It's good to be home

Well it’s been two weeks since my return to New Zealand. I watched Hunt for the Wilderpeople on the Sydney to Auckland flight (how great was Taika’s cameo in the church scene? lol) and then caught the little plane to Taupo. 

“Kia ora”

A super nice lady on my Taupo flight introduced herself and we started chatting about her travels. She was a New Zealander living in Australia and her husband had died suddenly of a heart attack. So she was in the process of getting the body transported back to his marae down Gisborne way. Air New Zealand requires that the body is embalmed before transport and then it gets vacuum packed and then you get a funeral place Auckland side to put the body in a hearse and drive it down the line. It was all morbidly fascinating so I just let her talk and you could tell she was devastated and it was not the trip that she wanted to do. 

They had just booked a cruise and he wanted to do an All Blacks tour so she said she was going to do one to honour him. She had another family tangi to go to in Turangi so that’s where she was headed. 

She apologised for telling me all her worries and her attention shifted to me and how I was going to get home from the airport. She offered me a ride for the 50 kilometres from Taupo airport to my house and made sure I had a place to stay. Once we got off the plane she helped me get my luggage and again, made sure I was OK to get home. 

It made me think of the time in Sydney where we had a client meeting at LARGE CREDIT CARD COMPANY in the CBD. My supposed team mate from the agency was driving and she had a brand new four wheel drive people mover thingo. I made the appropriate ooooos and aaaaas about how nice her new car was and we drove across the bridge to LARGE CREDIT CARD COMPANY. The meeting went late and we left the office tower to heavy wind and rain whipping up the street at 6pm. My supposed team mate, fresh of the company team building evening, then got in her brand new four wheel drive people mover thingo and drove off, leaving me standing on the side of the road in the weather. 

I just remember standing in the rain thinking “NOTE TO SELF: DON’T EVER BE THAT PERSON”. You work you arse off in a job you hate to buy a new people mover thingo to impress your neighbours and can’t even offer your work mate a lift to the nearest train station one block up the bloody road. 

The super nice lady on the flight was doing the hardest trip of her life and she still had the time to be concerned about me. There is an end and maybe we need death to remind us of what’s important. 

It’s good to be home. 

Why I’m moving back to New Zealand (the post I never thought I'd write)

Well this is the blog post I never thought I’d write. 

I love Sydney and have made a home here and always thought this was forever. I have amazing friends, love the weather and my church but sometimes life dishes you up a set of circumstances when you realise that you won’t be on planet earth for very long and you have to get your priorities right. 

So… I’m moving back to Tokaanu (Southern Lake Taupo) to take over the running of my parent’s motel so they can retire. 

Another thing I never thought I’d say but there you go. 

Why now?

Well a lot of things changed for me after my accident. It’s quite interesting that when your world collapses, you are forced to face a lot of your fears. The corporate world runs on fear and insecurity, especially in ad agencies. 

If I don’t work until 10pm every night people will think I’m lazy. 

If I don’t answer the email in 2 minutes people will think I’m incompetent

I don’t have that fear anymore so I found going back to the corporate life, I would just shrug my shoulders at people and walk away. I know who I am and what I’m about and if you don’t get it, well that’s not my problem.

Also, the main reason I’ve loved working in Social has been based in voice. Everyone gets a voice. The way Social has been bastardised by agencies into “pumping stuff into the back of Facebook” really doesn’t interest me anymore and working on one of the biggest influencer programmes in Australia made me resent social and the ‘pay for comment’ machine that it’s become. 

 So basically, I hated what I was doing and then my parents have had some health challenges (my Dad will be 70 next month) and they are ready to hand over the keys. There is also a lot of legal stuff going on to work out my compensation from the accident so I’ve had lots of specialist appointments I had to be in Sydney for but that’s coming to an end (fingers crossed). 

What I will miss:

Lovely friends


My lovely apartment and Danish flatmate Martin (actually I should probably tell him I'm moving out...)

