"Be Strategic and Take Control"

"Be Strategic and Take Control"

Anne-Marie Imafidon is the cofounder and 'Head Stemette' of an award winning social enterprise that encourages girls and women into science, technology, engineering and maths related careers: Stemettes. From passing her Maths and ICT GCSEs at only ten years old to being the "go-to tech person" throughout the London and European offices for companies such as Deutsche Bank and Goldman Sachs, Anne-Marie's passion for maths and technology has inspired and supported over 14,000 girls and women into STEM sectors.

On Founding a Company… I’ve always enjoyed maths and playing around with tech so after universiety, I found a job that paid me for doing what I love everyday. I was working in a bank on enterprise collaborations, similar to Workplace for Facebook but our own version. I was sent to America to speak at a conference about what we were doing in our team. When I got there, I realised that it was a conference for women in computing. Up until that point, I hadn’t clocked that I was a woman in tech but all of a sudden I was being invited to these amazing Facebook and Google parties. I felt like a superstar! Then during the keynote, I discovered that the number of women in tech fields was in freefall in the US and UK. I started to think about what should be done and how I could help. I wondered why I couldn’t spread that feeling of being a superstar at that conference to other girls. I had enjoyed my job so much so I questioned why more girls couldn’t be on my team. At the time, there were some organisations trying to address this issue but they were too old-fashioned. If you’re going to talk to a girl today, she’ll want to know about Instagram or Snapchat. So I decided to make it a thing with free food and Justin Bieber playing in the background. That’s what Stemettes is - a place for people to chill and in the process maybe build their own Instagram. 

On Validating the Idea… I had already been writing about it on a blog. Then I started talking to people within the industry and going along to different events asking others what they thought about my idea. Because it had a different and more casual focus, it seemed to catch on. But I was as surprised as anybody else that it caught on like it did. Stemettes launched in 2013 and at the event, we had more volunteers than I knew what to do with. We had never done anything before that day but these guys had been reading the blog posts and agreed that there was a problem. I realised, okay I have people supporting me.

On Success… Personally, success is that when I wake up in the morning I do whatever I want to do that day. That freedom alone is all that drives me. For Stemettes, it would be that we make ourselves redundant - that women working in STEM fields is just seen as the norm. We’re trying to reach 2 million girls by 2020, so that’s a 1/3 of the girls within school age in the country. We’re slowly getting there. Sometimes I look at the Stemettes hashtag on Instagram and see other people living their lives, using that word after having seen someone else use it. You don’t need to know me or have ever been to one of our events for that to be a thing. Once Stemettes is in the dictionary then we know we’ve done it. 

On Challenges… Throughout all of my schooling, everything was dependent on me. But in life, you have to work with other people. Human beings are messy and you can’t always pre-empt what they're going to do. There’s no equation to tell me that if I do this then that type of person will do that. That’s been quite tough because I’m more straightforward and logical. Dealing with all these different dynamics, like hiring or firing people, has been the trickiest aspect of running a company.

On The Role of Media… You can’t change the social norm just by talking to people and there are only so many policies the government can put in place. It's about changing hearts and minds and to do that we need more media exposure. We need a female technical character in Eastenders because then everyone else will copy. We see people work in the chippy or sell cars so why wouldn’t it be normal to have someone working in tech, when tech is a massive part of our culture. It’s not a weird thing to have a female doctor. How many shows do we have about doctors with different female characters in them? Look at Scrubs, ER and Casualty. It feels normal because you’ve seen it on TV. Female technical characters don’t really exist but we’re doing a lot of media related projects right now to change that. 

On Personal Philosophies… Firstly, seek to give yourself permission. Do your research and know what you’re doing, then go out and do it. Don’t wait for someone to give you permission because that may never happen. There are a lot of people who overthink things and end up not doing anything at all. Thinking is good but limit yourself. Secondly, freedom comes from power. So whatever situation I’m in, I make sure that I go into it either learning or knowing that I have the power to do something or preserve myself. Being at the bank, I’d see people made redundant every few months because of cuts. People who might have been working there for 18 years of their lives. I decided that I’m not going to be a victim or leave myself vulnerable. You have to make sure you have the upper hand. That’s not necessarily because you want to be running a company or be CEO or you want more money. It’s about not being dependent on external factors. Be strategic and take control. This is your life - no one else is driving so don’t be a carrier bag in the wind. 

On Why Girls Need to Think Bigger about Their Careers… The way the world works, there are just some people that have power and make things happen. That’s why things are the way they are. It’s because on a specific day, a certain person was in a position of power and decided abortion is a bad thing, for example. There’s a certain perspective that a lot of those people in power don’t have, that women need to bring to that process. So whether it’s you making the decisions or you influencing the person making those decisions, it’s in everyone’s interest that you are part of the conversion. For example, the first seat belts and airbags were built by a team of engineers who designed them for the average man. There were no women there to highlight that a lot of us don’t weigh a hundred kilos or are 6 foot tall, therefore the airbag will probably cover a woman’s face and kill her upon impact. Whether it’s seatbelts and airbags, abortion or medical research that don’t test on women’s bodies, you need to be a part of the conversation. Not only for yourself but for the others that are coming after you.