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Anne-Marie Imafidon: The T and M in STEM

A role model for a generation, she tells us about her background and vision for girls and women in STEM careers.

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Anne Marie Imafidon

Anne-Marie Imafidon has made headlines in the UK and overseas many times: beating record after record as a student, her impressive academic career led her to work for financial institutions before deciding to dedicate all of her time to STEMettes, the social enterprise she co-founded in 2013 to promote girls focusing on science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

I did not realise the gravity of my situation as a student

I passed two GCSEs at age 10, in Maths and ICT. This was something I enjoyed and I wanted to do more, to answer more questions… So I passed my A-level computing at 11. I was one of the youngest girls to have ever done so.

My brother, sisters, and I are very competitive. If I was doing something, my younger sister would want to replicate it or do better, and so on with the even younger ones. Our parents supported us with an enabling environment: Whatever we would want to do, we could do it and try to do it well, tackling it from different angles.

They never told me or my sisters that we could not do something because we’re girls. They only looked at the factors to take into account to achieve success. Looking back, I did not realise the gravity and the great environment I had that allowed me to explore and do what I wanted.

I ended up doing Maths and Science at the University of Oxford and obtained my Masters at 20. All along, I was still exploring technology and did internships at Goldman Sachs and Hewlett-Packard to get more insights into the industry. I ended up working for a financial institution, Deutsche Bank. I was being paid to be technical and to work on interesting problems, and do what I love – working on clouds and all sorts of projects.

It took me 22 years to realise that I am a ‘women in tech’

Working in finance was very different from working in tech. It was important that for something I work on, build or create, I see the end user interact with it. Working in finance allowed me to be in an environment that suited me better than a tech company.

In 2012, I was invited to the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing – 3,600 women in tech attend this conference every year. Until that point, it never occurred to me that I was a woman in tech. I am just one of more than 3,000 women who are technical. It gave me the opportunity to explore a new part of who I am.

It never felt weird to me that I was doing tech and maths, and it’s only at the conference that I realised it was maybe strange for others. It’s part of me. I never felt like the odd one out, even when I was younger, and I definitely don’t want girls to feel like they are. There’s no reason for them not to be what they want.

Girls in STEM

I want to see more girls and women experience what I’ve lived

A keynote speaker at the conference, Nora Denzel, spoke about the fact that number of women in tech is going down in the United States. She said that if each of us would remain in tech and hire just one female friend in tech, then we would reverse the trend.

When I got back to the UK, I realised that we had the same problem so I decided to do something. I enjoyed my job and I wanted to see more girls and women being able to experience this.

I set up STEMettes as a voluntary organisation while I was still working for Deutsche Bank. We had a small team helping with running events, with backing from only a handful of organisations. We tried to effect change and do something out of the ordinary.

It grew steadily, and in 2014, our co-founder Jacquelyn Guderley came on board as the first to work full time on the project. Back then we had 700 girls, and now we are 10,000 all across the UK. We involve people from the rest of Europe, too. Since December 2015, I have also been full time on the project.

Being aware of the options is crucial for STEM students

STEM is a fast-moving and creative industry. Sometimes it’s difficult to understand that if you have a degree in statistics, you can become a teacher but you can also be a data scientist; that if you graduate in physics, you can become a developer. A lot of people still don’t know well enough what you can do and that you can enjoy yourself just as much as if you had kept working on theoretical physics.

Awareness of the options is crucial. If we are honest, unless you have parents with a STEM background, unless your teachers push you and see it in you, you don’t learn about all of the opportunities, or even think of exploring them. I experienced that: I was good in tech, I was good at maths, so I had to become a doctor. That’s what I was told.

It was only when I did my first internship, when someone paid me to work solely in technology that I realised that I did not have to go into medicine to take advantage of my interests. Understanding that studying STEM is opening doors rather than closing them is key to having more people join and stay in STEM careers.

Anne Marie Imafidon

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Let’s address the shortage of female talent in tech

The challenge is in the environment. It’s true for us in STEM and also women in general.

Equal pay is one step towards a more balanced workplace, as women must not fear that they are undervalued at work. However, the most important thing might be about retention: When women leave organisations like Facebook or Microsoft, you can be sure those companies learn from it.

HR departments need to have a better understanding of why people leave and find ways to address that to improve their culture and nurture talents.

Things like parental pay, time off, sabbaticals, the language used at work and in job descriptions, to promote people, to give them responsibilities… All of these can be biased and become reasons why people leave the industry.