My church

My friends

Danish flatmate Martin

What I’m looking forward to:

Being able to write and post whatever I want without corporate drones telling me what to do

Being able to help my parents out

Having a free house and car and business #realtalk

Not having to work on a Windows machine

How you can help me:

The main thing I’m worried about is getting lonely and having no friends because Tokaanu is quite remote and there aren’t many youngish people so please come and visit me. We have thermal hot pools on site and the motel is halfway between Auckland and Wellington. Most people come for the hot pools and to walk the Tongariro Crossing or go skiing at Ruapehu. 

So brace yourself for some outrageous freestyle blog posts, and lots of tweets about painting, carpet laying and bed making. I won’t be doing social for the motel because it’s quite small and ticks along well as it is but I am thinking about buying a backpackers as a next step so send me an email if you know of anyone selling one in the Taupo/Rotorua area. 

I woke up the other morning with a great sense of panic that I’d made the wrong decision and then it dawned on me... “the bullshit is over” and I can go and make some beds and give people extra towels and provide people with free wifi as every accommodation place rightfully should. I am no longer a slave to a game I don’t want to play anymore and I can express myself and be the real me again. I can almost feel my personality flowing back into my bloodstream and that, I'm looking forward to. 

Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Deuternomy 5:15

Resilience and how to stay 'hefted' in tough times

I was pretty pleased to see one of my favourite Twitter account people on abc news last weekend. If you don’t follow James Rebanks herdy shepherd then get to it now. He’s even got a book and movie deal off his stories and images of life in the British highlands.

He was talking about the Herdwick sheep that he farms and how resilient they are. It’s a word I’ve become more familiar with over the last few years ….resilience.

The sheep are able to sustain long periods of time in severe wind and cold rain. It’s not just the cold-there are sheep that can sustain colder, but the fact they can stand on a hill and put up with extreme driving rain and cold wind for three months at a time. The Herdwick are Viking sheep, an ancient breed that has survived hundreds of years and stuck around long enough to get their photos on Twitter.

I was looking at the images of the Herdwick sheep and how they just stand there.

In the high country, the sheep are “hefted” to the hill rather than fenced in. Hefting means that the sheep know where they live and what they are about so they don’t wander away.  Imagine if we lived our lives hefted in our situations.

It made me think about some of the cold wind and rain we have to put up with in our everyday lives where the best response is probably just to stand there -be hefted and not run away.

Just stand there.

If you are having a bad day at work…just stand there. If one of your relationships has broken down..just stand there. If someone keeps sending cold wind and rain in your direction…just stand there.

It’s in our nature to want to do something to get away from the uncomfortable conditions but it’s this scrambling that gets us in trouble.  It won’t feel comfortable and you probably won’t enjoy it but this is how we become resilient and hefted like the Herdwick sheep.  Three months of icy blasts sounds like a long time but I guess that’s the Viking resilience that’s kept them around for the long run and I think we can all learn something from these hefted sheep and their wise shepherd.

Why I had to break up with New Zealand to settle in Australia

Darling Harbour, Sydney

I remember checking into my hotel at Darling Harbour and asking the receptionist where the water was. I’d just flown in from a freezing cold 4am start Wellington to Sydney flight.

It was like an epiphany. I walked through the palm trees and fountains of the harbour with the warm sun and had a sudden realisation that I was home.

From that day I made the decision that I was moving to Australia for good.

People still ask me how long I think I’ll stay here and look a bit surprised when I say ‘forever’.

Here’s why I say that.

First of all was the overwhelming sense of home that I felt and continue to feel in Sydney.

But you can’t run on feelings forever and, as part of my new migrant zeal, I read a book on the history of Australia.

One of the chapters detailed how there were two types of early settlers to Australia from England: the shipped convicts and those who chose to immigrate.

The author’s theory was that the convicts actually made a better job of settling in Australia because, once they were freed, they had nothing to go back to and made a better go of the new opportunities and adapted to the new conditions.

The voluntary migrants harked back to Mother England and didn’t settle as well. They tried to recreate the life they had in England and didn’t adapt as well.

I decided that I was going to adopt the convict strategy and force myself to forge a new life in my new colony. I banned myself from New Zealand media and old connections. I saturated myself in Australian news and read lots of books on Aussie history and politics. I went on tours of Canberra and the New South Wales parliaments and followed Mike Baird on Twitter.

