Professor Christine Woods has been an entrepreneurship educator for more than 20 years, balancing teaching, research and advocacy through her role as an academic as well as involvement with organisations such as the Icehouse and the Business School’s Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE). Many describe Christine as a woman of action, but she is careful to remind herself and others, “Do not mistake motion for progress.” To ensure she is making progress, Christine believes the key is “pausing and reflecting”.
Christine recently paused and reflected on her progress as the inaugural Theresa Gattung Chair for Women in Entrepreneurship. The position was funded in 2021 by leading businessperson Theresa Gattung, with the goal of enabling research and education based on women in entrepreneurship. Since stepping into the role, Christine has launched a number of initiatives to support women in entrepreneurship, including creating a new undergraduate course, reviving the social enterprise Girls Mean Business, community outreach initiatives and launching the Aotearoa Centre for Enterprising Women. Her achievements were recently recognised through a 2022 Business School Staff Excellence award for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion.
Christine is busy formulating a plan for ongoing progress, including conducting a number of interviews with men. “A really key thing is understanding how we can call men into the space as allies. That is an important part of the conversation.” ACEW has also secured the opportunity to co-host the prestigious Diana International Research Conference in July 2025, with support from Auckland Unlimited and the University Events Team. This premier global event gathers over 100 scholars to share research on gender and women’s entrepreneurship.
Christine acknowledges several complex societal factors may be holding women back but focuses her efforts on areas where she can make an impact through her role as the Theresa Gattung Chair, which includes building knowledge through research to help inform policy and pedagogy, growing confidence through education and building a strong support network of mentorship.
“We are better than ten years ago, and in ten years’ time, I want it to be even better for my son and daughter. And I do mean for both of them. I’m not doing this just for my daughter. It will help all of us to have better representation. It’s not either-or.”
Aotearoa Centre for Enterprising Women (ACEW)
ACEW focuses on creating opportunities for doctoral and post-doctoral research that is relevant, purposeful and impactful on enterprising women, gender and entrepreneurship. By leveraging research and education, the centre seeks to ‘unlock the entrepreneurial potential of women and develop the next generation of entrepreneurship scholars’.
INNOVENT 310: Women in Entrepreneurship
Offered for the first time in 2023, Christine established a level 3 undergraduate course Women in Entrepreneurship. Delivered by the University of Auckland Business School, INNOVENT 310 is open to students across the University’s faculties who have completed 30 points at stage two. “This course explores both the challenges and opportunities faced by women entrepreneurs in Aotearoa-New Zealand.”
Some assessment is aligned with the experiential learning delivered by CIE. In Semester One, that involved developing a potential entry to the Velocity Idea Challenge within the social category and aligning with the fifth goal of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, which aims to “achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls”.
While not all ideas were winners, the assignment helped Christine identify where students’ passions lay, whether it was women’s health, education, or mentoring, allowing her to facilitate collaboration with fellow students with shared interests, in many cases resulting in tangible actions.
One of the ideas to come out of INNOVENT 310 was CycleMate, which has gone on to be selected as a finalist in start-up planning competition; Velocity $100k Challenge. A CycleMate bin is a portable sanitary bin with hygiene wipes and sanitary products that seeks to solve an issue encountered by female tradies on construction sites, where sanitary needs have previously been neglected. The Velocity $100k Challenge grand finals are being held on Wednesday 18 October.
Girls Mean Business
In 2017, Christine co-founded a social enterprise programme called ‘Girls Mean Business’. Aimed at 10-12 year-old girls, the programme strives to address entrepreneurial confidence by teaching girls how to develop a business idea and test those ideas for feasibility and opportunity. The programme also aims to create a support and mentorship network to help girls aspire and identify as entrepreneurs. As the saying goes, “To be it, you need to see it.”
Unfortunately, the Covid-19 pandemic caused the programme to go on pause. But when Christine recognised that several students in her class were interested in girls’ education and entrepreneurship, she was able to re-invigorate the programme and facilitate collaboration between University of Auckland Women in Business (UAWB) and ACEW.
With a successful pilot programme held at St Cuthbert’s College, the programme will be re-launched on Friday, 17th November, in CIE’s Unleash Space.
Ambition Amplify is another tangible initiative that has come out of 310 and the Velocity Ideas Challenge. In partnership with the ACEW, Ambition Amplify aims to address gender inequality by empowering females to amplify their ambition through mentor support during the transition from university into the professional world. OneUpOneDown is an online platform for matching women mentors and is being used to help make the matches.
A pilot programme of 19 mentors and mentees is about to be launched. Christine says, “The generosity of the women agreeing to be mentors – it’s just wonderful.”