‘Start young!’ Anne-Marie Imafidon, Stemettes

Anne-Marie Imafidon, Head Stemettes, was invited as a keynote speaker at Women Shift Digital Conference at Level39 on 26 November 2013.

Anne-Marie and the Stemettes are looking at how to encourage very young girls to embrace digital skills.

Anne-Marie. who currently works at Deutsche Bank and has just been voted Young IT Professional of the Year, is a ‘role model’ for many girls herself. She was 10 years old when she got her Maths and ICT GCSE, then completing a computing A-level at 11 years old. She recalled this achievement as ‘a bitter sweet experience though, as no other girls did it since 2001, but some boys did!’.

Referring to key figures such as Ada Lovelace, Dame Steve Shirley, UK women working on breaking the Enigma Code at Bletchley Park during the II World War and later in the punch cards industry, Anne-Marie reminded us that the history of the Tech industry has actually always been full of women.

“Only 13 percent of STEM workforce is female, and 2 out of 3 STEM graduate girls do not go for STEM roles, although we know there is huge skills deficit here”

To tackle the issue, Anne-Marie launched Stemettes in February 2013, to inspire the next generation of females into Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) fields by showing them the amazing women already in STEM with a series of panel events, hackathons, exhibitions, and mentoring schemes.

The key aim of Stemettes is to enable young girls to have positive STEM experience and to meet women working in STE. So far, across 7 events, already 600 girls have been building apps, games and exploring data visualisation.

Anne-Marie then shared with us the best practice she’s been observing so far in the field:

“There are many more role models than Sheryl Sandberg”

Looking at role models, Anne-Marie declared that “there are many more role models than Sheryl Sandberg”, and we have to keep in mind the great diversity of Female role models and organisations in engineering, tech, business, innovation.

Anne-Marie celebrated the great examples of: Sue Black, Founder and CEO, Savvify, Martha Lane Fox, Co-Founder of Lastminute.com and Chair of Go ON UK Wendy Tan White, Co-Founder & CEO of Moonfruit, Susan Cooklin, CIO of Network Rail Group CIO,Dame Steve Shirley, Founder of pioneer software company F.I. Group and former President of the British Computer Society, and Jenny Griffiths, Founder and CEO of Snap Fashion

Anne-Marie believes we overall need wider diversity in role models, with more black and Asian people being represented at the top front as well as women.

“Start young!”

It is essential for young women to get into Tech and STEM as early as possible, ideally from the age of 5-7, so that they can grow up their skills with confidence she said. It is the responsibility of the older generation to open up gender roles and to encourage young women to get tech-savvy.

Anne-Marie shared the inspiring example of Dan Bridge, STEM Ambassador based in Cardiff who started a code club inpractice.org that enable 5 years old girls to build basic computers and circuits.

Forget a mentor, find a sponsor”

“It’s all about sponsorship” said Anne-Marie, quoting Sylvia Ann Hewlett’s book.

Following Janet Thomas’ input from the morning session, Anne-Marie stated that women professionals need sponsors ‘who will put his/her neck on the line for you’.

She also noted that so far men have had much more sponsors backing them up and women should get effective sponsorships as well. In the US, the shocking truth is that after 5 years, 52 percent women leave the STEM sector she reminded us, so women definitely need sponsors backing them up in their careers.

We really need to encourage men sponsors to help women in their careers, to consider women for hire, promotions and pay rise.

Anne-Marie reminded us that don’t have to do computer science to be a really good coder.

Unconscious bias and media representation

Anne-Marie criticised the typical engineer job advert; “Do you want to work for F1?” whose opening lines would typically be “you are a schoolboy”, and showing a picture of all men (1 token women) around a table.

It is crucial that advertising and media companies shift the way they represent women and overcomes genders’ stereotypes in general: girls (not only boys with dads) should be emphasised as interested in toys like LEGO! Some companies are already deeply challenging genders labels like GoldieBlox, a toy company on a mission to inspire the next generation of female engineer, whose commercial trailer went viral on Youtube.