I even tried to convince people that I was ‘from Sydney’ but my accent betrayed me so I was, and always will be a Kiwi. Making new friends and social connections was one of the hardest things but I’m glad I pushed through the pain barrier and the seeds I’ve sown are bearing fruit now.

My Mum and I at Darling Harbour Convention Centre

Slowly, as I’ve got more planted, I’ve allowed more ‘’New Zealand” back into my life. I still listen to Radio New Zealand at work any my family recently visited and we did all the tourist things in Sydney which was fun.

I go to a physio from Auckland and one of the other physios says he can hear us in the treating room ‘talking Nuw Zeelund” and it’s like a dull mumbled hum.

Someone asked me the other day if I identify as Aussie now and I surprised myself by saying no,  I am a New Zealander. We had to break a few things off to move forward but we're good now. 

It’s pretty simple why there aren’t more woman in business leadership

There’s a very simple reason why women are underrepresented in business and I don’t hear it talked about very much.

 Here’s my logic:

-Baby male executives don’t look like senior male executives. There’s only been one person I worked with (at Woolworths) and thought “gee that guy is really going somewhere “and that person is Richard Umbers who is now the CEO of retailer Myer but he’s a freak. But seriously, look around at the 25 year old guys in your office and try to see them on the front cover of AFR. It’s a stretch because they are young and immature and unprofessional and not necessarily people you want to follow. They are little acorns who don’t look remotely like oak trees.

 -Baby female executives will never grow up to be senior male executives. That seems pretty logical but it’s from this that you start to see the disconnect.

-Baby female executives don’t see people who look like them on the cover of AFR or in the company Board meetings. The few women they do see are different from them as well as they have become hardened hybrids in order to survive in male-dominated environments. Baby female executives begin to question “do I want to become one of those hardy business women?”” “do I have what it takes and even if I do, I will never be one of those big, male oak trees so what’s the point?””

I’ve only had one person see potential in me and she happens to be a very successful business leader who basically said that I reminded her of herself at the same age. She saw my immaturity and lack of professionalism and Nike sneakers and prescribed another 10 years of solid business in good, fertile soil.  I’m still an acorn (well maybe a seedling) and I need more time to grow and be pruned in the right conditions.  That’s the boring reality of oak tree propagation and I think too many woman give up and stop growing.

So what’s the answer? Stop dismissing the acorns and pulling out the seedlings and be wise enough to fertilise and prune the baby trees and you will get a harvest. Embrace your seedling-ness and be OK that you're not a tree yet but you have the potential packed into your little acorn. 

If you're tired from leaning in you can now be seated

Much has been written about Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In mantra and I don’t really want to add to that. Or maybe I do.

I read the book (audible audio book to be exact) and I was impressed with the tough road that Sandberg described. But on reflection I don’t think leaning in is my problem. If anything, I probably over-lean and the thing I need to work on is of a different nature.

 TD Jakes cracked my code with his own posture statement: Be Seated.

Be Seated gives you permission to take the position that has been given to you and function in that place.

Over the years I could never understand why people seemed to want to move me out of my position all the time. People questioned my authority and would look puzzled when I turned up to meetings “are you the brand manager?”” “”they used to hire more senior people to be communications managers…”’ and the seed would be planted that I wasn’t really meant to be there and I would start selling and justifying my position to other people.

I guess it is related to the ‘”imposter syndrome” that Sandberg says she still suffers from but I really like how Be Seated provides an answer. Don’t be surprised if people try and steal your seat  -it happens-and the more valuable your seat is, the stronger the winds will blow to try and move you.

I did a little Be Seated experiment a few weeks back at a conference. I was allocated a seat at a round table that just happened to be next to the keynote speaker. He was a Silicon Valley tech advisor and we made friendly banter about the weather and his sightseeing around Sydney. Suddenly, the seat attacks commenced. People hovered around and tried to push into my conversation “can I just get passed you?”’, “can I just get my chair in there?”

I remembered to Be Seated and ignored the swooping. The keynote speaker started showing me a new SIM card that’s being tested by the US military. The swooping intensified. All I was doing was sitting in my allocated seat and chatting to my neighbour but I started to realise that the activity had nothing to do with me

They wanted what I had. I had a good seat.