If we go back 30 years, 25% of people in the UK’s tech industry were women. Now we only make up 17%. Why have people left? What in the culture has made them not want to come back? Where have they gone? Companies should look at how to learn from what’s happened and help to achieve equal numbers.

I have my own challenges

I am a woman in STEM. I am a black woman in STEM. I am a young woman in STEM. I am an East London woman in STEM. If there’s any challenge or difficulty that I face, I almost always attribute it more to the fact that I am me than that I am a woman.

If we look at the wider environment, something that’s always been interesting to me is that I am very mathematical: if anything does not follow a pattern like management or team work, then it’s my own challenge that I have to address.

Steve Shirley inspires me to wonder what more can we do

Steve Shirley is my hero. She set up her own dev company in the 1960s in the UK and she employed only women to sit at a kitchen table and write code. They created things like the Black Box for the Concorde. They did so well that Steve became a millionaire and all the women had shares in the company, meaning many others became millionaires too. They had to close the company when the Gender Discrimination Act came along.

But imagine that. In the 1960s, only women! Back then, women could not get a mortgage, would have to stop to work when they had children. Today we don’t have such limitations and she inspires me to wonder what more we could and should do to succeed as much as she did.

Outbox Incubator, STEMettes

There are a lot of young women out there who already are role models to others

With STEMEttes, we organised the Outbox Incubator last year. We realised that there are a lot of young women who already are role models and an inspiration to other young women. We want to look at the networks and do more to empower them to inspire others.

We also have to expose entrepreneurship and the tech start-up world to young girls. We already know that young minds are like sponges and suck information up, but we should act more to make the information available and visible.

For a lot of people, it seems like a long way away and they dread their enterprise failing. Giving them opportunities to try and miss the mark when they’re young would make their adult life easier.

We also learned about the power of the media. There are lots of stories to tell to make these girls noticeable and to normalise women in STEM. We’re going to dedicate more time in getting those stories, documenting them and pushing them.

I am not sure coding is the revolution we wanted

I am not sure coding is the revolution we wanted. What we need is for everyone to be able to code, including older generations. If we manage to democratise coding, we’ll see interesting ideas that we don’t have now as the efforts are focused on young people. By then, we’ll be able to solve all sorts of problems and be less elitist. That will be the real revolution of STEM.

Are you part of the STEM workforce? Who inspired you to start your career? Tell us now in the comments section!

All photos credits to STEMettes.

Follow Anne-Marie and STEMettes on Twitter, and download their app OtotheB for STEM networking, mentoring and events.


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(All comments have to be approved before they appear)

  1. Olivia New Monday, 9 May, 2016 at 12:55 pm

    What a great article Anne-Marie! I too am beginning to learn just how important the power of media is. My name is Dr Olivia New, a black STEM female Founder of Insight Chemistry Tutors Inc.& STEM ACES organization. In 2012, disillusioned by the job market in Canada for STEM graduates, after following an academic career as a Research Synthetic Organic Chemist and then a lecturer at UBC, it became apparent very quickly how narrow the options would be on that path. As you pointed out, once STEM graduates become open to the possibilities of STEM applications, there are several paths to consider. I was inspired to improve STEM literacy in our community. We developed a method for an efficient method to help students grasp STEM content. A lot of our work was based on referrals and without a know-how of involving media support, our work evolved to a not-for-profit service offered to all high school students. We have formed partnership with the Science Fair Foundation, Local Libraries, STEM organizations such as APEG and the School Board and are now organizing STEM summer camps for the local school district. This time, equipped with the role of media, we plan to promote these camps to a point where we can have several more school districts and independent schools on board next summer. The work has taken me on the most gratifying path in my career since coming to Canada for my post-doc from the University of Nottingham. We have created work as a team of STEM graduates and placed ourselves right in the middle of the community, to inspire STEM, support inquiry based learning and indeed give parents with less privileged back grounds options for extra support after school. Thank you for your article!

  2. Faisal Mehmood Saturday, 14 May, 2016 at 12:31 pm

    I’m very impressed read to your article.Thankyou

  3. karen hilton Saturday, 2 Jul, 2016 at 3:38 pm

    Congratulations Anne-Marie, all your hard work has paid off. Thank you for using your gifts, talents, skills and knowledge to help and encourage others. I hope that STEM will continue to grow and prosper. Have you considered taking STEM to under privileged children and young people in Africa, Asia and Brazil?

    Kind regards and all the best for the future.

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