Girls Mean Business

09-Mar-2017 7:58 AM

Entrepreneurial skills are increasingly important for people wanting to stay relevant in today’s changing workplace, and a new programme aims to ensure New Zealand girls don’t get left behind.

Girls Mean Business (GMB), a New Zealand-based social enterprise, has successfully piloted a holiday programme for girls aged 9-12 years from decile 2 and decile 9 schools in Auckland.
The programme involved 19 girls learning about the tools and mindset needed for turning an idea into a successful venture.
“Girls Mean Business is helping young girls like me to discover their business potential,” says Samantha from Hunua School, who was 11 when she took part in the pilot.
“I learnt it’s not always going to be easy – it takes a lot of hard work, and a group of people around you that are going to help you on the way…it takes drive, you’ve got to be motivated and confident.”
Hunua School principal Heather Frost says, “The children were buzzing, full of ideas for things that they wanted to try. It’s important for all children to have an opportunity to learn these skills but girls in particular, because often things are directed towards boys.”
GMB has partnered with The University of Auckland and the Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship to develop ways of fostering the entrepreneurial mindset in girls through programmes for primary school and high school students.
It was co-created by Chris Woods, an associate professor in Entrepreneurship at the University of Auckland Business School, and Laura Sessions, an entrepreneur with a PhD in science communication and owner manager based in Christchurch. US-based geophysicist and entrepreneur Shannon McDaniel joined the team last August.
“Whether or not girls want to go into business, they can benefit hugely from having an entrepreneurial mindset,” says Dr Woods.
“This mindset includes things like being innovative and creative, seeing opportunities, coping with ambiguity, being willing to take risks, and to celebrate and learn from failure.”
Many of today’s careers won’t exist in 10 years, and the world is a far more unpredictable place than ever before, she says. “Having a portfolio of transferable skills is one of the best ways to stay relevant in such an environment.”
Girls start opting out of so-called STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) during their high school years, and by adulthood the gender gap in STEM-related jobs is stark – for example, only 13 percent of those employed in engineering and architecture are women.
“We say ‘girls can do anything’, but the tragedy is that many girls believe they can’t,” says Dr Woods.
She points to troubling research findings showing the limiting power of cultural stereotypes:
  • A study published in Science this year reported that girls as young as six believe men are inherently smarter and more talented than women, and that being “brilliant” is a male quality
  • Another study found that American parents are two and a half times more likely to Google “Is my son gifted?” than “Is my daughter gifted?”, while parents Googled “Is my daughter overweight?” roughly twice as frequently as they Googled “Is my son overweight?”
  • Another study published in Science in 2015 found that in fields where people thought raw, innate talent was required for success, academic departments had lower numbers of women
“Two of the most important risk factors that may explain why girls lose the belief that they can succeed in certain fields are a lack of self-confidence and a lack of female role-models,” she says.
“That’s why Girls Mean Business is developing programmes to encourage girls to step outside their comfort zone, and challenge them to do things they might not have thought possible.”
The GMB team are putting together a unique travel and mentoring programme for secondary school-aged girls between New Zealand and the United States, in which adult women mentor high school students, who then mentor primary school students.

They’re also in talks with the Faculty of Education and Social Work at The University of Auckland about training up student teachers to deliver the primary school holiday programmes, which they will start rolling out across the country from next year.
For more information, visit the website.
Nicola Shepheard Media Relations Adviser
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