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Techweek’18 chat: Mentors & Advisors

Posted 7 months ago in Tech by Ruth James
Posted by Ruth James

Xero is always proud to be part of Techweek’18. Off the back of the most recent event, we take a look at how women forge their paths in the tech sphere, and what we can do to help. We spoke to a few of the #champion women we know about the importance of mentors and advisors, and how to encourage more women into STEM careers.

What part do mentors and advisors play in developing ideas and staying resilient? How do you find the right fit for this role?

It totally depends what you are looking for; I found that my needs really changed over time. But I always want someone I can aspire to, someone who has been there, done that, and I can learn from. However I also need someone who is at the same “stage” as me so she can relate to what I am going through. For example, being a mum and having a career was really hard at the beginning as I had no peers who were in the same boat. I talk to friends, whanau and my networks about what I am looking for and ask whether they know anyone. I also use social media, and often I Google who the best person for the “task” is and simply contact them myself. The worst that can happen is they say “no”. – Sabrina Nagel, Ako space

Ask around the industry, do your due diligence. It’s really important that you find a mentor that’s very passionate about you and the idea, and are willing to make themselves available. I would shop around until you find somebody that you gel with and have a lot to learn from. But be sure to keep your expectations realistic. – Ezel Kokcu, Passphere

Where can I find a suitable business mentor to help me with my entrepreneurship journey?

I would start with organisations that are there to help, such as NZTE, Callaghan etc, and let them know you’re looking for a mentor. – Ezel Kokcu

At AUT we have always approached mentoring as something that is often not straightforward, needs time and requires the right match. Kind of like when you like someone, you start dating them first before you got married (well, usually, I guess). We suggest entrepreneurs ask to shout someone a coffee or lunch first to create a chance for both parties to get to know the other. If there are synergies and they get on, then it could be the start of a beautiful mentorship relationship. – Sabrina Nagel

Do you think females in tech positions are actively making themselves available to mentor or share their stories with young girls? If not, how can we make this happen?

I’ve only been in the tech industry and startup ecosystem for a few years. But I have personally been mentored by so many amazing people, and I fully appreciate the impact that these incredible mentors have had on my career. Therefore I actively make sure I help others whenever possible. I don’t see any lack of women interested in mentoring, but what I do see is young girls not knowing where to go for this type of mentorship. That’s where I believe it’s important for women in the industry to actively reach out and help others, rather than waiting for mentees to come to them. Where we can make the greatest impact is in inspiring young women before they’ve made those big decisions such as what to study at uni. This is also the age that they might be more reluctant to ask for help. – Stephanie Benseman, CreativeHQ

I’m not in a ‘tech’ position strictly speaking, and very few people I know hold tech positions. But I know a lot of very generous women who mentor others in the tech industry, and I’ve done my fair share over the years. It’s so rewarding to see your mentees fly, as well as being able to view the world through a different lens. If people understood how satisfying it is to tap into one’s own knowledge base in this way, I’m sure more experienced people would volunteer.

There are good ‘women in tech’ networks now which is a great vehicle for finding mentors. There is also a mentoring network for schools which meets the needs of pre-university girls; fundamental if we are going to attract more into STEM careers. That’s where the story sharing for inspiration and the education about what’s possible has to start. – Frances Manwaring, ShowGizmo

What are your opinions on the mentors who are generating ideas, marketing and fundraising, but don’t have skills in the STEM arena?

I don’t see it as a problem. The reason for this is when you look at some of the most successful business leaders and entrepreneurs around the world, of all genders, most of them don’t actually build the product or service that they offer. They are the ideas people. They’re the leaders who have a broad range of skills. They really drive the team to build something, which I think takes an immense amount of skill. Anyone in that kind of position should be applauded on their achievement.  – Stephanie Benseman

It doesn’t bother me. I fundamentally believe that people who have the conceptual and strategic thinking, should be able to acquire the skills to build and manage the tech team they need to breathe their vision into life. I don’t have tech skills. In fact, I have the lowest of low tech qualifications, with a masters degree in medieval history. But there hasn’t been much I haven’t been able to achieve when I’ve put my mind to it. My degree taught me how to research, analyse and synthesise complex information, and plan and measure outcomes. These are all qualities that are fundamental to building a startup. I do however think that it is useful to have one founder with a tech background, because it can bring incredible benefits through the early startup stage. – Frances Manwaring

If you’re a woman in tech who is interested in further developing your network, check out these awesome support networks:

Entrepreneurial and startup opportunities

  • Lightning Lab – a national programme that runs business accelerators across New Zealand.
  • Creative HQ – helps people unleash their inner entrepreneur whether they are a startup, corporate business or government agency.
  • Startup week – create a start up in a weekend!
  • Hatch – Pasifika youth aged 16-26 transform innovative ideas into commercial reality.
  • CO.STARTERS at AUT – a programme that equips aspiring entrepreneurs with the insights, relationships, and tools needed to take the next step in building a sustainable business.
  • Te Korau – a specific programme for aspiring rakahinonga (it’s a version of CO.STARTERS uniquely for Maori).

Networks and meetups for women in tech and business

  • Women in tech meetup Auckland – a bi-monthly meetup to network and connect with like-minded people, and to support and encourage each other in spite of the issues and challenges faced by women in the tech industry.
  • Female Fuel’d: Tech Talks – Wellington – a group open to any females who are currently working within technology or who would like to get into the IT space. The aim of the group is to help support others regardless of where you are currently in your career.
  • She# – hosts events to encourage girls and women in computer science, engineering, IT, and tech-related fields to develop academically and professionally.
  • GirlbossNZ – New Zealand’s leading network for young women. Creating the next generation of female changemakers.
  • TechWomenNZ – a group of passionate New Zealand tech, digital and ICT focused individuals from leading organisations that work together, with the support of NZTech, to help address one of the major challenges for the successful growth of technology in New Zealand – a shortage of women in tech roles.

Investor opportunities

  • Angel HQ – Wellington’s angel investment club.
  • Arcangels – a member-based angel investment organisation focused on building investor knowledge. They are dedicated to investing in early stage businesses that are led or managed by women across New Zealand.
  • First Cut Ventures, Icehouse – largest student-run angel investment fund in the southern hemisphere.

Become a mentor

  • Mana Tangata – tech leadership mentoring program for high school students in Aotearoa NZ.
  • Shadow Tech Days – provides girls in years 9-11 with an opportunity to experience what working in the tech sector is like. It encourages them onto education pathways that lead into tech sector roles.

Learn to code:

  • GirlCode – a software adventure for women 15 years and older.
  • Auckland Libraries – free online learning with including courses on mobile apps and web design.
  • Code Avengers – learn to code websites, apps games and more online.
  • Code Club – a nationwide network of volunteer-led coding clubs for kiwi kids ages 9-13 years old.


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