Achieving Equilibrium: a conversation about gender balance in STEM

In 2018, New Zealand and the United Kingdom are celebrating 125 and 100 years respectively of Women's suffrage. To mark these milestones the British High Commission and the Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians NZ Group hosted an interactive panel discussion on gender balance in STEM sectors on Thursday 6 September 2018.


Thank you for the opportunity to talk with you.
Thank you Melissa (Clarke-Reynolds the event MC).


  • Minister of Research, Science and Innovation - Hon Dr Megan Woods
  • High Commissioner - Laura Clarke
  • Chief Science Advisor -  Juliette Gerrard

What is the GCSB?

The GCSB is a ‘SIGINT’ or signals intelligence agency meaning we specialise in intelligence derived from electronic communications. We also have a statutory role in cyber security and information assurance.

We are a government department and as such, we are accountable to the Government of New Zealand and are required to act in the interests of New Zealand and New Zealanders.

What does the GCSB do?

To put it simply, our mission is to protect and enhance the security and wellbeing of New Zealand and New Zealanders. The GCSB does this by:

  • Collecting and reporting on intelligence – primarily foreign intelligence – in accordance with government priorities in order to inform government decision-making.
  • Providing cyber security and information assurance services to organisations of national significance, from both the public and private sector.

That means technology and people skilled in a range of STEM areas are absolutely central to what we do.

Our priorities are set by the Government

The Government’s intelligence priorities guide all of our work, and are reviewed periodically. The detail of the intelligence priorities are not made public for obvious reasons. However, as stated in the joint NZSIS and GCSB Briefing to the Incoming Minister, our ongoing focus areas include cyber threats, counter terrorism, foreign espionage and stability and governance in our region.

Why the GCSB supports more women in STEM

To achieve our mission, we need the different perspectives that come with a dynamic and diverse workforce. Because technology is central to what we do, our mission also depends on having skilled people in STEM from a wide range of backgrounds.

In our business, having a workforce that is diverse and a workplace that is inclusive is a real strength. We need people from different backgrounds, of different genders and with different life experiences. These differences bring different perspectives and approaches which combine to make a stronger team. I passionately believe this and can see the evidence of it.

Unfortunately, I can’t speak in detail about everything we do or how we do it. That is the nature of our role. What I can say is that some of the most important breakthroughs in our intelligence work have involved significant contributions by women from our graduate programme. They have brought a different perspective to a problem which has made all the difference.

For an organisation that does much of its work in secret and is authorised to exercise intrusive powers on behalf of the government - having a workforce that better reflects the community we serve is vital to gaining public trust and confidence.

What the GCSB is doing to support more women in STEM and address our gender pay gap

In late 2016, I had the team undertake some intelligence collection on itself to see if our workforce was sufficiently diverse and inclusive to support our mission.

Our analysis showed that we had room for improvement. As a result of this analysis the GCSB set a target of reducing the gender pay gap to no more than 5% by 2021 and developed an action plan which would make this target a reality.

Through relentless focus on our action plan, the GCSB has significantly reduced its gender pay gap from 11.68% to 5.86% in less than two years; and tapped into hidden female STEM talent through the successful launch of the GCSB Tertiary Scholarship for Women Studying STEM.

Today at the GCSB 57 per cent of our senior leaders are women and we have halved our gender pay gap in two years. However, only 37 per cent of all staff are women, and only 16.5 per cent of technical roles requiring a STEM-related background are filled by women. The lack of females in technical roles is unacceptable and is a barrier to us fully addressing our gender pay gap.

Traditionally, STEM-related fields have been male dominated. Figures from the Ministry of Education show women make up less than a quarter of those studying for a Bachelor of Science in Engineering and just over a third of those studying for a Bachelor of Science in Information Technology. But just because that’s the way it has been, doesn’t mean it’s the way things should continue.

The GCSB is taking a very deliberate approach to attracting more women with STEM backgrounds.

One way we have tapped into previously hidden female STEM talent is through the GCSB STEM Scholarship. It was launched last year, with four incredible women being awarded scholarships to the value of $10,000.

The scholarship programme has successfully raised the profile of the GCSB as a potential employer amongst women working towards a STEM-related tertiary qualification. Applications are currently open for the 2018 scholarship programme where we intend to award up to three scholarships with at least one focused on Māori and Pacific women.

The scholarship programme is helping to provide us with a pipeline of talented STEM qualified women employees which will change the face of GCSB within five to ten years.

The impact we’re having

Efforts to make our graduate programme more attractive to a far more diverse range of candidates are paying off. In our latest graduate round we attracted just over 300 applications; of this 124 (41 per cent) were women. Of the eight graduate placements offered, five (62 per cent) went to women. This is up significantly from when the programme first started in 2016 where we attracted 76 applications, of which only 11 or 14 per cent were women and none were successful.

Gender distribution of graduates accepted into the programmes continues to even out. In the latest round 50 per cent of the IT roles went to women and 100 per cent of our Analyst roles were filled by women. Compared to 2015/2016 where 20 per cent of the IT roles were filled by women and 63 per cent of the Analyst roles. With the graduates starting off on the same salary regardless of gender, we hope to have created a level field.

In March the GCSB, with the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service, launched a joint Diversity and Inclusion Strategy 2017 – 2020 for the New Zealand Intelligence community.


We’re always on the lookout for talented people, anyone interested in joining the GCSB should check out our recruitment website Beyond Ordinary.

My questions to you all are:

  • What are you doing to ensure you’re recruiting people who are beyond ordinary?
  • What is one concrete step you can take in your organisation to ensure that your staff are being paid fairly regardless of their gender?