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“Statistics are still stark”: Girl Geek Academy acquires trademark to champion equality in space, aviation and drones

Jessie Tu /

Girl Geek Academy

The Girl Geek Academy team: April Staines, Lisy Kane, Tammy Butow, Amanda Watts and Sarah Moran. Source: supplied.

Melbourne-based Girl Geek Academy has acquired the She Flies trademark from Dr Catherine Ball, aiming to increase gender equality in the drone, space and aviation sectors.

The newly launched She Flies will help Girl Geek Academy in its ambition to further advance women in tech, by increasing the number of women in space, aviation and drones.

“Statistics are still stark,” Girl Geek Academy chief executive officer Sarah Moran says over the phone.

“Currently, roughly 3% of pilots are women, and 1% are aircraft engineers. For change to occur, we need to see changes in statistics.”

With the Australian government backing increased collaboration with NASA on space exploration — last month announcing $150 million over five years for Australian businesses and researchers to join NASA’s endeavour Moon to Mars exploration program — Moran sees it as the perfect time to improve the under-representation of women in the aviation field.

She Flies’ co-founder Catherine Ball is an author, founder, and ethics advocate who works across global projects where robotics and new technology meet environmental protection.

Ball sought to empower and educate more in the world of drones, robotics, new and emerging technologies.

Under the She Flies banner, Girl Geek Academy will hold a series of programs centred around promoting gender equality for industries across drone, space and aviation, including career incubators that introduce more female high school-aged students to these sectors. By supporting a growing number of women using drones for business, education, recreation and creativity, Moran says the program involves building “capacity and technical capabilities whilst increasing female representation in these industries”.

“Ultimately, we want to welcome, encourage and support women in these sectors.”

Currently, the program is recruiting She Flies ambassadors, to ensure women in drone, space and aviation are collaborating on the same page. Ball, along with Casey Thomas, chief of virtual reality company Dark Shadows, are at the forefront of championing the program.

Since the Girl Geek Academy’s founding in 2014, Moran says she’s seen a huge surge in other organisations focusing on getting more women into STEM. She tells me she welcomes these competitors with open arms.

“In every city now, there’s a push for more woman in tech,” she says.

“In cybersecurity, AI and beyond. It’s a movement of people, and it’s great. Our next question now is: ‘How do we push further gender equality in more areas?’”

It’s not just that all these tech-related industries are benefiting. Moran presses the link between gender equality and family violence, mentioning the 2016 Victoria government’s Royal Commission into Family Violence, which contained a recommendation, calling for early prevention, in the form of gender equality across all sectors in society.

“After the 2016 Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence, people wanted to know what effective prevention look like. Not only is it a massive health issue but a criminal one that results in the death of more than one woman a week in Australia,” Moran says.

“We know from international and local research that gender inequality sets the necessary social context for men’s violence against women to occur. Gender equality is one of the few things we can do to prevent men’s violence against women because it is about building respectful relationships.

“Which is why our mission for gender equality in games, startups, making, drones, aviation, space and all industries has evolved to be much more than a nice to have, but something worth fighting for.”

In its five year history, Girl Geek Academy’s rapid ascension into relevance of their programs in high schools have inspired them to alter the way they run their workshops. The academy’s coding camps across Australian high schools had initially been run during school holidays, but Moran discovered that students would return home and parents would ask ‘what did you learn?’ and they would be unfamiliar with the language of coding.

Now, the academy runs workshops for women and girls to learn together in the same classroom — up to 100 students per class.

Moran says year 10 is a particularly popular year for the program.

“We look at the pipeline problem, and identify the critical transition point where women drop out, where the leaks occur,” she says.

“Year 10 seems to be the critical transition phase. And the academy wants to be at the forefront of that recruiting attempt. To get them excited at that point.”

The academy also helps facilitate organisations in providing work experience for female students interested in technology.

“A lot of businesses don’t know how to provide work experience,” Moran says. “We link corporations and new emerging industries with young eager high school female students who want to experience tech and startup culture — to create meaningful engagement.”

Meanwhile, the academy’s also entered the publishing space after being approached by Penguin Random Publishing House about doing a series of novels for young girls last year. Alex Miles was selected as the writer and attended several academy workshops before putting pen to paper, basing her characters on the five founders of Girl Geek Academy.

“The book is selling more copies per week than the number of girls we can reach across the country per week,” Moran says.

“It [fiction books] was the most ‘scalable way’ to achieve our mission.”

This article was first published by Women’s Agenda.

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Jessie Tu

Jessie is a Women's Agenda journalist.

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