Leadership Network member and CEO breaking glass ceilings

Alexia Hilbertidou, a 2023 Leadership Network inductee, was not your average teenager. Imagine the regular concoction of trials and tribulations that make up teenagehood and add to them founding and running a company with skyrocketing popularity.
Alexia talking to a girl sitting at a desk

Alexia: "I thought, if not me, then who? And if not now, then when?”

At 16, Alexia founded Girlboss, an organisation helping young women into science, technology and maths (STEM), leadership, and entrepreneurship. Little did she know at the time, this bold decision would change her life forever. 

Alexia’s company, Girlboss, breaks down gender and diversity barriers placed on women. It helps women at a crucial inflection point in their lives: high school, when they begin to mould their future aspirations.

Girlboss provide their target demographic of 11–19-year-olds with the resources, support and networks required to be successful in STEM and leadership roles of all kinds. 

They do things like run large-scale mentorship programmes, run events, spearhead a diverse range of initiatives in hundreds of schools and celebrate trailblazing young women through the annual Girlboss Awards. 

Alexia standing in front of a group of eight young women on a rooftop patio

Girlboss supports young women achieve in the areas of science, technology and maths (STEM), leadership and entrepreneurship

Girlboss is New Zealand’s largest women’s network and has over 17,500 members — which is roughly one in five of all high-school aged young women in Aotearoa.  
Alexia has been recognised for her work through numerous honours and awards. To name a couple, she was the recipient of the 2016 Young Leader Award — an award given to the most influential New Zealand woman under the age of 25.

She also won a Queen’s Young Leaders Award. She was flown to Buckingham Palace at 19 years old to accept the award from the late Queen herself. 

In 2018, Alexia travelled to Buckingham Palace where Queen Elizabeth II presented her with  a Queen’s Young Leaders Award

Suffice to say, Alexia is no stranger to success. But how did it all start? How did she go from a regular Auckland teen to a queen-meeting and change-leading CEO of the stars? 

Alexia, of Greek and Samoan background, was born in Cyprus — though has lived in Aotearoa most of her life.

Her family settled in Auckland, where Alexia attended Albany Senior High School.

Growing up, she found herself being drawn to technology. “I had always liked technology, but I hadn’t always seen it as a pathway for me,” she says. 

At 15, she attended a one-day Rails Girls event for young women interested in tech. It was the only result she yielded from her countless googling of ‘women in STEM Network’, ‘ambitious-young-woman-leader network’.

She recounts, “that was the first time I met a woman who works in tech, and that was really game changing for me”.

From there, Alexia had the confidence she needed to choose digital technologies as a subject in high school. However, when she found herself as the only woman in the class, she got curious. 

She started interrogating the whys behind her situation, questioning this lack of gender equity in the classroom.

If she couldn’t easily find this representation, she decided she would be it. As she recalls, “I thought, if not me, then who? And if not now, then when?”

A group of about 30 young women crossing their arms

Approximately one in five high-school-aged girls in New Zealand are members of the Girlboss network

In the first twelve months of Girlboss’ launch, it blew up “what felt like overnight”, says Alexia.

During this period, she says, “I could look at my email inbox and refresh and there would be hundreds of emails from parents, teachers, schools and young women saying this resonates with me, and I want to be involved”. 

In year thirteen, she was working 40-50 hours a week on Girlboss alongside schoolwork. And her schoolwork wasn’t on the backburner either. She was highly academic, impossibly making time for things like science fairs and coding competitions. 

That was also the year when the dictionary word of the year was feminism, so she was receiving high numbers of interview requests from the media too.

“The room next to my principal’s office had to be converted into a media room because so many media were coming to the school”.

She feels that the organisation captured a zeitgeist of the 2010s. It was a time when women were encouraged to actively recognise talent within themselves that may have been previously undervalued. 

Alexia posing with five young women wearing Girlboss t-shirts

Alexia is proof that the best way to make effective change for young women is for young women to lead that change. 

So many women grow up passionate about tech in one way or another. They could be doing anything from coding a Tumblr blog to designing a website — “but because there’s that lack of representation, and women can’t be what they can’t see, they don’t always make the connection that they could have a rewarding career in technology”. 

That’s why Alexia loves working with young people; because all it takes is that one event, that one mentoring session, that one “you can do it”, to change the trajectory of a young woman’s life.

Alexia shares, “that was really driven out of my own feelings of isolation because I was the only person I knew my age who was running an organisation”. 

This sense of community for driven young people is one of the reasons why she was drawn to the Foundation's Leadership Network.

Girlboss is looking to expand its work internationally and connect with more women in the Asia-Pacific region.

As Alexia puts it, “being part of this network allows me to collaborate with other young leaders to create positive change on an international scale”.  

Alexia with a large group of high school girls in front of palm trees

Girlboss is currently running a programme that has over 50 percent of all enrolled students in Palau on board

Alexia, now 25, holds a masters in emerging technology and uses this background to innovatively widen the reach of young women that Girlboss can support.

She has a particular focus on reaching underserved communities who may have a disproportionate lack of opportunity.

Despite their small team, Girlboss can pull in big numbers. For example, they are currently doing work in Palau running a six-week online programme that has got over 50 percent of all enrolled students in Palau on board.

This kind of tech-savvy solution to the needs of young people is the brand of expertise gained from also being a young woman with the lived experience of those she’s supporting.

Alexia is proof that the best way to make effective change for young women is for young women to lead that change. 

The Asia New Zealand Foundation Leadership Network equips New Zealand’s next generation of Kiwi leaders to thrive in Asia. We provide members with the connections, knowledge and confidence to lead New Zealand’s future relationship with the region.