Achieving Greater Inclusivity in STEM - An Interview with Anne-Marie Imafidon
From her mathematical child prodigy days, to working in tech for the likes of Deutsche Bank and Goldman Sachs - Anne-Marie Imafidon is an inspiring keynote speaker and the founder of Stemettes. We chatted to her to find out more about Stemettes, future trends, diversity and more.
What inspired you to get into STEM and to set up Stemettes?
I used to work in technology, and I’ve always been interested in this field – ever since I was a little girl – and, actually, I wasn’t aware of a bias growing up!
Stemettes was born out of a kind of Road to Damascus moment I had at a conference – when I had this sudden realization that I was, in fact, a ‘Woman in Tech’. This was maybe three to four years into my career, and having been involved with STEM the whole way and I just thought, “Oh my gosh, this is a thing; it’s a thing to be a woman AND to work in technology”.
The proportion of women in tech is in decline, and I felt that wasn’t right. I love technology, and if I have children one day, I don’t want them to feel like weirdos if they want to get into it - so, on a personal level, I had a response to that.
Moreover, looking at the industry I love – all the fun and opportunity that I’ve enjoyed – as well as seeing the economic empowerment to be derived from being physically literate, I knew that something had to change. I had a look and found that there was a space for something new, something a little bit more niche, a little bit more fun… and a little bit more food-orientated. So Stemettes was created!
Stemettes was born when Anne-Marie realised that she was a 'woman in tech'
How was working in technology for banks such as Deutsche Bank and Goldman Sachs?
It was amazing – I loved it! I made great money, had great opportunities, worked with fantastic teams, got to travel, and played with cool stuff. And so that’s what really inspired me to think, “Why are there not more girls involved in this party?” and to start up Stemettes.
I was an Enterprise Collaboration Strategist which basically meant working on internal social media. There was a whole variety of projects that I was involved in; sometimes I was designing products, such as coding web pages, and other times I was creating communities on the platforms. It was all really varied.
I didn’t actually leave Deutsche Bank until about 2 years into Stemettes because I wanted to be able to say, “Look, I’m loving this. You need to be involved.”
Anne-Marie enjoyed a successful career in tech at various banks
What advice would you give to somebody looking to get into STEM?
The biggest piece of advice I could give to somebody looking to get into STEM is research! Go out and find your tribe and find your platform. If you’re looking to transition into the industry, there are lots of groups, events and meet-ups. The ball really is in your court so go out, get involved and get stuck in. It’s a sociable industry to be in, and they do want you, the number of options out here is ever-growing.
So, you wouldn’t attribute the problem of declining women in tech to a lack of information?
I don’t think it’s a lack of information, I think it’s the social norm that doesn’t talk about technical women.
If I asked you, “What’s a lawyer?” you’d know what it is. But if I asked you, “What’s a technologist or Scientist”, not everybody knows one, and so you tend to go off more on what you are shown in the media, which isn’t very much, right? Only one in seven of technical characters on-screen are women.
I’m still on a one-woman crusade to get a female technical character on EastEnders. And shows like The IT Crowd, Silicon Valley and The Big Bang Theory are still outweighed and play to stereotypes. You don’t have to be Jen to work in technology. You also don’t need to be Moss to work in technology!
Stereotype or not, we do enjoy a bit of Moss from The IT Crowd
The representation of technical characters in the media, then, is an important factor. What about other influences, such as at home from the parents and carers?
No young girl makes a decision in isolation. There are certainly external influences, and parents and carers are a big one, as are teachers and peers. So it’s actually about how we influence all of these people to create the right kind of environment - one where we’re not going to tell the girl off for playing with Lego instead of a Barbie, or say, “Oh, you shouldn’t study Physics because it’s not the kind of thing that girls do and you won’t pass”.
Encouraging more women into STEM starts at a young age
When speaking to an audience, what are the key messages that you aim to leave an audience with?
My key message is: there’s something we can all do to change this.
If you are a woman that’s not in the industry, you’re not dead yet! If you know a young woman, point her to the right community - make sure you are educating yourself about the right role models that are out there, and that you aren’t getting in her way.
If you are a guy or otherwise, it’s there for you to be that supportive and positive voice in whoever’s life that is, and to not be a bystander to microaggressions or sexist remarks that are made; or, if you catch yourself making assumptions, it's for you to ensure that you are not doing that and to educate yourself to be aware of the systematic and social norms so that you can work against them.
You certainly are a role model yourself! Can you share with us the key trends coming up in tech that we should all be getting excited about?
Artificial intelligence is a huge one, and it’s something that the government are working a lot on. They are investing a lot in understanding and making sure that they are protecting people because everybody is afraid that jobs are going to be taken. (That isn’t going to happen so much if the government do what they’re supposed to do).
Robotics is another big one – having robots helping us do bits and pieces, combining drones with robots etc.
Big data too, which is affecting so many industries in different ways.
STEM provides a varied and ever-evolving set of career opportunities
Can you explain why inclusivity is so important for tech businesses, other industries, and society at large?
From a business perspective, inclusivity means better business. Your business is only as good as the people working in it, and if you’re restricting your talent pool, then that’s not going to do you any favours, and you won't get the best talent.
Secondly, for any business building a product, you want to be able to reflect the people who are buying it. If it’s a consumer product in particular, 85% of purchases by consumers are made by women, so you need to make sure that you aren’t excluding them! Apple had that example recently where they released a health tracker and it included absolutely everything about health, from your steps to your sleep, everything…. apart from your period, which is, of course, a huge part of a women’s health!
Thirdly, there’s innovation. You don’t want to be the next Kodak, where that one type of person who only listens to one type of idea which meant that, when the world moved on, they completely missed out on it. For your own competitiveness, you need to make sure you have a diverse set of people.
And what’s next for you personally?
At the moment, we’re working on a documentary and a couple of TV projects I did, so that’s been exciting. We’ve reached about 15,000 girls with our events, and a further 20,000 young people through our documentary, so we’re working a bit more towards influencing more through media and having those technical women on-screen. There’s also the conversation about multiple ways to do that, whether through a podcast, or having physical space.
Essentially - it’s about going macro and influencing those influences.