Anne Marie Imafidon MBE of Stemettes

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Stemettes is a social enterprise showing the next generation that girls do Science, Technology, Engineering & Maths (STEM) too at our free, fun, food-filled experiences”

Interviewed over the phone in May 2017

Anne Marie; ‘My backstory is that I was kind of a child prodigy; I took two GCSEs at 10, A Level Computing at 11 then completed a Masters degree in Mathematics & Computer Science at Oxford, aged 20. I’ve always been interested in business, Maths and technology and when I started working in banking technology after University I was happy that I’d found a good niche. My role was developing enterprise collaboration – which is a system of internal social media for co-workers to communicate through – as part of an in-house team at big firms in the City.

When Deutsche Bank sent me to a conference in the States to talk about my work I didn’t give much thought to the nature of the conference so when I arrived at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing surrounded by 3,500 women it dawned on me that I was a woman in tech – and that was a thing. It was exciting but until then I hadn’t realised it was rare or special. At one session the keynote speaker said numbers of women in tech were in free-fall and urged us to keep going and encourage other women into the industry. When I got back to the UK I looked at figures and reports that showed the problem was as bad in the UK as is it in the USA.

So I blogged about it on NYE 2012 and pledged to do “something” about it. I’d talked to people like managers at work or other women I’d met at tech events so by the time I wrote the blog I already had potential people to start a project with.  

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I started a Twitter and FB page and posted about what other people were doing and what we were planning to do. I was sending links round to our own blog posts and approaching other kids-in-coding organisations although there wasn’t one purely for girls at that time. I discovered that there is funding for young people invoved in social change so applied to O2 Think Big and won £300 which paid for our first event including pancakes and sweets. 

We had our launch event at Google Campus in 2013. The set-up was loads of women in tech plus girls who had bingo cards with tech categories on, to tick off by talking to a women from each sector on the card. We also held a panel event at Society of Biochemistry. Then we did a girls-only hackathon; which means developing some tech on the same day – at the Barbican.

My motto has always been; work out loud – which means you have to communicate what you’re doing all the way through, from who you’re working with to what your next plans are and keep putting it out there. Don’t wait until things are finished or perfect but include people in the journey.

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With funding from corporate donors such as Unlimited, Merrill Lynch, Accenture and Starbucks we were putting on regular events and gaining momentum. I’d never wanted to leave my job and Stemettes was still my side hustle. By the end of 2013 It was all getting too much and I was thinking of closing it down to concentrate on work. But everyone involved talked me out of it so I formed a company with co-founder Jacquelyn [Guderley, who’s no longer part of Stemettes] and set up processes to delegate the workload. I stayed at Deutsche Bank until end of 2015 by which time there were five people full-time and I was making decisions and managing the team remotely.

Stemettes is free for everyone who uses it and all our funding is from corporate grants. It’s not been a struggle to get money – I only commit to projects or employ people once funding is in place. Filling in forms is a waste of time! You have to sell yourself and it’s harder for people to visualise your project. Because we’ve worked out loud; via press, public speaking, being on TV – people get in touch to help. Word of mouth also helps as donors tell other donors. Any business in the Stem industry will have a policy into this issue anyway. People also want help recruiting the next generation – we are trying to work out how to formalise that now in a way that doesn’t feel like a recruitment agency.

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Our current projects include; a UK tour with Monster Recruitment, visiting Edinburgh, Dublin, Sheffield, Southampton and London with 200 girls in each location, where they get to attend Interview Practice, Meet the Industry, Inspirational talks and Career Workshops. Then we have a mentoring program ‘Student to Stemette’ which aims to build STEM careers for young women aged 15+, using different women in STEM industries. We also have a schools program with our ‘STEM In A Day’ events as well as Hackathons within schools. STEM in a Day events are school trips into partner companies, where girls are taught how to make their own mobile apps with the chance of winning prizes and most importantly get the chance to meet women in STEM at different companies. 

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Our most ambitious project to date was our residential Incubator program called Outbox Incubator during the Summer of 2015. We hired out a huge house in South London and invited 115 young women aged  from 11 to 22 to come and stay and work on their STEM start-up idea in groups. Six weeks, 29 start-ups and countless gallons of milk later we’d completed the summer and had filmed a documentary which we called; “Eat. Sleep. STEM. Repeat.” This project was the scariest (in terms of the responsibility of looking after the girls full-time) and also the one I’m proudest of. We’ve been organising private screenings of the documentary ever since and are now in discussions for it to be available via a streaming service like Amazon. We also have a mobile app called O to the B for people to see what we are doing and keep in touch.

On the team we now have eight full time including full time and part time and a lot of volunteers. Only three people have tech backgrounds; I hire people who want to make a difference and who are passionate self-starters. The most difficult aspect for me is dealing with people. Managing people, hiring, firing (if necessary) the whole team, volunteers. I love Maths and computing because it’s logical and the same problem has the same answer every time. People aren’t computers so that’s the hardest part.

Highlights include; Stemettes doing well; like one of the girls from Outbox Incubator emailing me asking to help her get some funding for her start-up the other day, we also get feedback from our partner companies, like Merrill Lynch and Bank of America are saying that their staff are happier from taking part in our events. We’ve won awards which is good feedback for donors to continue . . . it’s nice to be recognised for our work, but it’s actually essential to keep generating funding to continue – it’s a virtuous cycle.

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I was awarded the MBE this year and that is a great honour but its not just about me; it’s publicity to reinforce the funding cycle, it’s a reward for our hard work, draw attention to the problem that we’re solving and the scale of that, and the impact we are having and to spread the message.’

stemettes.org

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