Then I started to realise "I've always had good seats and that's why I've always had people trying to unseat me.""

If you are currently experiencing swooping and elbowing in your allocated position remember, it’s a positive sign. Other people have seen what you have and they want it. Be seated, chat to your neighbour and enjoy your good seat. You might learn something about US military SIM cards and it's less tiring than leaning. 

7 ways getting hit by a taxi has made me a better leader

2015 has been the hardest year of my life. If you don’t know the back story it’s here but basically, I was walking along a footpath in central Sydney and I got hit by a crashing taxi. I thought I was going to end up in a wheelchair and be disabled for the rest of my life but thanks to modern medicine and modern prayer, I can now walk again and my life is settling in to what will be, my new normal. There is an old Israeli saying that the shepherd sometimes breaks the leg of the sheep so he can carry it and that is in essence what I learned - I learned how to be carried

So how does being carried make you a better leader?

1. Let it go
I have no idea how much the rent is on my house. I have no idea when the cleaner comes, how much internet data we have or how the toilet rolls make it into the bathroom. My housemate travels a lot for work and he manages everything to do with running our apartment- I pay a set monthly amount to him and everything just happens. The more I have surrendered knowing everything, the more he carries the weight of responsibility and I can focus on other things. Women especially are not very good at surrendering control to others and get preoccupied with the hand wash in the company bathrooms, the tidiness of the company lunch room and having sign off on every document that exists in the company. In 2016, try to let it go and focus on the big things. 

2. Care for the carers
One time before an operation I asked for a Chaplain to come and pray with me. At the end, I asked her if she needed prayer and she was completely blown away. She was working in the palliative care part of the hospital which basically means that she sits with people at the end of their life and she told me there had been a few people pass that morning and she was feeling emotionally drained. The prayer had strengthened her to go back for the afternoon. Care for the carers. 

3. There is no such thing as ‘self-made’
I sat down last week to write Christmas thank you cards for all the people who had helped me in 2015. The list ran from police, to paramedics, nurses, plastic surgeons, orthopaedic surgeons, physios,  and psychiatrists without even starting in to friends and family, whoever called the ambulance?, pastors and even my fellow patients in the ward. A huge team of people carried me through an accident that was no fault of my own. As a member of the ‘Twittering classes’ it can be very easy for us to intellectualise everything and not bend down and help people in practical ways where they are. People took me to the toilet and showered me and made hospital meals for me and I had to let go of ‘self’ and receive from others. 

4. Specialists talk to other specialists
I overheard a conversation between my orthopaedic surgeon and plastic surgeon as they were standing in front of my x-ray: “you don’t want to get an infection in to one of those- nasty -chop the leg off material”. My plastic surgeon immediately ordered tests for infection and changed my wound dressing regiment. Although my leg was healing up fine, the specialists knew the real risks and took responsibility for making sure nothing went wrong. Both are respected surgeons in Sydney and they valued each other’s judgement and knowledge. Always listen to specialists and don’t be reckless with other people’s wellbeing. 

5. The most valuable tool you have as a leader is empathy

I remember grumbling to God one evening in the hospital about why this had happened to me and saying ‘I didn’t ask for this’. He replied ‘nobody does’. I looked around the hospital ward and instantly realised that nobody wants to be in hospital or sick or dependent on others. Nobody asks for suffering. For all sorts of reasons, people can end up injured, down on their luck, divorced, unhappy in their job -that’s life and empathy equips you with mercy to help people up where they are at and get them going again. Your job as a leader is never to judge or strategise some intellectual breakdown of how that person got in that situation- your job is to get them up and get them going again. 

6. Hurry up and wait
You spend a lot of time in the healthcare system waiting. Waiting for skin grafts to take, waiting for doctor’s rounds, waiting for the waiting room to open so you can wait. I’ve got very good at waiting in 2015 and it has made me a lot happier. If I have to wait for something, I just sit….and wait.  Stillness is a skill you have to learn and when you can be still, you’ll be a lot happier and interact better with others. 

