Meet Stemette in chief, An­neMarie Imafi­don

The Wharf - - Canary Wharf - Florence Der­rick

De­spite be­ing one of three girls out of 70 stu­dents tak­ing her Math­e­mat­ics and Com­puter Sci­ence Mas­ter’s de­gree, Anne-Marie Imafi­don didn’t re­alise that, as a woman in tech, she was a mi­nor­ity. Com­plet­ing her Univer­sity of Ox­ford ed­u­ca­tion at 19 – the youngest-ever Mas­ter’s grad­u­ate – she kick-started her ca­reer at Gold­man Sachs, Hewlett Packard and Deutsche Bank, but still didn’t no­tice a gen­der im­bal­ance in her in­dus­try.

Then, in 2012, an im­pas­sioned speech by tech­ni­cal ex­ec­u­tive Nora Den­zel opened her eyes – for good.

“It was at the Grace Hop­per Cel­e­bra­tion of Women and Com­put­ing con­fer­ence,” the now-28-year-old said – the world’s big­gest con­fer­ence for women in tech, with 20,000 at­ten­dees this year.

“Only when I found my­self in a ma­jor­ity-fe­male tech en­vi­ron­ment did I re­alise I hadn’t ex­pe­ri­enced it be­fore. I’d been in ma­jor­ity-fe­male en­vi­ron­ments in the hair­dresser or in the loo, but not at work.

“At univer­sity, I was never sin­gled out for be­ing fe­male. And at work I must have been the only young, black, fe­male east Lon­doner on the team, but I’d never been made to feel other. So I de­cided to make sure other peo­ple could join the party.”

That party is Stemettes – a so­cial en­ter­prise she launched the fol­low­ing year, based at Here East in Strat­ford. It holds reg­u­lar pub­lic events – hackathons, school trips to tech firms, panel talks and Mon­ster Con­fi­dence ca­reer work­shops – in a bid to en­cour­age young women and girls to get into sci­ence, tech­nol­ogy, en­gi­neer­ing and math­e­mat­ics (Stem) fields.

“It’s a space for young women to ex­plore, be them­selves and get tech­ni­cal,” said Barking-born Anne-Marie.

In less than four years, Stemettes has reached nearly 40,000 young peo­ple via its free events sup­ported by in­dus­try part­ners Sales­force, Ac­cen­ture and Deutsche Bank – and 95% of at­ten­dees say their in­ter­est in Stem sub­jects in­creased thanks to the ex­pe­ri­ence.

It’s earned Anne-Marie an MBE and last week, a Bar­clays Women of the Year award. But the en­tre­pre­neur is fo­cused on her goal to change the nar­ra­tive for women work­ing in tech.

Cur­rently, women make up 14.4% of peo­ple work­ing in Stem in the UK, de­spite be­ing half of the over­all work­force. The gov­ern­ment has set a goal to in­crease this to 30%, cal­cu­lated to boost the UK’s labour value by more than £2 bil­lion. But in or­der to do this, women have to be at­tracted to the Stem in­dus­tries in the first place. So what are the bar­ri­ers in place?

“It’s mostly about so­cial norms and the con­di­tion­ing that we give girls from a young age,” said Anne-Marie. “What it is to be a young woman and what they’re ca­pa­ble of. It’s that dead white guy thing. Ev­ery­one you learn about in these sub­jects is dead, white and male. We need to tell the her­story of it all, so we’re not al­ways talk­ing about Ein­stein or Brunel.

“All girls hear is, you’ll never be a dead white guy, so this isn’t for you.”

This clearly wasn’t the case for Anne-Marie. Some­thing of a child prodigy, she had passed GCSE ex­ams in maths and IT by age 11. “I didn’t even re­alise I could do tech­nol­ogy as a job un­til I was 16,” she said. “For me, dis­cov­er­ing tech was a very per­sonal, cre­ative, en­joy­able ex­pe­ri­ence I was do­ing for my­self. It’s the same for most women in the in­dus­try. But you shouldn’t have to be a par­tic­u­lar kind of per­son. It should be ac­ces­si­ble for all.”

Ac­cord­ing to Anne-Marie, at­tract­ing girls to Stem is best achieved through pos­i­tive re­in­force­ment and role mod­els.

“We need to talk about the women that have been,” she said. “We all use Wi-fi, which was cre­ated by a woman, Hedy La­marr, but no one logs onto the in­ter­net and says: ‘Thank you Hedy’. Hedy had to fa­mously bat­tle the fact that she was a pretty Hol­ly­wood ac­tress, so no-one took her se­ri­ously enough. We need to be bet­ter at the nar­ra­tives and sto­ries that we tell.”

And one way to do that is via Anne-Marie’s work­shops, which she runs ac­cord­ing to her prin­ci­ples of the three Fs – free, fun and with food.

“We have Bey­oncé playing in the back­ground,” she said. “It has to be a pos­i­tive ex­pe­ri­ence.” Part of that pos­i­tiv­ity is chang­ing girls’ pre­con­cep­tions of Stem sub­jects as un­in­ter­est­ing or not for them – a prob­lem that per­pet­u­ates, de­spite the fact that teenage girls gen­er­ally out­per­form boys in Stem class­work, but worse in tests, point­ing to is­sues of con­fi­dence sur­round­ing their place in these sub­jects.

“Sci­en­tific ca­reers are very cre­ative and al­tru­is­tic,” she said. “We don’t talk about that enough. It’s not about mak­ing loads of money, it’s about solv­ing prob­lems and help­ing peo­ple.”

By re­al­is­ing the depth and va­ri­ety that Stem ca­reers of­fer, the goal is for girls to reeval­u­ate what they think they know about sci­ence, tech, en­gi­neer­ing and maths. What’s the fu­ture look­ing like for Anne-Marie and Stemettes?

“The over­all aim is that Stemettes isn’t needed any more,” she said. “To have more than just the stereo­types we have, so no-one can say, women don’t do tech – be­cause there’ll be enough ex­am­ples to prove them wrong.”

Just how long that could take is im­pos­si­ble to pre­dict.

“Cul­ture can change quite quickly,” said Anne-Marie. “But I want Stemettes to make a dent and then I want to do some­thing else. I want to be able to say, this was a step. Af­ter that, I don’t know. Maybe I’ll be­come a tech co­me­dian.”

Saci be not ifiuc tc ah ree err sap reavser­syi on cre­ative and al­tru­is­tic. It’s not about mak­ing loads of money, it’s about solv­ing prob­lems and help­ing peo­ple Anne-Marie Imafi­don, Stemettes

If she does, the mul­ti­tal­ented en­tre­pre­neur will surely nail it. Who’s bet­ting she could take on the comedy in­dus­try gen­der bias, too? Go to stemettes.org to

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