&objectid=11888757

[5] Keogh, Brittany, ‘GirlBoss goes global: Young Auckland woman wins Facebook leadership award’, Stuff, 17 Oct. 2018, https://www.stuff.co.nz/business/107900631/girlboss-goes-global-young-auckland-woman-wins-facebook-leadership-award

Published sources

Garner, Duncan, ‘What you need to know about the GirlBoss Awards’ [interview], Newshub, 18 July 2018, https://www.newshub.co.nz/home/new-zealand/2018/07/what-you-need-to-know-about-the-girlboss-awards.html

Hilbertidou, Alexia, ‘Who’s Your GirlBoss?’, Inspiring Stories, 2018, https://vimeo.com/286275769

Further sources

GirlBoss NZ website: https://www.girlboss.nz/

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