Alexia Hilbertidou is Founder & CEO, GirlBoss New Zealand and a Facebook Leadership Fellow.
Tell us a little about GirlBoss.
At GirlBoss our slogan is “Only 2% of NZX CEO’s are women. We’re changing that!” We want to ensure gender equality in all spheres of life and our particular focus is on young women. My mission is to get women to the table – the boardroom table that is, and I believe the decisions made while young are crucial in paving the way.
GirlBoss New Zealand is a support network for youth which is based on developing and encouraging 21st century skills which will help our members to find their purpose and reach their full potential. We currently have 9000 members and over 2000 Ambassadors.
We have two workshops which we deliver into schools and which can be adapted for all ages. GirlBoss LEAD aims to build confidence and break down the negative stereotypes which hold young women back. Participants are supported to create their own projects – as I believe that it is through execution that leadership skills are developed.
ChangemakeHer is a two-hour workshop designed to show young women how they can live a life of purpose, excitement and impact by having a career in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths).
Our programs have been implemented in 55 Schools across New Zealand and in The Cook Islands. From its first inception I always dreamed of bringing GirlBoss to the Pacific Islands. My own commitment to living a life of service to the community is the result of the values instilled in me by my late Samoan grandmother who passed away four years ago. I know that she would be so proud to know that I was standing here today embarking on my journey. I believe that my Pasifika heritage has been one of my biggest assets and that young women in the Pacific, have the power and purpose to lead and change the world.
Alexia, what do you love about what you do?
I love watching young women transform by going through our GirlBoss programs, their opinions of computer science and feminism are changed in the space of hours and everyone (including myself) leaves feeling empowered. I love that my work is fostering a better world. A diverse STEM workforce will ensure that technological innovations better represent our society and solve pressing global problems. We need to recruit the most talented people to STEM fields, and not including half the population (women) in the pool of possible scientists and engineers is short-sighted and self-limiting. By supporting women STEM students we can out-innovate, out-educate and out-build our previous generations, resulting in greater prosperity for us all. The pursuit of science and knowledge is one of the greatest, most noble human pursuits with the power to solve our global problems – yet for most of history, half of our human species have been barred from this adventure.
How does this role play to your strengths?
Growing up I was a quiet child who buried myself in books and computers. I was raised by my mum and she says I was calm and placid and very easy to raise – which seems at odds with my activist activities today!
I wasn’t born with any particular talents, but I have a growth mindset and I am determined to challenge myself. My initial strength was a strong passion for social activism.
My first social action project, at about nine years old, was organising a pet drive – we rallied our peers to make blankets and brought in animal toys, which we then presented to the local animal shelter.
These active learning experiences really connected with me and I fostered my passion for social good.
What are the top five things that you have learned to be a success in your job?
- Realise that you are not alone. Realise the importance of finding “your tribe.” You become the average of the people you spend the most time around so make sure you’re spending time with people who inspire, empower and encourage you.
- Realise that you do not need to wait for permission to start creating change. If you notice a problem, and have the skills to offer a solution, then go for it.
- Be passionate about issues, become well-read in an area – there is power in knowing one area very well. What is an area you are so passionate, so knowledgeable about, that you could walk into a room with the Queen, Jacinda Adern, or Bill Gates and hold your own when discussing it. If you do not have one, get one. That is how you develop confidence.
- You’ll find it more rewarding when you work for the betterment of something beyond your own life, and it’ll take you further in your career – your passion might be poverty or social injustice…homelessness, human trafficking, domestic violence – for me it’s fighting for the social and economic progress of young women.
- When I first told my mum I wanted to start my own social enterprise she said, “Shouldn’t you wait until you’re older, make your money in a normal job and then just donate to a charity?” When I decided to forgo $83,000 in University Scholarships to continue working on GirlBoss, people said to me, “Shouldn’t you go to university first and then work on your organization?” But I chose to ignore that sensible advice. If you want average opportunities, make average choices, put in an average amount of effort and have average ambition. The reality is, if you want opportunities that not many people get, you need to make choices that not many people make.
Who do you look to, or what networks do you go to, for inspiration in your career? Where do you go on the web or via training to learn more to progress in your work?
The GirlBoss New Zealand network inspires and empowers me every day.
If someone wanted to pursue this career, what advice would you give them?
Start today! Even if it is just on a small scale, begin your journey now. This window of opportunity won’t be here forever, so I say embrace it and live your dream!
Be the most hopeful person in the room – I’m not talking about wishful thinking or naivety …I’m talking more about your posture as a person – the person with the most hope in the room is the person with the most influence…The person who finds a way through or solves the problem is usually the one who believes it can be done. – hope brings creativity, optimism…it’s what the best leaders convey all the time, especially under pressure.
Recently, I was in London and sat down for lunch with Jamie Oliver, celebrity Chef and owner of a $470 million Cooking Empire. He told me “Always stay hopeful.” He said to me, “Alexia, when I opened my first restaurant at age 25, I decided that I would only hire youth from disadvantaged backgrounds those with drug or alcohol problems, the unemployed and the homeless. My family, other chefs, my friends – every one – thought I was nuts. My father didn’t speak to me for a year as he thought I was throwing away my life to help others.”
However, that decision to do something different, to give a hand up to others propelled the restaurant into global fame. Once people heard of the mission, people came in droves and signed up for bookings months in advance. What Jamie’s story emphasizes is that the person with the most hope is the person with the most influence. You walk into any boardroom who is the leader? Who is the influencer? It is the one with the most hope. Be The one with hope. Be The one with vision. Be The one with optimism.
What was your journey to get here and where do you see yourself in ten years?
I want the GirlBoss message to reach every young woman in the Pacific Islands. The Pacific needs to lead the way when it comes to gender equality. I want to ensure we change our statistics. Currently only 2% of NZX CEO’s are women. We’re changing that. Only 8.3% of our chartered engineers are women. We’re changing that. Only 3% of VC Funding goes to female entrepreneurs. We’re changing that too. For the Pacific to reach its full potential both men and women must reach their full potential. They say it will take 100 years to reach full gender equality. Well, with the short attention span of my generation I just don’t think we can wait that long. I am committed to ensuring that mine is the generation to change these statistics once and for all.
GirlBoss details: It’s free to become a member at www.girlboss.nz Twitter: @girlbossnz Instagram: @nzgirlboss You can find out more about Alexia at her LinkedIn profile.