7. One of the greatest gifts you can give someone is to trust them
When I had my first outpatient physio appointment I could see that they were a bit concerned about my injury. They had never dealt with something so serious and wanted to make sure they could treat me effectively. I was a little nervous but I was too physically and emotionally exhausted to go shopping around for physios. So I trusted them. The physio rang the surgeons and read lots of medical articles on my injury. He used me as a university teaching case study and trained the other physios in the practice. One morning he came in and proudly declared “congratulations, you aren’t our worst patient anymore!”. Because I had taken a chance on them, they now have other motor vehicle accident patients and their business is growing. I saw their eagerness to learn and genuine care for me and we both benefited from choosing to trust. 

Thanks to all of my online and offline friends for your support in 2015. 2016 will be the best year yet -I’m believing that for me and I’m believing it for you to. 

Women in tech panels - should we Let It Go?

“Does your daughter like Frozen?”

I was at a women in tech type function and trying to be friendly to my round table neighbours.

“Your daughter, is she into Frozen, the movie?”

The women next to me stared blankly, not sure what to make of my alien question. We were talking about how to get young girls into coding and she had mentioned that her five year old loved her work iPad.

"Oh Frooozennn. Yes she loves Frozen. Sorry, I work in an all-male executive team and nobody ever asks me during work hours if my daughter likes Frozen. We only ever talk about rugby and racehorses. Yes she’s mad on Frozen, we have Frozen everything."

There was some criticism this week of the Salesforce Women in tech sessions at their annual conference. What was Oprah’s best friend Gayle King doing asking super amazing tech powerfox YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki about having five children? Why did she not ask her complicated business questions about the future of video in Bangladesh and how dare she bring Wojcicki’s husband into it? Are the proliferation of women in tech panels and programs just token pink-wash and do they have a purpose or should we just -let it go?

I must admit to being a reformed women's conference and panel hater. I thought it was tokenism and embarrassing for women to have to share all details of their life and be asked light weight questions about ‘having it all’. Two ideas changed this:

1. Realising that there are challenges that are unique to women and no amount of wishing it away is going to change anything. Women have babies, you know, biology. Women are usually the primary care givers, especially when children are young (also biology). Generally speaking I would say that women think and worry about their life stages and how they are going to integrate family and work (in fact, I know they do because I did some research on it at uni). 

I think it’s positive to talk about work and home integration and people like Wojcicki and her mentees, Sheryl Sandberg and Marissa Mayer all make it ok and provide examples for people to follow.  Women like talking about their children and families. Marissa Mayer recently published a Tumblr post celebrating her pregnancy with twins and proudly declaring that she would continue to be the CEO of Yahoo. I think these women should be championed for their ability to manage work and family and it’s interesting and an experience that’s unique to women. The fact that men don’t get asked these kinds of personal questions about how they manage work and family is a non-issue to me. 

2. I don’t know where this saying comes from and it’s kind of old-timey but, you have to bless the path in front of you

Women have a hard enough time as it is and fault finding women in tech panels and programs is not helpful. The last thing we want to do is create a minefield where women and men can’t ask certain questions, highlight different individuals or speak freely about their lives. The more women are seen, given a voice and allowed to tell their stories, the better. The glass ceiling won’t be broken by throwing stones from the outside. Making it OK for people to talk about their five year old daughter’s Frozen fix, pregnancy news and fifth child as part of a future of technology discussion will. 

How do you get to live to 92?

For the last about 20 years we’ve been told to call Nana on her birthday because, you know, it might be the last one. Well Agnes has gone around the clock again and has hit 92 -I think I said she was 93 in another post but I forget how old I am sometimes so creative rounding is allowed. 

My Mum went for a visit and sent through these pictures of her kitchen and fridge. This is the weekly fruit ration for a now 92 year old woman who lives on her own and didn’t know anyone was coming to visit. She eats stupid amounts of fruit. I guess when you come from a time where your Christmas present was an orange in a sock, a weekly frolic through the fruit and veg section must be pretty great. She’s super frugal but not when it comes to fruit “it’s an investment in your health, don’t look at the price just buy whatever you want”. 

