Anne-Marie Imafidon on tech inclusivity: ‘We’ve seen some progress but not enough’

7 Sep 2022

Anne-Marie Imafidon. Image: Sam and Simon Photography

As Stemettes approaches its 10th birthday next year, Ann O’Dea spoke to its founder Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon about the progress of the inclusion movement in tech.

One of the first speakers I reached out to when we were designing Inspirefest back in 2015 had to be Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon. You’d be hard put to find a more inspiring role model for young STEM enthusiasts. Aged 11, she was the youngest girl ever to pass A-level computing in the UK and was just 20 years old when she received her master’s degree in mathematics and computer science from the University of Oxford.

Back in 2013, Imafidon co-founded Stemettes, an award-winning social initiative dedicated to inspiring and promoting the next generation of young women in the STEM sectors.

In those years since, Stemettes has exposed more than 50,000 girls across Europe to her vision for a more diverse and balanced science and tech community. In 2017, she was awarded an MBE in the New Year Honours for services to young women and STEM sectors.

Many will have caught her temporary stint as arithmetician on Channel 4’s Countdown, or you may have listened to her Women Tech Charge podcast. As we spoke, her first book She’s In Ctrl was about to be published, and I for one am ready to read her wise words. She describes it as a “guide for women wanting to take back tech, which is too important to be left to the men alone”.

“So, it is a mix of herstory, a little bit about the barriers and what the problems have been, and then a really practical guide on how to surmount those barriers,” she told me.

She’s definitely a woman with a mission, and has been since I’ve known her, but she’s quick to correct the common perception of such initiatives to encourage women in STEM.

“The aim isn’t that everyone ends up working in tech, but the aim is that in the same way we need Irish or English as a literacy to understand the world around us and have some agency, folks need to be able to build some of that technical literacy that then converts itself into agency. That’s the ‘control’ in the title, the pun on the keyboard’s Ctrl key – taking back control and agency in one’s life, in a society where technology hasn’t exactly been sold as something that’s for all of us.”

‘Hopefully in 10 years we’ll no longer have to express surprise when we meet a young woman doing physics at university’

On 27 September, Silicon Republic is teaming up with Hays for an international LinkedIn Live entitled ‘Technology Matters: How is the Inclusion Movement Faring?’

I will chair a panel that includes Imafidon as well as Joanne Dolan, founder of Teen-Turn, and Rhea See, co-founder of She Loves Tech.

The progress of inclusion in tech

All of us on the panel have been striving to ensure inclusion in the sector for many years. So I wanted to get a sneak preview of Imafidon’s thoughts on progress.

“Stemettes is 10 next year, and in 10 years we’ve seen some progress but not enough,” she said. “When I started Stemettes, there was a lot of denial around there even being a problem, and I’m thankful to say – you have to count your small blessings – we have at least upgraded to lip service since then.

“I’ve definitely seen a change among women in the industry previously not wanting to be a visible woman and not wanting to embrace that idea of the role model. Don’t get me wrong, everyone has their reasons for embracing that and not. Just because you’re a woman in the industry, doesn’t mean you have to be a role model. But I’m definitely seeing people enjoy taking on that mantle now and wanting to edit the spaces they’re in for the people that are coming up behind them. I’m seeing that change,” she added.

“Are we seeing enough from the men in the picture? I don’t think so. Are we seeing enough from industry and the norms we have on promotion, on recruiting, on positions of responsibility, on sponsorship over mentorship? No, we’re not seeing nearly enough.”

On a more positive note, she said she believes the dearth of skills and talent is definitely pushing people to be more progressive in the way they run their businesses. “They’re seeing that otherwise things are going to fall over,” she said. And she said there are positives in other areas too.

“I think the other side of the progress is something I’ve been hearing for years, but now it’s maybe becoming a bit more real – the idea of rather than it being women versus men, or men versus all the others, we’re seeing the idea emerge of humans versus the technology, and I think that might take us in the right kind of direction in terms of people wanting to work together on this.

“Ultimately, have we seen progress? Maybe a teeny bit. Is it enough? No, must do better. And so, it continues. I’m hoping it’s only another 10 years that we need initiatives like Stemettes, to be honest.”

As for the future, it’s the young people Imafidon has been working with that give her cause for most optimism. “We’re also seeing the next generation, seeing them take up positions of leadership is very different, so I’m heartened by the kind of progress that may occur as a result of that too.”

And her conclusion? “The work continues, the progress isn’t there. We’ve more to do, but hopefully in 10 years we’ll be there, and no longer have to express surprise when we meet a young woman doing physics at university!” Amen.

Join us for our LinkedIn Live with Hays on 27 September at 12pm UTC.

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Ann O’Dea is the CEO and co-founder of Silicon Republic and the founder of Future Human