17 Jul 2017

Alexia Hilbertidou: 'Young women can’t be what they can’t see'

From Nine To Noon, 9:39 am on 17 July 2017

Alexia Hilbertidou is on a mission to change the way women are perceived in male-dominated industries. 

After years of being the only female in many of her high school technology and science classes, Hilbertidou founded GirlBoss New Zealand – a network for young women passionate about science, technology, engineering and maths which now has 8,000 members.

Alexia Hilbertidou

Alexia Hilbertidou Photo: Supplied

“There was an urgent need to form a community of young women who were passionate about these fields.

“I was the only girl in my IT class in Year 12 and then the only girl studying advanced physics at my school in Year 13.

“When I was younger I’d never met anyone working in technology. Let alone a woman working in technology.”

Hilbertidou’s own tech career was launched at a conference she nearly didn’t attend.

“I only went to it because I heard they had free pizza at the event! This was the first time I ever met a software engineer and I was really just blown away by all the opportunities out there in this profession.”

The coming wave of automation will have a disproportionate effect on women, yet many remain reluctant to go into technology careers, Hilbertidou says.

She puts this down to three things – the perception that these careers are difficult, a lack of community and a lack of representation.

“Young women can’t be what they can’t see. When you’re thinking what does a scientist look like and you’re imagining Einstein, not a woman that looks like them.”

Hilbertidou has just come back from an overnight mission to the edge of space aboard the largest flying observatory in the world.

The US ambassador Scott Brown selected her to be part of the space agency's SOFIA Project in which NASA crew look for new stars and planets from a 747 jumbo jet.

Representatives of New Zealand media onboard SOFIA during a tour.

Representatives of New Zealand media onboard SOFIA during a tour. Photo: NASA