Lots of plain food- that’s her secret. Put butter on everything not funny sauces where you don’t know what’s in it. Not too much meat (even though she has ham and cheese on toast every day for breakfast). She never drinks glasses of water, non-stop Earl Grey tea all the way. She has an ice-cream every night after dinner and likes a gin and tonic. Never smoked, goes to the doctor for everything and trusts them to make her better. It’s mainly blood pressure and arthritis things nowadays. Her Mum (my great grandmother) was Julia Ann Ryan, an Irish Catholic woman who lived to 91 after having 13 kids and a pretty hard, poor-assed life and not taking any medication so the genes are looking good all in all. Her older sister Barbara Cruickshank is 98. 

Agnes Halloran was born in 1922 and she has never seen the Internet. 

“you don’t want to look at that because there are people acting like animals on there” 

She doesn’t use a microwave because “it will give you cancer”

She doesn’t use a dishwasher because “it takes the patterns off your plates”

Her husband, William Halloran (my mum’s Dad) was a third generation New Zealander which was quite rare back then. He died at 37, leaving her on a farm in Southland with four girls. The only boy Christopher died at 13 months. She’s quite good at dealing with death my Nana “don’t dwell on it. It’s a bugger death and getting old”.  She prays every morning and takes a Lotto ticket every week assured that she’s going to win it and buy all the grandchildren a car. She often asks me what car I want when she wins Lotto with a very serious face. She does crosswords every day because “you don’t want to lose your marbles-that’s how old people have it put over them”. She’s made a funeral plan “so that’s all paid for— it’s one less thing to think about” and various cabinets full of china and trinkets have gradually been replaced with jewellery over the years, partially because she likes wearing it and partially because it’s easier to pass down to her now five daughters. I’ve noticed the jewellery collections all seem to manifest in sets of five.

My grandmother claims her middle name is Therese but my Mum said that’s her sister Irene’s middle name and she always wanted it and she doesn’t have a middle name. She hates her name because she used to get called Ag or Aggie so most people call her Nan which is a bit weird because I call her Nana so it sort of makes her everyone’s Nana. 

She started off as Agnes Manson which was changed from the German Munsen but nobody liked Germans after the war so her father's father changed it. Her father Henry Hunt Manson was in the merchant navy and he was born in New Zealand. 

Technically she was born in Smith Street West Derby, Liverpool. She arrived in Port Chalmers Dunedin at nine months old.  There are various versions of that story but that’s the one I’m going with. I’m still trying to figure out the rumours of the Lambert changed from Lambeth thing that may or may not have been linked to convicts in Newcastle Australia on the other, coal-miner side of the family. Names are hard. 

It’s a very different generation where the criteria for a husband is “so long as he doesn’t belt you and go to the pub every night” and I’m pretty sure the “women are seen and not heard” thing just wouldn’t have worked out for me very well at all. Any glorification of the 50’s housewife is lost on me and it certainly wasn’t the reality for both my mother or her mother as they both worked and raised children while still expected to keep an immaculate house and have baking in the tins and dinner on the table at 5pm. It makes me pleased that women get to live a bit longer so they can have a cup of tea and a sit down after all that running around after everyone else for most of their life. Nana asked me if I was going to put her photo on the Internet and I changed the subject to how great her pants are in the photo (Postie catalogue) so don’t tell her because she’ll have some weird theory she learned on talkback radio about it all.  There aren’t many documented stories in my family and only people like the royal family are worthy of a read in Nana's generation. Commoners like me never told their own stories which is the part of the Internet talkback radio probably won't tell her about while they are busy freaking out about The Facebook ruining children and The Google watching everyone. So don't tell her I wrote this, it's probably easier and maybe someone in another 180 years time might find it useful. And eat more fruit. 

Robots! Self driving cars! 3D makeup! New Zealand Women in Innovation Summit

“Peter said he was going to do this thing called Lord of the Rings and they were going to need a thousand or so animators, maybe more.”

Nobody really believed him (except maybe people like Frances Valintine who went on to start the Media Design School where I first learned about database applications and code), and if they did, how could we translate that into training and jobs for people?

Frances set the scene for the Inaugural Women In innovation Summit when she opened with her Peter Jackson story: we need to predict and train for future roles not current ones and we aren’t doing very well at it. On Tuesday, I was fortunate to participate in the Inaugural Women in Innovation Summit in Auckland. Hosted by The National Advisory Council on the Employment of Women, (NACEW) is an advisory body to the Ministry of Women's Affairs. The event was at MindLab by Unitec, a new specialist education lab in Auckland.

