Catherine Jones: Women are driving change in Aotearoa’s innovation space.

Of Creative HQ’s staff, 71 percent are women with 62 percent in positions of leadership. Women make up the majority of people in our programmes and they have since 2016.

I recently attended an executive education course at Stanford University, and in a room of 80 business leaders from around the world, only eight were women. 

I found that fact odd, a little bit shocking even. In my daily interactions, as Chief Executive of Wellington’s innovation hub Creative HQ, women account for more than half of the people in many rooms. 

Of Creative HQ’s staff, 71 percent are women with 62 percent in positions of leadership. Women make up the majority of people in our programmes and they have since 2016. In the latest intake of our GovTech Accelerator programme, five out of 13 teams have all female members, and 9 out of the 13 teams have female project leads or founders.

That’s without purposefully seeking out female founders or running programmes that specifically target women – the only thing we’re cherry-picking is projects with a lot of merit. 

Furthermore, in our 2021 Climate Response Accelerator programmes, startups raised over $13 million in capital. Of the founders or co-founders involved in the programme, 31 percent were women. 

“Females are making waves elsewhere in Aotearoa’s startup scene too. Callaghan Innovation recently announced that in their latest Technology Incubators programme, 40 percent of the founding team are women.”

Catherine Jones
Chief Executive, Creative HQ

New Zealand has a strong history of championing women in leadership positions locally and on a global stage. Though women currently account for only 17 percent of business founders in New Zealand, in their last report on Women in Startups, Startup Genome ranked Aotearoa 12th globally for its percentage of women founders in startups.

However, things are changing fast. We’re seeing more mothers and women in leadership positions coming through Creative HQ programmes, which is certainly reflective of broader changes in the innovation ecosystem nationally and globally, especially coming out of the pandemic. 

The pandemic forced many New Zealanders to work from home, while parenting, homeschooling and/or caring for elderly family members all at the same time. One of the silver linings of the last few years is that more people are now aware of the practical constraints of raising a family, and how workplaces can enable females with great ideas to be successful through more flexible working outside of the home.

New Zealand is credited with many global firsts for women. In 1893 we became the first country in the world to allow women to vote, in 1929 we were the first country to send a women as our representative to the League of Nations, in 1995 we were the first country to appoint a transgender women as a mayor and, four years later in 1999, we made her a member of parliament, and in 2001 we were the first country to have females simultaneously hold the Constitutional Top 5.

Back in that room at Stanford, I couldn’t help thinking of how proud I was to be a kiwi. We’ve got a way to go yet, but if female founders keep showing up like we’ve seen at Creative HQ, Aotearoa might just claim another first: the first country to boast 50 percent of our business founders as female.

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