Head Stemette: Ensuring the stories of women in STEM are told

28 Mar 2018

Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon, co-founder and CEO, Stemettes. Image: aimafidon.com

Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon offers some insights into how she steers the ship at Stemettes, an organisation striving to create STEM role models for girls.

Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon is the CEO and co-founder of Stemettes.

Something of a prodigy, Imafidon was the youngest girl ever to pass A-level computing and was just 20 years old when she received her master’s degree in mathematics and computer science from the University of Oxford.

Future Human

Since then, she has forged an enviable CV, including positions at Goldman Sachs, Hewlett-Packard and Deutsche Bank.

In 2013, she co-founded Stemettes, an award-winning social initiative dedicated to inspiring and promoting the next generation of young women in the STEM sectors. Since its inception, it has exposed more than 17,500 girls across Europe to Imafidon’s vision for a more diverse and balanced science and tech community.

In 2015, Imafidon took to the Inspirefest stage as part of a panel discussing the potential of young leaders, and went on to earn an MBE the following year.

Describe your role and what you do.

I head up an award-winning team that runs workshops, public events and incubators for girls all over the UK, introducing them to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) role models, concepts and careers in fun, informal and relevant ways. This means I plan, speak, advise and host in my role, as well as governance.

How do you prioritise and organise your working life?

My mobile phone and recently a Leuchtturm notebook, which is my bullet journal. I’m always in and out of the calendar app, various email apps and my Twitter inbox. Prioritising is based on when something is due, how long it will take and how dear a partner they are to us.

What are the biggest challenges facing your sector and how are you tackling them?

The biggest challenges facing the tech sector are funding and maximising impact. We’re fortunate on the funding front – five years of hard work has allowed all corners of the industry to partner with us in interesting and fantastic ways. In terms of maximising impact, we’re constantly collating feedback, participating in roundtables and honing best practice.

What are the key sector opportunities you’re capitalising on?

Media is a big opportunity that we’re working on. The social norm we’re trying to change requires stories of women in STEM to be told, but also more visibility for technical women across all we do. We’re working on TV, book and film projects that will open up these stories in a new way to wider audiences.

What set you on the road to where you are now?

Many things have happened along the way. A big ‘Damascus moment’ for me was attending the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing in 2013 and fully realising for the first time that I was a ‘woman in tech’. At that conference, I also heard about the falling proportion of women in the industry, and decided to see if I could do something about it. The rest is history.

What was your biggest mistake and what did you learn from it?

I make mistakes all the time. I learn from every single one. I think, most recently, I’ve made mistakes in building my team and hiring people. It’s really important to be clear on the competencies and attitudes you’re hiring for with any new addition to your team. I’ve learned to trust my gut, hire slowly and thoroughly test people before bringing them on board.

How do you get the best out of your team?

I trust them to do what needs to be done, and have an environment where they are able to be comfortable, ask questions and make mistakes. We’re all in this together; my team don’t work for me, they work with me, and I work for them. It helps to remember that I can’t do everything on my own, so I need them more than they need me.

STEM sectors receive a lot of criticism for a lack of diversity in terms of gender, ethnicity and other demographics. What are your thoughts on this and what’s needed to be more inclusive?

That’s why I’m doing what I’m doing! As well as the young women and girls we work with, it’s also important to work on retention and the culture in the industry. Too many are bystanders for bad behaviour in teams, on work projects and in workplaces. The recent #MeToo wave has brought some hope that attitudes and behaviours will shift, but also empowerment to people to be able to speak about what is happening to them without feeling powerless or like a victim. Our industry has some way to go for everyone in it to feel properly included.

Who is your role model and why?

Stephanie Shirley is my role model. Her story is incredible, and every day I feel like I should be doing more, given the differences in society from when she set up her tech company. You have to watch her TED talk to get an idea of what she’s achieved.

What books have you read that you would recommend?

I don’t love book reading but if I had to recommend something, it’s Working Out Loud by my friend John Stepper. It’s Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People in the Digital Age.

What are the essential tools and resources that get you through the working week?

My mobile phone is my best friend. From Twitter to the calendar app, to Spotify to the weather app, to my inbox apps to Slack to Citymapper – I use the lot. Constantly. Last month, I was without my phone for a week as it was with insurance, and I had no idea where I was going. It was a terrible week for me.

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