Wednesday, August 13, 2008

News From Under Down-Under
(Ambassador: Annika Hinze, Senior Lecturer, University of Waikato)

This is my first blog report, so as the Ambassador for New Zealand I would like to start by introducing you to my country.

New Zealand is predominantly an urban country, with a multi-cultural mix of Pakeha, Maori, Asian and Pacific Islanders. New Zealand is the only country in the world in which all the highest offices in the land have been occupied simultaneously by women: the Queen, the Governor General, Prime Minister, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Chief Justice, and Maori all had women in office between March 2005 and August 2006.

However New Zealand has a Gini coefficient of 36.2 measuring income equality (0 being total equality) - which means that the situation here is comparable to that in the UK. Unfortunately there seems to be a decline and this situation is getting worse! NZ census data claims that 42% of the IT workforce are women -- however, only 27% out of these are system technicians and application engineers. So while these figures are better than in many other countries we again see the typical picture of women as the IT minority gender.

A major project that I have initiated in New Zealand is the Computing Women Congress which is conducted in Hamilton. The congress is built around the strategy of encouraging women into IT by enabling students to meet with other women who are already successfully working within IT (see e.g., this study or this one).

The Congress has been running for three years now and brings together students, academics and IT practitioners. The conference is modelled after similar ones internationally with one important difference - its size. New Zealand is a small country and our conference brings together 40 to 50 women in IT. Within these three days together in February, people can really get to know each other. Courses have two to five participants and are truly hands-on. The 2008 conference had technical topics, such as data compression, statistics, and peer-to-peer computing, mixed with career skills training as well as gender and IT topics. Nuchjira Laungrungthip won the award for the best student paper - congratulations! This year's participants of the CWC came from the New Zealand islands as well as Australia, Germany, the UK and the USA. The conference was rounded off by a visit to the bubbling mud pools in Rotorua (remember, February is at the end of the NZ summer). The next conference is planned for 2010 (stay tuned).