Minister of Women’s Affairs Hon Jo Goodhew terrified us all with news that the top job choices for girls leaving school in the 1970s hasn’t really changed: flight attendants, hairdressers, nurses, office workers, teachers and vet nurses still dominate the lists. Lawyers got a bump with LA Law and all the crime stuff on TV like CSI but not a sausage for computer science or the other STEM fields (ok- some CSI and medicine from ER but not a big movement). 

So what are we going to do about it?

Equipped with flip charts, marker pens and coffee, we set out to fix things by identifying what practical things could be done to promote opportunities and remove barriers for women aka half the population in employment.  I have to admit, the government talk-fest alarms started to go off in me at this point but I figure it has to be more constructive than the people who moan in the news about people from overseas ‘stealing’ all the jobs at Weta Workshop, PETER TOLD YOU THAT WAS GOING TO HAPPEN. 

The usual stuff came up, (I did my Masters thesis on this womansy career stuff so I won’t bore you with all that) but what was a real stand out for me was having actual kids in classes next to us building remote controlled cars and robots. I guess my focus had always been tertiary education and career paths rather than simply that little girls aren’t encouraged into non-traditional roles and that at some weird level, computers and engineering technologies are still seen as a boys thing. When you see a class of kids putting little circle wheels on big rectangle car bodies and making it go zoom zoom, you realise how silly yet entrenched that idea is. 

We also had high school kids in our work groups who could confirm or deny the effectiveness of government programmes to improve technology education, and of course contribute the best ideas that nobody else thought of. Some kids still don’t have a computer at home so partnerships with companies like Google and Microsoft to lease hardware were a big winner. One of the girls I spoke with had a net book her family paid about $3 a week for and she said it made a big difference to her skills and enthusiasm for computing and those of her siblings and parents. WIN

Primary kids coming to after school programmes at the MindLab to learn technology were still 80% boys. Parents dropped the boys off to play robots and took the girls shopping- it still wasn’t really thought that little five year old girls could be interested in building robots. This thinking was confirmed by one of the woman at my table who shared her story about her high school daughter’s careers day. The parent with the most interest worked at the Estee Lauder counter at a department store and the girls thought that would be a great job because you get free makeup samples. And yes, this was one of those horrible-amounts-of-money-per-semester private schools in Auckland. FAIL

Quality of teaching and curriculum was a big topic and not something I know a lot about but you could see clear links between stand out schools that were producing strong results in STEM subjects and the quality of the teachers, through to individual teachers who made learning more engaging and fun for the kids. 

There was a bit of traditional university bashing which I wasn’t too keen on (mainly because universities are an area that women do really well in so why mess with something that works and is a strong on-ramp for women in the workforce?) although I do agree that subject choice and mix of skills needs to change. After hanging out with the primary and secondary school kids I can see that those choices have to start younger than tertiary level. It’s a bit chicken and egg (my mum is a hairdresser and my Dad a blue collar electrician-both left school at age 14) so visibility and role models for me to make tertiary choices mainly came outside the home and much later on. It’s not hard to see how TV shows and familiar environments like retail paint pictures of a future kids can see and understand. How do we paint them new pictures that aren’t from their 1970s parent’s world?

I think it's why I’m so positive about technologies like social media and web video communities for kids because it introduces them to environments outside their family life. Although there are a few weirdos out there and you have to be careful about that, allowing kids to participate in online communities might let them find avenues that they are really interested in and help them to think a bit bigger- the girl who 3D printed makeup at Harvard for instance. 

Does your daughter like iPads? Great, she's into computers, take her to a computer club and you can go shopping on the way home. Does she like colouring? Let her digital paint and paper paint so she can run some film units at Weta. Then we ate some brownies and drank some coffee and moved around the yellow tables so we could meet all the people who were there, which was really great. And then the little kids who were there with their school group got into a line and held hands and did a walking bus back to their school and we clapped and went “awwwww cuuute” and it just proved that girls can be little girls and still make awesome robots given a bit of encouragement and adults who can help equip and connect the dots for them.