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VIRTUAL REALITY: A Hamilton Girls’ High School student washes her hands in a virtual reality dairy shed in the Company-X Hamilton office.

Software specialist Company-X sent one of its best and brightest software architects to Hamilton Girls’ High School to inspire students to join her team.

Smash stereotypes and consider a career in science, technology, engineering and maths.

That’s the advice Hamilton-based software specialist Company-X has for girls.

Only about 20 per cent of technology-related jobs are held by women.

The 50 plus Silicon Valley savvy team with a Kiwi can-do attitude sent one of its best and brightest software architects to Hamilton Girls’ High School to inspire students to aspire to become her colleagues.

Reseller News Women in Information and Communications Technology finalist Rachel Primrose said: “I don't think there are that many women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) because of the unconscious bias against women, which comes from men and other women.”

Primrose was a finalist for this year’s Technical Award.

“Personally, I've had to ‘shrug off’ a lot of unwelcome comments, from both men and women over the years, and that's straight-up unacceptable. Everyone needs to look at the way they're talking to our young people about STEM to break down that barrier.”

Primrose taught three lessons for two Year 10 classes with her colleague Karen Moore as part of Smart Waikato’s award-winning Secondary School Employer Partnership.

The partnership connects students, teachers and employers to contextualise learning and inspire the next generation.

For Primrose it was all about challenging stereotypes.

“We shared our experiences as women working in science, technology, engineering and mathematics and information technology (IT) in a holistic way,” Primrose said.

Her message, delivered to mathematics students, included the journey through education, career paths, salary, travel and lifestyle benefits.

Company-X, for example, allows its team to work from its Hamilton office or from home and offers flexible hours, which is advantageous for those with young families.

“We showed how statistics is relevant to STEM through having the students participate in data analytics on social media data,” Primrose said.

The students also visited the Company-X office to learn about the fastest growing technology company in New Zealand’s fastest-growing technology region. Company-X has grown from employing two, in 2012, to more than 50.

“We showed the students the work environment, how we do our jobs, the types of work we do, and the cool technology we get to work with.”

Primrose taught the concept of programming by role playing a sandwich making robot that the students had to instruct one step at a time. The instruction to put the margarine on the bread, for example, would result in the margarine tub being placed on top of the unopened loaf.

Students also experienced Company-X’s virtual reality milking shed where each student was trained in a healthy and safe milking procedure.

Primrose and Moore started their first lesson with a photo board and asked the students to pick which of the people worked in STEM.

“Of Rachel’s photo, one student said, 'She's way too pretty to have a job in STEM',” Moore said. “Turns out that the pretty lady was actually the most qualified on the photo board!”

Hamilton Girls’ High School mathematics teacher Anita Chan welcomed Company-X into her mathematics class.

"Rachel and Karen were amazing and everything went according to their lesson plan,” Chan said. “They are just like natural teachers."

Hamilton Girls’ High School mathematics student Nikaia Paama said meeting Primrose and Moore in the classroom, and visiting them at Company-X, had challenged her ideas about the IT industry.

“Having people visit definitely helps me see what I want to do when I grow up,” Nikaia said.

She had always assumed IT was for boys, probably because girls didn’t like it, but working with Company-X had introduced her to more possibilities.

“Having Company-X come into our classroom has allowed me to think of doing things with computers and seeing how fun it can actually be,” Nikaia said. “I’m definitely thinking of doing something in this field of work. It sounds like a really interesting thing to do.”

Nikaia hoped to see the number of women in technology roles grow from 20 per cent.

“Girls can do anything,” she said.

Classmate Maraia Vukinamualevu said Rachel and Karen had described Company-X as a flexible employer who was fun to work for.

“It made me consider taking up digital tech,” she said.

Fellow maths student Karis McInally said she had always wanted to work with computers.

“I’m glad that I can experience what you do up close and find out more about the job,” she said.

Company-X senior software developer Marcel van de Steeg has taught technology lessons through the partnership at Hamilton Boys’ High School for years, but Company-X wanted to extend its commitment to include Hamilton Girls’ High School.

“We wanted to do something about women being underrepresented in the technology workforce,” said Company-X co-founder and director David Hallett.

“We were already working with Boys’ High and told Smart Waikato we would love working with Girls’ High too. Why can’t we influence them?

“While it was great encouraging and inspiring the boys, it’s just as exciting to cover STEM topics with girls. They did not hesitate. They really wanted to partner with us.”