Women in Business: New Zealand’s Female Founders Are Carving Out New Ground


By Findlay Buchanan

Last updated: Feb 15, 2023

In 2019 a report showed New Zealand's universities produced more female founders of startups than any other country at 13.4 percent. So, who are some of the New Zealand women changing the narrative in tech, and how can we foster more women into the industry?

Auckland, New Zealand. Getty Images.
Auckland, New Zealand. Getty Images.

It was International Women’s Day earlier this month, and while there was much to celebrate, gender representation and pay inequalities continue to plague the tech sector. Tech has long been governed by a stubborn segment of middle-aged men, with women accounting for merely 33 percent of the industry — and only 28 percent of start-ups representing at least one female founder.

Moreover, women have been among the hardest hit during the pandemic. Wired aptly drew parallels to the rise in working from home with the 1960s, when women were forced to juggle household labor with freelance businesses, evidently doing more work for less money.

According to the global report by Deloitte, from February 2020 to February 2021, 2.4 million women left the paid workforce. The firm noted that an increased workload at their jobs, increased responsibilities at home and a lack of work-life balance were crucial deciding factors for women leaving their jobs.

In New Zealand — a country appraised for its progress in both gender equality and tech — the same struggles are evident. As rival industries close the gaps on gender equality, tech continues to lag behind, with women representing just 26 percent of the sector.

Yet, there are many bright examples among them, and the future could be even brighter. In 2o19 a report showed New Zealand's universities produced more female founders of startups than any other country at 13.4 percent. So, who are some of the New Zealand women changing the narrative in tech, and how can we foster more women into the industry?

Kendall Flutey: Banqer

One stand out is Kendall Flutey, the co-founder of Banqer, an online education platform teaching financial literacy and business intellect to over 180,000 primary and secondary school students across Australasia.

In 2019, Fluter won the prestigious Kiwibank Young New Zealander of the Year award, before carving a reputation as an opinion leader in both tech and education across New Zealand.

Banqer uses a virtual economy in classrooms where students are given a fake bank account to transfer money, set up automatic payments and track their spending. In turn, it enables students to develop fiscal policy, while ensuring the next generation are prepared for their financial future.

These skills are particularly relevant, as the next generation grapples with increasingly uncertain economic conditions.

"Advocating for greater diversity in tech is really important to me. It comes in many forms; leadership roles at my company, working with the Digital Council, connecting with the community, and just trying to be accessible and visible. I've tried to share my journey to show that the path into tech can be unconventional and on your terms,” Flutey told The Org

“That said, I still think we have a lot to do here in Aotearoa the Māori name for New Zealand so that we don't only have more diversity coming into tech, but everyone truly feels like they have a place in tech — they're different things."

Samar Alrayyes: TechWomen

Another New Zealand organization, TechWomen, addresses major challenges for the growth of technology in New Zealand. Gender equality across the industry is something co-chair Samar Alrayyes strives for every day. Alrayyes argues there are many reasons tech falls short in gender equality.

“The pressure in the tech industry is demanding, it’s agile and variable, you either take it well or you find it stressful. Many people decide to avoid it altogether. It also depends on the stage, new entries have challenges with choosing tech, they don’t think coding, for example, is cool. But they don’t understand the variation of the roles — the truth is, the sky's the limit and technology touches every industry,” she told The Org.

TechWoman runs programs to help encourage women to enter the industry. It works with corporations such as Microsoft to create meaningful change. Notably, in its current campaign, the 10k wāhine initiative, TechWomen aims to link New Zealand businesses, Microsoft partners and education providers to give 10,000 female school students, tertiary students, women making career changes and women returning to the workforce with the right skills for a digital career.

If Alrayyes isn’t working in partnerships with organizations, or running mentorship programs for women-led startups, she is advising the government to act decisively on diversity.

“In terms of policy, we would like more incentives on organizations to be more inclusive, to be questioned on how they are managing recruitment, job descriptions, how they are dealing with maternity leaves, as well as ongoing support for women on their journey in the industry. We are advocating for an inclusive criteria.”

Alrayyes, however, is often the lone voice in a boardroom of men. She says it creates an unconscious bias towards men investing in men, rather than looking for diverse initiatives.

“I am an advisor for the board of directors for a startup supported by Callaghan, I am the only woman on the board, that is not unique. I look at other boards and there is either one woman, or there are none. When we look at ventures who are investing, and the key decision makers, they are mostly a specific segment of men.”

“There is rarely diversity, not just with women, but diversity culturally,too. Human beings tend to be biased towards people who look like them, or sound like them.”

Marian Johnson: Ministry of Awesome

Based in the south island city of Christchurch, Ministry of Awesome is a prolific New Zealand startup hub. It facilitates a gallery of startups with the advisory support, mentorship, community and connections they need to succeed.

Its CEO, or alternatively chief awesome officer, Marian Johnson, has spearheaded various accelerator programs and campaigns to enable female lead start-ups to receive the funding they deserve.

Johnson says a lack of female representation in positions of power within the tech industry has led to a culture of imposter syndrome, as well as an inability for women to get funding.

“Many are not thinking, ‘I'm a startup tech founder.’ Only 20 percent of tech companies in New Zealand have female founders, and that’s not good enough. Diversity does drive success. It is the 80 percent, unfortunately, who are getting funded,” she said. “The VC’s are also predominantly male — this is not about being fair, it’s about having the best outcome for everyone.”

One recent effort to combat this issue was The Electrify Accelerator, a mentorship program addressing long-standing gender inequality issues in the startup world. The six-week initiative received a total of $140,000 in backing from ChristchurchNZ, the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment and NZ Growth Capital Partners as well as a host of established venture capital firms.

Unfortunately, however, The Electrify Accelerator is a rare stroke of funding towards women in tech. BusinessDesk revealed funding towards female-led start-ups fell from 2.8 percent in 2019 to 2.3 percent in 2020. It represents the major work ahead for New Zealand to break down barriers of inequality in the burgeoning investor and venture capital community.

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