Young Women in Leadership

Recently Equity through Education supported a Massey University initiative ‘Young Women in Leadership’. This involved a series of workshops with 95 year 12 students from a range of schools across Auckland and Northland. The aim of the workshops was to inspire young women to step up and exercise leadership within their peer groups, schools and communities. Girls were exposed to a number of speakers over the 2 days including Jessica Mentis : The Jellyologist, Sophie Goulter: Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Wellington, Dr Siautu Alefaio : The first woman of Samoan and Pacific descent to become an Educational psychologist and Professor Sarah Leberman: Dean Academic, Massey University. Alongside the workshops the students spent 8 weeks working on real leadership projects within their communities. The project groups were supported by female mentors from Massey University. Projects included random acts of kindness, mentoring younger classmates, anti-bullying campaigns, fundraising events for younger student class trips, beach clean-ups, hosting activities for younger female students, organizing a social club to welcome new students, making healthy lunches for underprivileged primary students and gaining the rainbow tick of approval for their school.

A quote from student at the end of the programme summed up the experience for many “ I used to think leadership was only for perfect people but now I know that leadership is for everybody, including me !”

Project Presentation


A group of young women from Bream Bay College Rakelle Elisar, Molly Neal and Ella Woodford decided they wanted to take back to their school what they have learnt during the workshops to create a positive and uplifting school environment. The group decided to work on getting the rainbow tick of approval as they felt this was something they could lead change in their school community and leave a lasting impact.

Over the next 8 weeks the young women investigated the criteria for obtaining the approval of the rainbow tick. The young women then discussed with students, staff and parents about how to achieve the rainbow tick . They realised their school uniform was already gender neutral, this was a first step towards achieving the rainbow tick! Next on their list was other areas of of action such as planning and designing gender neutral toilets. They realized the complexity of the project would take a long time to achieve but through their commitment to the cause the young women managed to involve the community and gain principal's support. This resulted in an interim arrangement for gender neutral students to use existing appropriate facilities around the school while the toilets are upgraded.

It is great to see the young womens commitment and leadership in equity issues in our communities

Speaker profiles

Jessica Mentis a Jellyologist – making weird and wonderful wobblies for events – for weddings, parties, launches and adverts. She started out with an instagram account about jelly and went on to develop her own company where she designs sensory based experiences.

Every day for 100 days Jessica 3d printed a jelly mould, set it with an experimental jelly flavour, photographed it and posted it online. People responded by asking to try these crazy flavours, and she obliged. In the year and a half since posting her first image she's been featured in most of New Zealand's foodie publications, traveled to London, shot a commercial for Expedia, and worked with some amazing clients. Internationally.

Jessica shared her journey of turning an idea into a reality with the students.

Sophie completed her degree at Victoria University in 2012 studying politics and religion then went travelling. While spending time in Bosnia and Herzegovina she became aware of the complexities of education and post-conflict development. This experience led her to pursue further study focusing on young women engaged in peacemaking dialogue and activism. Sophie has worked full time at a Soup Kitchen in Wellington providing hot meals and a community for people in need. She recently began a role at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Wellington where she supports New Zealand NGOs to partake in development activities in the Pacific.

Sophie shared what she has learnt about business and leadership on her journey so far.

Siautu is the first woman of Samoan and Pacific descent to become an Educational psychologist. She has worked across various psychology contexts in education, health, social services, community, and has been involed in topics as diverse as family violence, rehabilitation and humanitarian response in Aotearoa, New Zealand, Australia and the Pacific. More recently Siautu founded New IndigenoUs, a virtual research collective based in School of Psychology Massey University which is focused on improving the effectiveness and accountability of disaster preparedness, risk resilience and management, humanitarian response, and post - emergency reconstruction within Oceania. Siautu’s work pioneers a new way forward in psychology that encompasses experiences, values and beliefs of Oceania.

Saiutu shared much of what she has learnt on her own journey and from others about leadership

Sarah is the Dean Academic for Massey University. She provides strategic and operational advice to the AVC Research, Academic & Enterprise and leadership to the academic, learning, and teaching and student experience portfolios of Massey University. Sarah was the Deputy Pro Vice-Chancellor for the Massey Business School, with particular responsibility for teaching and learning, internationalisation and accreditation until the end of 2016.

Representing the New Zealand Centre for Women and Leadership, Sarah has been a steering group member of New Zealand Woman in Leadership programme since its inception in 2006. Sarah initiated Massey's Young Women in Leadership programme that has run for many years.