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ShadowTech Day: how local businesses can empower future female tech leaders

ShadowTech Day was formally hosted in the Waikato for the first time in 2023, showcasing technology career opportunities for young girls in years 9-11. Delivered by Tech Women NZ and NZ Tech, ShadowTech Day aims to spark interest in the world of technology for female students and inspire them towards promising educational paths in the tech sector. 

In our region, leading tech employers (Endace, Enlighten Designs, Rocketspark, Rimu Hosting, Spark and Tuatahi First Fibre) hosted students from local high schools for the one day event that serves as a pivotal platform for young women to explore the tech sector. By providing hands-on experiences it dispels stereotypes that stop some from giving tech learning a go.

Rocketspark, a Cambridge-based tech company who have created a website builder for graphic designers and small businesses, embraced this initiative as an opportunity to both empower future female tech leaders and foster the development of those already on their team. Nicole Bowkett, a Front-End Developer for Rocketspark, stepped up to lead the day for the students they hosted from Cambridge High School and Te Awamutu College. With help from her colleagues Alex Brain and Willow Mobberley, her mission was not just to educate the students on their career options, but to make the prospect of a tech career tangible. Crediting their roles in the success of ShadowTech Day Nicole said, “Customer Success Specialists Alex and Willow have a crucial role at Rocketspark, helping our clients understand the complexities around web technology. There is more to working in the tech industry than being able to write code!”

Originally from the Waikato, Nicole’s journey into the tech industry started at the University of Waikato where she landed an internship which turned into a full-time role with Rocketspark. She says the University’s computer science programme is one of the best in New Zealand and that she was excited to be able to intern at Rocketspark before her graduation, “working as an intern provided a huge amount of learning, there’s a lot of learning on the job in the beginning as you might only have one paper dedicated to the type of programming you end up doing”. She hopes that initiatives like ShadowTech Day encourage young girls to consider a career path in tech and connects them with businesses earlier on. 

In New Zealand, only 29% of the tech workforce is female. Presently, girls are significantly less likely to choose a technology career path than their male counterparts. A local example of this was Nicole’s 2021 computer science class at the University of Waikato, where she found women made up only 13% of students.

The tech industry recognises the value of building the diversity of its workforce and that more work is needed to achieve this. A wide range of perspectives not only enriches teams, but it also fuels innovation and problem-solving. ShadowTech Day is a critical tool for building the diversity of our tech workforce long term, supporting a future where the industry continues to flourish. By engaging with girls in years 9-11, ShadowTech Day aims to influence their subject choices into years 12-13 and beyond. The goal is to increase the number of girls who choose STEM subjects at a secondary/tertiary level to unlock career pathways for them that will strengthen our workforce.

ShadowTech Day is designed to make it easy for businesses to participate in empowering our future female tech workforce. Tech Women NZ and NZ Tech provide support to the host businesses from the planning stage through to implementation of the event. Using team members’ own experiences of entering and working in the tech industry, preparation for the day is straightforward, Rocketspark CEO Grant Johnson said “Apart from arranging the kai and deciding how to make it fun, the organisation was fairly light touch. It wasn’t too overwhelming, and we could engage with the students well”.

The positive feedback Rocketspark received from students is a testament to the pivotal impact this day can have. Students departed with a newfound perspective that working in tech is ‘engaging’ and ‘fascinating’. Significant mindset shifts were achieved simply through just over half a day’s experience within a tech business. The simple itinerary included the opportunity to sit in on a meeting and a ‘meet the team’ roundtable discussion where students were encouraged to ask questions about team member’s roles and career journeys.

Rocketspark's participation in ShadowTech Day is a call to action for other employers in the Waikato. It’s a strong example of how accessible and enriching it can be to engage with young talent and positively influence their future workforce.

As one of the fastest-growing tech regions in New Zealand, the Waikato plays a pivotal role in shaping the sector. Nurturing and championing the potential of our youth is not just an opportunity, but a responsibility we all share.

Get involved with ShadowTech Day

To learn more about ShadowTech Day or to participate in next year’s event, reach out to or register your interest here

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