A helping hand for ‘girl geeks’ globally

19 September 2016

Lord Mayor's Budding Entrepreneurs Program helps women in technology and STEM

Fresh from a five-week stint in America, Girl Geek Academy CEO Sarah Moran is buzzing with excitement over her next big project. An offshoot of the academy, Girl Geek Helpdesk is close to fruition thanks in part to a Lord Mayor’s Budding Entrepreneurs Program grant. Funds allowed Ms Moran to travel to San Francisco to meet with technology giants.

Girl Geek Academy is a conglomerate of skilled digital professionals encouraging and supporting women in technology, games, design and female business founders.

“The grant allowed us to look at an extra element, a spin-off for Girl Geek Academy,” Ms Moran said. “We get asked a lot of questions from our community such as how to secure an internship or get a promotion. We thought there must be a scalable way to answer these questions, so we developed an MVP and put it out to a small test audience. “People are willing to pay for this product.”

The Girl Geek Helpdesk will provide women in the technology sector with a subscription service for career support. Members can log in and ask a question, and an expert “Girl Geek” provides an answer. During her travels, Ms Moran met with a variety of major US companies including Twitter, Facebook and GoogleX. But the most fruitful meeting was with the US arm of Queensland company, GO1.

GO1 specialises in workplace learning management systems, and a partnership would enable Girl Geek Helpdesk to offer training modules and provide ongoing support.

“Our goal is to deliver just-in-time training and education to women throughout their tech careers,” Ms Moran said. When reflecting on the project’s development so far, she said: “I learnt there’s a lot that Australians do better than Americans. This was my most eye-opening learning. And the things we do well are those that are most important. “While the States has a lot of tech expertise, in terms of creating inclusive environments, we had some very shocking meetings.

In Australia there is an aim to address the gender imbalance. In America it is largely seen as someone else’s problem. “Part of the learning is that a lot of these American tech companies grow so big so quickly that unless inclusiveness is built in from the start, it is very easy to scale the problem.” Ms Moran had one particularly memorable experience.

“In one of our very first meetings, the hiring manager said to us that he would happily hire more women but ‘did not want to lower the bar’. My jaw hit the floor.” It is the more inclusive environments and attitudes that Australian companies have created that Girl Geek Helpdesk hopes to scale and capitalise on.

“We are looking to scale the efforts of people and organisations making it work. For example, NAB has successfully increased the number of women in senior tech roles from 18 per cent to 27 per cent since launching the Women in Tech program in 2014.”

The biggest challenge Ms Moran has encountered is “tall poppy syndrome”. “It is so ingrained, it is very hard to get women to toot their own horn about what they do and how fun a career in tech actually is.”

Like many other entrepreneurs, Ms Moran regularly faces the dilemma of too much to do and not enough time. “We have our vision and roadmap and we will get there, but we just have to do it in focused pieces … one element at a time,” she said. “Our partnership with GO1 is going to allow us to build the principles of the Helpdesk into an online learning academy.”

Ms Moran thinks on a global scale and she doesn’t waste time. “We hope to have it up and running in November,” she said.

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