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Anne-Marie Imafidon MBE on empowering girls in STEM

Anne-Marie is Head Stemette and co-founder of Stemettes – an award-winning social enterprise inspiring the next generation of females into Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics roles via a series of events and opportunities. In 3 years more than 7,000 girls across the UK, Ireland and Europe have attended Stemette experiences. Her rather unique set of achievements include passing two GCSEs aged ten (Mathematics and ICT), holding the current world record for the youngest girl ever to pass A-level computing (aged 11), a Guardian ‘Top 10 women in tech you need to know’ and being one of the youngest to be awarded a Masters’ degree in Mathematics and Computer Science by the University of Oxford, aged 20.

Following her appearance at FutureFest, the trailblazer continues our FutureFest discussions, exploring inclusivity in science and tech, and the power of positivity in inspiring change.

The tech world is still heavily dominated by white men. It’s been quite slow to change although this has slowly begun to shift, particularly in recent years. Why do you think it’s traditionally been such a male dominated industry and how we can change this?

It’s a male dominated industry for a number of different reasons. The greatest reason is the perception that we have of the people that shape our technology. Women have done all kinds of incredible things to get us to where we are today but we don’t tell their stories. It’s this image of people having to be white and male to have made any kind of contribution to the body of science and technology. This is what we tell young women and this is the representation in the media. So that’s the crux of the problem.

We are so fortunate that in countries like ours there aren’t as many physical barriers and most people can choose science subjects at school and it’s largely free at a more junior level. Therefore, mainly it’s a matter of hearts and minds, though in some cases it might be policy too. There are all kinds of initiatives and programmes that are trying to influence the way we see tech and science and to help girls and young women realise that they can pursue careers in these areas.

At Stemettes, do you work to get girls from disadvantaged backgrounds into science and technology?

The problem isn’t so much around advantage and disadvantage.

We find that gender is a greater barrier than class in these particular areas. As a rich girl you are still less likely to move into this area than a poor boy.

So we’re for all in terms of class and academically too. We don’t restrict by grade. We’re incredibly open at all levels.

As a young woman, have you found that you’ve been treated differently from your male counterparts and how have you tackled any barriers?

It wasn’t something I was that conscious of. I was usually the only girl growing up in those environments. For me, I’m young and female and black so there are lots of reasons why people might not take me seriously. There have been times where I haven’t felt taken seriously but it’s hard to always point to the reasons why. But largely, I’ve had a great experience and I wasn’t made to feel 'othered'. That’s why I want more girls to come and join me.

You seem less focused on fighting the patriarchy and more about creating opportunities for young women; less about attacking the problems and more about finding the solutions. How have you channelled that positivity?

It probably just comes from the disposition that I have in general. I think you get more done when you’re positive and inclusive than you do with scaremongering. In some cases, you can weaken what you’re communicating if you’re overly negative.

You can get more people to join you when you’re building something positive. Then when you are negative on more of an occasional basis, people know that you’re really being serious.

As much as things aren’t perfect, things have changed and there is a lot to be optimistic about. I would rather live now than in any other period in history. I wouldn’t want to go back to living in a time where you needed your husband or your dad to open a bank account or get a mortgage. Now I feel that it can only continue to get better and I want to be involved in shaping what that better will look like.

In theory, in many countries women are more equal now, certainly legally and in term of our rights. Technically we can do the same things that men can, but in reality it doesn’t always happen that way. The discrimination we now face is more subtle, which makes it harder to identify and harder to fight.

Exactly. We had the Equal Pay Act in the sixties yet we’re still here and who knows how long it will take to close to the pay gap. This is applicable across many aspects of the gender divide. That’s why we’re going for the hearts and minds approach. There is a place for policy but that’s not the sole lever anymore.

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Lily Fish

Lily Fish

Lily Fish

Event Marketing Manger

Lily was the Event Marketing Manager in the Communications team. She worked on the marketing for FutureFest and explored how we can grow the event in 2018.

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