Stemettes CEO Anne-Marie Imafidon, a newly minted MBE, believes delivery is the key to engaging young women in STEM. Claire O’Connell reports.
2017 is already shaping up to be a huge year for Anne-Marie Imafidon. The 27-year-old entrepreneur with a passion for encouraging girls and women in science, technology, engineering and maths was named on the UK New Year’s Honours List, and the Stemettes organisation that she heads is set to scale up this year.
Imafidon heard the news of her MBE for services to young women and STEM sectors in November. She thinks she knows who nominated her, but the process is a bit ‘cloak and dagger’, and even after she posted the letter stating that she was accepting the honour, she kept the news quiet until she knew the letter had made it and it was all official.
— A-Marie Imafidon MBE (@aimafidon) December 31, 2016
Other female technology luminaries honoured in this round include Justine Roberts, founder and CEO of website Mumsnet, Caroline Taylor of IBM, Alesha De-Freitas from the UK Department of Business and Energy, Debbie Forster of Apps For Good, Kathryn Parsons of Decoded and… drum roll… Maggie Philbin, the former Tomorrow’s World presenter who is now CEO and co-founder of TeenTech, a not-for-profit organisation that encourages young people to explore careers in STEM.
Imafidon is particularly delighted that Philbin has been honoured, and reckons it’s about time, “for someone of her standing, with all that she has been doing”.
Stemettes on the up
Imafidon, who spoke at Inspirefest 2015, hasn’t been slouching either. She co-founded Stemettes around four years ago, and the social enterprise has gone from strength to strength; organising events that encourage girls and women to embrace STEM (more than 14,000 have attended events in the UK and Ireland to date); building a community of mentors, business partners and supporters; and even running Outbox Incubator in summer 2015.
Outbox, which the Stemettes ran with the support of Salesforce Foundation, saw more than more than 100 young women aged 11-22 (including dozens from Ireland) live and work in a large house in London, where they pitched and developed their ideas, and learned about the worlds of STEM and business.
Imafidon describes the graduation ceremony of the Outbox ‘execs’ as one of her standout moments with the Stemettes to date.
“I was so overwhelmed,” she recalled. “I don’t normally cry, but I couldn’t read my speech, I was in tears. It was a combination of having pulled this thing off – when we started, we just didn’t know what was going to happen – and then the strength and quality and calibre of the girls, and the ideas they came up with, and the business plans. I believe in what we are doing, and you think it is out there at a level, then this turns out to be three, four, five times that level. It was just magic.”
The supportive tech culture in Ireland makes it a ‘no-brainer’ as a location, according to Imafidon. “For something like Outbox, you need a strong ecosystem,” she said. “And there is a huge breadth of support in Ireland.”
‘It’s a great resource for girls and young women to feel empowered and pass it forward, to meet different women in all kinds of different roles in STEM, and you make the connection that this area is accessible’
– ANNE-MARIE IMAFIDON
Stemettes at scale
One of the next steps for the Stemettes is to deliver at scale, noted Imafidon, and a new initiative called Stemillions seeks to achieve that by giving young women the power to run local groups.
Stemillions, which has just started as a pilot scheme, invites schools to establish weekly clubs; then each club is assigned to one of four ‘houses’ named after pioneering women in STEM.
“This is the first iteration of scaling what we do,” explained Imafidon. “It is basically putting the power back into the girls. We noticed some girls [who had taken part in Stemettes activities] were doing this anyway; we saw they were mentoring, setting up clubs and WhatsApp groups to let each other know about opportunities.”
Stemillions will encourage girls to build communities, but the key is that it is fun: ‘meal plans’ encourage girls to learn about women in STEM and hear from mentors and role models, and clubs will earn points as houses ‘compete’ with each other.
“It is a very Stemettes thing to do, yet the Stemettes team doesn’t have to be at every event, so it can be done at scale,” said Imafidon, who explained that the programme is currently only in English, but there are plans for a German version too.
“It’s a great resource for girls and young women to feel empowered and pass it forward, to meet different women in all kinds of different roles in STEM, and you make the connection that this area is accessible.”
Delivery is the key
For Imafidon, the key to getting girls and women engaged in STEM is to focus on the delivery rather than getting too mired in content. “As an industry, [STEM] has been really bad at communicating and relating, and for these young women, you need that,” she said.
“It is easy to get caught up in the content and the curriculum and assume that that in itself will do it, but for the majority [of girls] it is rather arrogant to think that presenting knowledge [to them] is enough.”
The Stemettes events focus less on the certificates, and more on the food and the fun and getting people engaged. “There has to be an affinity, a gateway,” said Imafidon. “Unless you have that, then you will continue to preach to the converted.”